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March 30, 2001

Carl Primavera Speaks Out Against Stereotyping

When It Comes to 'The Sopranos,' I'll Pass
by Carl S. Primavera
Are you enjoying the new season of "The Sopranos"? If you are, you’ll have to fill me in on the story line because I’m not quite up-to-date on Tony Soprano & Co.
To begin with, I’m not an avid television viewer. Something has to be really good to attract my attention and I’m afraid "The Sopranos" doesn’t even come close. I watched a few minutes of it once. That was enough.
Sure, I understand that the show is popular. A great many people enjoy it. That’s fine. You can pretty much watch whatever you want on TV these days especially if you’re paying for it. I’d be the last one to deprive others of dramatic entertainment, and censorship is not an appealing notion to anyone who believes in the First Amendment. But when it comes to "The Sopranos," I tend to agree with Dorothy Ramienski, a University of Maryland student who recently wrote about the program for her college newspaper. Dorothy, who describes herself as "50 percent Italian-American," points out that "The Sopranos" and movies like "Goodfellas" and "The Godfather" merely perpetuate the stereotype that all Italians are involved with crime in some way.
Regrettably, Dorothy is right. And this has been going on for a long time. In fact, a new five-year study just released by the Italic Studies Institute found that 40 percent of the 1,220 films produced in the United States since 1928 that featured Italian-American themes depicted Italian-Americans as gangsters. And even when Italian-Americans weren’t depicted as violent criminals, in 29 percent of the remaining cases they were portrayed as boors, buffoons, bigots and bimbos. Imagine over a period of 72 years, in more than half the cases, the depiction has been largely negative. That’s a powerful stereotype to have to overcome.
Stereotypes are wrong. They are wrong regardless of the targeted group. Stereotypes constitute the active, daily, persistent, harmful language of group bigotry.
We must learn to reject the destructive shorthand of stereotypes, take the time to really get to know one another and truly appreciate all that each one of us can contribute to the whole.
Here at the Bar Association, our ongoing effort has been to promote ethnic and racial diversity and break down barriers to understanding and advancement. Our outreach programs, model employer policies, and mandated inclusion and representation provisions for our governing boards all work toward this same goal. We’ve even held retreats, workshops and training session to promote diversity and understanding. This year, our Bar leaders have made it a special point to meet regularly with the minority bar associations to carry on a productive dialogue and develop new cooperative programs that benefit all of us. Within the justice system and in the community we also reach out through public education, monitoring and mentoring programs. Our many committee and section activities and our priorities and programs throughout the year reflect this commitment.
Obviously, some groups know the sting of bigotry more than others. The scourge of racism is particularly repugnant and requires active vigilance. Certainly, whatever prejudice any of us have witnessed or experienced should encourage us to turn away from it once and for all.
But the popularity of "The Sopranos" proves that stereotypes continue to exert a seductive hold on the popular culture. And that only reminds us of the challenge that we still face and the work that still has to be done.
(Reprinted from the April 2001 Philadelphia Bar Reporter.)           
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