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A Ph.D. in Basket Weaving

A Ph.D. in Basket Weaving

Joseph Sciorra (October 19, 2011)
Folklorist Joseph Sciorra, Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania, 1996), holding Italian-American immigrant Vincenzo Ancona’s Sicilian-style basket made in Castellammare del Golfo (Trapani), Sicily in 1985.

Italian-American anti-intellectualism rears its ugly little head again.


It has come to my attention that I stand in the crosshairs of one Richard Annotico, a fulminating yet paltry blogger.

(See link and text below.) The depth of viciousness, ignorance, bigotry, and pettiness is appalling but it comes as no surprise to those of us who have witnessed such Italian-American anti-intellectualism from others, such as Arthur Piccolo. I’m proud to join the ranks of distinguished scholars of Italian American Studies like Fred Gardaphé, Anthony Tamburri, and Donald Tricarico who have been attacked on-line with similar diatribes.  To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, “I welcome the hatred.”

Annotico’s blog post was prompted by a digitally-distributed “open response” from John Mancini, executive director of The Italic Institute of America. This letter was originally a private one mailed directly to me on September 26, 2011 (see attached) to which I replied the following week (see attached Page 1 and Page 2). I’m surprised that Mancini decided to take what he initiated as a private conversation to the digital arena. No matter. While I disagreed with Mancini’s premise, I was pleased to read that he took the time and care to make his case intelligently and respectfully. The same cannot be said for Annotico’s vituperations. 
The casual reader will note Annotico’s horrid prose and typos (e.g., “it’s Italian American Review,” “admoired”), the hyperbolic writing style that has come to characterize Italian-American anti-intellectualism (e.g., “despotism,” “relations with ANY OTHER ETHNIC Groups”), and the fetid stench of anti-Semitism.
Annotico—who claims to know me for “over the decade” although we have never met— accuses me of being many things, and I quote:
1.      “Turncoat” vs his Italian Ancestry
2.      Self Loathing of his Italian Ancestry
3.      being a Crypto -Italian
4.      a former website designer
5.      a rap music aficionado
6.      a PHD in Basket Weaving
7.      disparage his Italian Ancestry
8.      Defending Spike Lee
9.      Misreporting the “Bensonhurst Incident
11. A “Basket-weaving” pseudo-intellect
These charges are hysterically funny even as they underscore a tragic level of narrow-mindedness and maliciousness, and are evidence for dismissing his pronouncement outright.
However, what is most disturbing about Annotico’s virulent tirade is his flawed notion of Ethnic Studies, Italian American Studies, and scholarship in general:
the PURPOSE of ETHNIC Studies is to PROMOTE PRIDE and the POSITIVE ASPECTS of the ETHNICITY to counter all the NEGATIVITY in the Society/Media.

Ethnic Studies is NOT intended to present a "Balanced" view, BUT to COUNTER the DISTORTED Negative STEREOTYPES rampant in the SOCIETY.
This is not an attack of me but a community of scholars.
We are currently experiencing a proliferation of stimulating research on Italian-American history and culture, as well as the larger Italian diaspora. For the past decade we at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute have provided a forum for scholars, authors, visual artists, and filmmakers to present their work in a rich and diverse array of programming, including an annual conference, ongoing exhibitions, and monthly lectures, readings, and screenings. All free and open to the public. In addition, the Calandra Institute has re-launched the scholarly journal Italian American Review and published several books on various topics such as education, language, and film.
Annotico and his ilk maintain that the uncritical, flag-waving triumphalism that emerged out of the 1970s white ethnic movement is “the PURPOSE of ETHNIC Studies.”  This is not the basis for rigorous and sustained scholarship. 
The question becomes how do we reply to this rampant anti-intellectualism as a community? Do we simply ignore such repugnant pronouncements or do we respond collectively, and if so, through which channels? 
Fri 9/30/2011 
Calandra's Sciorra's Anti -Italian Prejudice - This Time re : "And They Came to Chicago"
Joe Sciorra, of the Calandra Institute, and Editor of it's Italian American Review, is Not only an example of one who has risen far above his skills and talent. (with nepotism, despotism, favoritism rather than MERIT), he has once again, and still over the decade I have known him, been a "Turncoat" vs his Italian Ancestry. 
I don't know if this results from a Self Loathing of his Italian Ancestry, or a the use of a Technique used by those who would rather be associated with the "Power Group" and uses every opportunity to show them he is Not one of "those other Lowers", or being a Crypto -Italian, or if it is his Sheer Ignorance, Sciorra (blogs under the name of "Joey Skee"), is a former website designer, and a rap music aficionado. who earned his Ph.D in Folk Lore (sorta like a PhD in Basket Weaving )
"Joey Skee" has never lost an opportunity to disparage his Italian Ancestry, whether it be by Defending Spike Lee ( a consistent Italian detractor- and also a movie employer of Skee's sister), Misreporting the "Bensonhurst Incident" as an "Italian Racist Riot" rather than a   "Turf War" (since there was at least one black in the Italian group), and Promoting Johnny MeatBalls DeCarlo, who is a Chest beating "Guido",    (a Mafia, and a "Jersey Shore" admirer, and a Calandra Blogger), along with promoting Italian Folklore as a way of inferring how backward and primitive Italians are. These are only few examples of a litany of Anti -Italian transgressions.
"Skee" and other Calandra Executives, AMAZINGLY seem Unaware that the PURPOSE of ETHNIC Studies is to PROMOTE PRIDE and the POSITIVE ASPECTS of the ETHNICITY to counter all the NEGATIVITY in the Society/Media.  
Ethnic Studies is NOT intended to present a "Balanced" view, BUT to COUNTER the DISTORTED Negative STEREOTYPES rampant in the SOCIETY. In fact in Jewish American Studies, even FACTS that are TRUE and POSITIVE,, but that "might" be bad for the Jewish Community, by showing it's power or wealth are "buried" because such revelations "might" incite Anti-Semitism.  
In regard to Prof. Naison,I was unable, after great research, to uncover ANY credentials for Prof. Naison to critique ANY Italian American History. It is also MOST interesting that while Naison is disturbed by the absence of an analysis of Italian/ Black relations, he expresses NO concern about ANY analysis of Italian relations with ANY OTHER ETHNIC Groups, such as Irish, and Polish among others. that Italians were in STRONG competitor with. And If Not, Why Not.???? Is Mr Naison's Afro Ethnicity Studies causing MYOPIA????? 
Is it mere Coincidence that Prof Naison's remarks were merely "echoes" of what "Joey Skee", has been saying for at least 10 years??? 
Is THAT why "Skee" chose Naison to review the Italic Institute Video, or even the lower motive of "dissing" a competitor? Then again, Prof. Naison's Jewish Guilt about his Parent's Racism toward Blacks (as noted in his own memoir "White Boy") might be causing him to become hysterical/ overcompensatory, rather than scholarly?   
Having "Sciorra" a "Basket Weaving" pseudo-intellect as Editor, and "Johnny Meatballs" a "Wannabe Mafia/Guido" as a Blogger, and choosing other dubious contributors really undermines Calandra's credibility. It is a Travesty to the Italian American community that such a resource is being Squandered. 
I have always admoired the Italic Institute, and it's long time scholarly and zealous defense of the Italian American, on niggardly resources, and always look forward to their far more informative and readable "The Italic Way" and their "Officers Log".  
An Open Response to the Editor of the Italian American Review
26 September 2011
Joseph Sciorra, Ph.D., Editor, Italian American Review                                     
The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
Queens College, 23 West 43rd Street, Suite 1700
New York, NY 10036
Dear Dr. Sciorra:
Regarding Volume 1, Number 2, Mr. Naison's review of our video, And They Came to Chicago. 
Just for the record, this production was a joint venture by the Italic Institute and Modio Media, originally conceived by our president Bill Dal Cerro. It was shown on PBS in Chicagoland to a very warm reception. As with most, if not all, ethnic productions on PBS the tone was essentially positive. After all, local PBS stations around the country use such broadcasts to raise operating money from the target communities.  
So, it struck us as odd that Mr. Naison would expect any ethnic group to present a contrary side of itself on public television. He spends two-thirds of his review asking that our community admit to surviving on government hand-outs, that we come clean on our relations with African Americans, and that we not 'sanitize' our history. Worse, he suggests we conform to Spike Lee's bigoted film versions of the Italian American experience.  
When I googled Mark Naison, I found that he teaches African-American History at Fordham University in New York. Now the question is why was a New Yorker, who teaches African American history, asked to review a video about Chicago Italian Americans in an Italian American journal? Could it have something to do with your own focus on Italic racism? I'm reminded of your panel discussion at Queens College a few years ago, Are Italians White?, which was planned around that very theme. I objected to it then, you will recall. Are taxpayers sustaining such endeavors?
If the racial taunt weren't enough, Prof. Naison's annoyance at the video's message that Italian Americans succeeded by dint of their sweat and sacrifice smacks of anti-Italic prejudice. Notwithstanding the flood tide of New Deal programs and unionism, which lifted many ethnic boats in the 1930s, who would deny that Italian Americans found more success in entrepreneurial pursuits such as restaurants, pizzerias, delis, green groceries, construction, barber shops, shoe repair and even trash hauling? And of course, Italic saving rates, low divorce rates, home ownership, parental sacrifice and economy are well known. Regrettably, Italian Americans never approached the level of success in tapping into government programs that Prof. Naison?s landsmen or African Americans achieved.
Finally, I am disturbed that your associate editors, Anthony Tamburri and Fred Gardaphe (a native Chicagoan and participant in our video), acquiesced in allowing such a prejudiced review to go to press. It was a disservice to the honor and the sacrifices of our community.
John Mancini, Executive Director
The Italic Institute of America
Tel: (516) 488-7400
The ANNOTICO Reports Can be Viewed (With Archives) on:
[Formerly Italy at St Louis] 


Sciorra reply to Mancini10.03.11a.pdf [open]
Sciorra reply to Mancini10.03.11b.pdf [open]
Mancini letter to Sciorra09.26.11.pdf [open]
DISCLAIMER: Posts published in i-Italy are intended to stimulate a debate in the Italian and Italian-American Community and sometimes deal with controversial issues. The Editors are not responsible for, nor necessarily in agreement with the views presented by individual contributors.
This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission.
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Richard A. Annotico is a Juris Doctor (JD), Former Top 5 Record Co. VP, Real Estate Investor, Active in Italian American Community Affairs for 30 years. Los Angeles City Commissioner for 10 years, State Commissioner as Member of the Board of Governors of the California State Bar for 9 years, both as a Citizen Volunteer. Knighted by the President of Italy in 1981, as Cavaliere Ufficiale, Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy (OMRI).

Joseph Sciorra is a nasty man with a terrible disposition who loves to emphasize the worst parts of Italian American culture. To accuse Richard Annotico of anti-semitism is a joke as Annotico's mother was Jewish. Annotico is an Italian Jew, his father an Italian, his mother Jewish. He is a worldly man and he's correct about the idiotic behavor of Sciorra, a scholar without principles, who loves to be witty at the expense of his community. Sciorra is a silly jokster and quite dull-witted when it comes to true humanity. He has offended many Italian Americans through his years at Calandra Institute. The Dean should get rid of him to be really successful with the institute. Sciorra is obnoxious. Annotico wordly and intelligent and a few type-os don't mean anything. After all, Annotico is in his 80's, and a few type-os . mean nothing about one's intelligence. We all make them. John Mancini of the Italic Institute makes a good measured argument, and he's correct.

How do you become this good?

How do you become this good? It's incredible to find out someone place such a lot of interest towards a topic. I am thankful I

came across this. I am truly satisfied I spent the time to learn on over the very first section. certification programs

those who can't...

those who can't trash those who can. it is a common trait among the human species, to denigrate he/she who can do in a manner more efficacious than you might be able to do. hence, the best defense according to this perverted and most specious mode of thought is to engage in a strategy of denigration and dismissal. this is a common pattern among italian americans; and paradoxically to our great harm, since these very loud complainers actually end up doing much greater harm with their behavior than what they believe the behavior they criticize is doing. well, i would submit that we are dealing with a group of invidious cagasotto who want so desperately to be at the forefront when, in reality, they shouldn't even be on stage, so to speak. then, again, how can we expect any differently...

not him again!!

this guy wrote me hate letters after my spike lee piece on do the right thing..."Spike Lee's Guineas" (Differentia) in the early 90s wish i still had them... and i see by your list of 11 that he has nothing new to say...

nice basket!!


Richard Annotico, are you sure you are an Italian American?

Richard Annotico. I knew that name sounded familiar. This is the same vicious hater that trashed an 2008 article by Tom Verso on child slavery (re: the carusi) in Sicily, and basically dismissed both the reality and the significance of child abuse/labor exploitation throughout Southern Italy in 19th-20th century and beyond. This is coming from someone who calls himself a Sicilian American to boo...t. If the "PURPOSE of ETHNIC Studies is to PROMOTE PRIDE and the POSITIVE ASPECTS of the ETHNICITY," and dismiss the presence of anything that may be too "negative," or outside of the domesticated pleasantries of Nonna and cannoli-making, as Mr. Annotico suggests, then we are dead as a culture. Annotico obviously has no respect for intellectual dialogue, and places little value on the Italian American community, and those academics, artists and intellectuals who continue to keep our heritage alive and relevant.

Anti-intellectualism again

Skee got it right in highlighting the anti-intellectualism that runs rampant in Annotico's diatribe. Many of us who do scholarly research have been its target. We usually share our war stories over drinks rather than such a public exchange as this blog. Anti-intellectualism is alive and well in the United States and unfortunately has a long history on these shores and it is piled high and wide. With the internet, it becomes even easier to spread such rhetoric. It resides still as it always has in locations such as halls of government where it should be unwelcome. Remember the Enola Gay exhibit that at the Smithsonian that forced curators to alter it because some congressmen felt it was too sympathetic to the Japanese? Anyone remember the PA congressman a number of years ago who railed against academics who he claimed collected big salaries without doing much work? A reason to get rid of tenure he said. He used the discipline of history as an example of a field where there was nothing new to be written about and so why should government support the funding of such disciplines? As economic hard times ensue, anti-intellectualism becomes more than a gnat buzzing in one's ear. It has very real and sometimes dire consequences when many subscribe to its tenets, vote people of this ilk into office, and budgets get cut for programs ranging from the arts and humanities to more essential human needs.

The vulgarity of Annotico,

The vulgarity of Annotico, Piccolo, and others is simply incredible. It is hard to believe that these people purport to inhabit an Italian American landscape (or any other terrestrial landscape for that matter). Do they act like this in person, or only when they are safely hidden behind their computer screens? Their pettiness is incredible... in the vast, complex face of Italian American history, they fall away, little grains of insignificant sand. Surely, Joe Sciorra, whom they attack, has done more to document, preserve, honor, and give voice to the life of Italian Americans than any of the unfortunate people who attack him. Regarding the documentary review by Naison that prompted Mancini's letter: I just reread it, and while I haven't seen the film in question, I think that the review raises many questions that seem to be left unexplored in a lot of films that claim to address IA history. Many films that claim to uplift the community often do it the least justice, because they present a one dimensional, simplistic portrait of it. There is nothing to be gained by such myopic presentations.

Ethnic Self-Loathing

Mr. Annotico's world view is one of self-loathing.

The need to cast Italian/Americans in only rosy terms is a sign of the psychological inability to grow into a mature, fully-defined identity. This requires seeing the shadow side of our culture including the negative stereotypes, coming to understand why these exist and a personal acceptance that the negative, even deadly, aspects of our culture are part of every Italian/American. I did not shoot Yusef Hawkins, but it is my ethnic peers whose seething bigotry spawned in my cultural foundation who did. I did not create the many sordid television images that destroy everything I have worked to countermand, but there are avid Italian/Americans who happily emulate these images.

As long as the Italian/American community fails to self-reflect and continues to repress the palpable challenges to our culture, we will remain disenfranchised.

It is the existence and mission of the Calandra Institute to pursue Italian/American studies. This includes permitting us to explore that dark side and come to understand the whole of Italian/American culture. If we choose to never to do this, the bigotry and stereotyping will continue to hold us back.

my previous comment

I meant "Annotico" not "Piccolo" - but they're interchangeable to me...

Sorry for not making this

Sorry for not making this short and forgive me for my not-so-thorough analysis (I'm not a scholar or intellectual, after all), but I’m reacting strongly to this. I find Piccolo's accusations outrageous and Mancini's inability to submit his work for a high level of intellectual discourse by people both within and outside his ethnicity rather disturbing.

Piccolo's accusations are seriously ill-founded. After all, how does providing a different perspective on what happened in Bensonhurst constitute "self-loathing" or make you an Italian American "turncoat?" As with all people in this intellectual space, you advanced the public discussion about race and ethnicity, as you should, lest we stay in the "eye for an eye" stage of human development. If you so hated being Italian American, why would you dedicate your life to the understanding of your people's "stories, histories, struggles and triumphs" (from wikipedia's definition of "ethnic studies." Just saying...) and educating and sharing the richness of the Italian American culture with others? For rational people, this would not compute. His flavor of personal attack has no place in discourse at your intellectual level, but seemingly that is all he has in his arsenal, which makes him rather small-minded and unqualified to render an opinion of any merit. The First Amendment gives him the right spew publicly. I, for one, am happy to stay clear of the spray…

His assertion that "the PURPOSE of ETHNIC Studies is to PROMOTE PRIDE and the POSITIVE ASPECTS of the ETHNICITY to counter all the NEGATIVITY in the Society/Media" is misaligned with the definitions of the same of many academic institutions. UC Berkeley, for example, would beg to differ in both focus and output - "The Ethnic specifically comparative and it aims to provide students the possibility of focusing on one or more issues, problems, intellectual approaches, or themes and explore them in relation to two or more ethno-racial groups nationally or internationally." As would Columbia University's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race - "with its attention to the comparative study of racial and ethnic categories in the production of social identities, power relations, and forms of knowledge in a multiplicity of contexts, including the arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities." I won't continue with others. You get my point. In no way are ethnic studies, as they are defined today by leaders in this space, meant as a PR vehicle to put a positive spin on a specific ethnicity.

Onto Mancini... "As with most, if not all, ethnic productions on PBS the tone was essentially positive. After all, local PBS stations around the country use such broadcasts to raise operating money from the target communities..." Mancini seems to admit, and somewhat unapologetically, that they produced a feel good film meant to help PBS persuade a target audience to open their wallets. The producers did not make a balanced work of scholarly merit, and maybe they didn’t mean to, and they certainly didn’t seem to want it submitted into the arena for intellectual discourse. If that were the case, then the points in Mr. Naison’s review would have sparked a more positive and productive discussion with Mancini. It's interesting that he gets defensive when his work is given that level of scrutiny. He finds it "odd that Mr. Naison would expect any ethnic group to present a contrary side of itself on public television." I find “odd” that Mancini, the executive director of a supposedly respected Italian cultural institution, would ascribe to Piccolo’s narrow and misguided definition of ethnic studies. And, to be blunt, it reeks of revisionist history. Every documentary has a point of view, of course, but there should be some attempt at balance for there to be any credibility to the voice. As for the selection of Mr. Naison to review the film and publishing the review, I think it’s brilliant and in keeping with the comparative nature of ethnic studies. Mancini seems to think that we should all be sitting around doing an intellectual circle jerk. And, THAT I find most disturbing.

It's a sign of the times

These are troubling days for sure when ignorance is regularly touted as some new revelation. Annotico's attack on Joe Sciorra's scholarship (not to mention his personhood) should be called out and thoroughly condemned. To paraphrase Woody Allen: He knows nothing of Joe's work.

With all due respect, I suspect that Mr. Annotico is in need of a good analyst, and preferably a Freudian.

I know it's a huge drag to

I know it's a huge drag to have your work, and your personal integrity, slimed by the likes of these semi-literate fascist cretins. (Hey, when I got called a "frocio comunista" at least the slur was reality-based!) But since these insignificant people are just semi-literate fascist cretins who'll never accomplish anything comparable in value to Joe's work, they deserve just a heartfelt vaffanculo and no more attention beyond that.