Political theater continues to distract us from real discrimination | Helen Ubiñas
Some historians believe Columbus was kind to Native populations he encountered. But some historians would be wrong, and every actual civil rights activist is rolling in their graves.
The Kenney administration turned Philadelphia into a national joke when it put a bunch of self-described college kids in charge of our first mass COVID-19 vaccination site.
But that was just the warm-up act.
Councilperson Mark Squilla and some 50 Italian American groups have provided a new punchline by suing Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration in federal court, accusing it of discriminating against his Italian American constituents and asking the court to declare Italian Americans a protected class.
Makes sense, given the rise of hate crimes directed at the group lately. Oh wait, that would be Asian Americans who have been increasingly and violently targeted since the pandemic began. As recently as Tuesday, a 64-year-old man of Asian descent was assaulted in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. This after a 27-year-old Asian woman, on Sunday, was hospitalized after a man walked up to her on a Chinatown sidewalk, hit her in the face, and walked away.
But who has time for pesky facts when there are Big Lies to reinforce about Columbus being a civil rights activist! Squilla insists some historians believe Columbus was kind to Native populations he encountered in the Caribbean. But some historians would be wrong, and all actual civil rights activists are rolling in their graves. To agree with Squilla & Co. is to ignore documented atrocities of looting, murder, and slavery. (I promise there are better Italians to pledge your undying love and devotion. Google them.)
If this were a few days earlier, I would have bet money it was a lame April Fools’ joke.
But nope, they unfurled one ridiculous grievance after another, including that should they win, they want the city — that would be you, my fellow taxpayers — to pay attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs.
So, let’s see what we’d be paying for, shall we?
For starters, they want Columbus Day to be reinstated after Kenney had the audacity to acknowledge the institutional racism and marginalization of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color by renaming the city’s holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and (adding insult to injury) recognizing the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
But where does that leave the poor genocidal colonizer?
Especially after, as evidence of trumped-up discrimination, they cited the city attempting to remove the Christopher Columbus statue from Marconi Plaza when it became Ground Zero for armed groups accused of assailing protesters and passersby. The lawsuit also brought up the unjust demotion of former First District Capt. Louis Campione after allegations that his officers defended white vigilantes during protests there last spring. There are some damning videos that sure seem to support this, but who are you gonna believe: them or your lying eyes?
And then there’s the city’s perennial racist lightning rod: the statue of the late mayor, police commissioner, and resident police brutality fan boy Frank Rizzo, proponent of racially divisive language and policies his followers consistently insist have been misunderstood, twisted by woke mobs who hate Italians. (I mean, the guy had Black bodyguards, for crying out loud!)
There’s a lot of that “you got it all wrong …” mentality going around these days: Consider the Capitol insurrectionists scrambling to apologize now that they are realizing there might be actual consequences for unleashing the deadly carnage on the country in the name of Donald Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election.
It would be easy to write off so much of the madness, maybe enjoy a few chuckles at the latest insanity. But remember what happened last time we laughed off a clown? One of the more disturbing parts in the suit against the city is the allegation that it discriminated against Italian Americans by not including South Philadelphia’s 19148 zip code in its list of prioritized neighborhoods for coronavirus vaccine distribution. It’s one thing to pledge allegiance to white rage by worshiping at the foot of some problematic statues, but slinging this kind of misinformation isn’t just irresponsible, it’s dangerous.
The city has been prioritizing vaccine outreach to Black and brown residents because they are disproportionately getting sick and dying from COVID-19. That is a fact. Also a fact: 19148 is one of the most vaccinated parts of the city. But again, who cares about (real) systemic racism.
The truly pathetic thing about Squilla & Co.’s lawsuit is that Kenney and his administration do need to be held to account for a vaccine screw-up — the partnership with Philly Fighting COVID and its huckster CEO, who not only had zero qualms botching the rollout of desperately needed vaccine, but also felt emboldened to mock and question Ala Stanford, a physician who founded and runs the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, a nonprofit that offers testing and vaccination in underserved neighborhoods.
But then who needs public service when there’s political theater.