When Italians were “Blacks”: The dark-skinned Sicilians

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Here are some interesting things:

Southern Italians were considered “black” in the South and were subjected to the Jim Crow laws of segregation. They weren’t allowed to marry “whites.” It was difficult, damn near impossible.

They were designated as “black” on census forms if they lived in the South and that is because the majority of them were dark-skinned Sicilians.

Mass lynchings happened to them often.

One of the biggest mass lynchings happened to Italians in New Orleans when they thought that a Italian immigrant had killed a “white” police officer.

The very few Northern Italians that immigrated here perpetuated the myth that Southern Italians and Greeks were of a different race than them in order to save their own asses. This wasn’t true, and there are actually dark-skinned Italians all over Italy, not just in the South, as well as light-skinned Italians all over Italy.

The reason I say very few is because over 80% of Italian immigrants were from Southern Italy (Sicily, Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Sardinia, Naples, etc.)

It was highly unlikely (damn near impossible) for a Southern Italian to own a slave because they were seen as the same as blacks, and at the time, they were the second (right behind blacks) most discriminated against group.

The mass immigration for Italians didn’t start until 1880 and even then, they were discriminated against. However, this mass immigration leads into Italian-Americans today:

Italian is the fourth largest ethnic group reported among white Americans.

The great majority of Italians are now middle class to upper middle class and wealthy. They also mostly work white collar jobs.

Their intermarriage rate is around 90%. It was at 80% in the 70’s. So most Italian-Americans also have a white parent of some other descent, especially if they were born after 1980. Exactly like my friend who has a Sicilian father (and he is very dark-skinned) and white Southerner for a mother. We spoke to my friend’s Sicilian grandfather, and he said that one of his brothers was dating a white girl from the South back in the day and that her family considered him “black.” They thought that was weird because by that time, they were living in New York.

They are now considered white



I thought it was interesting looking at back then and looking at them now. I knew they weren’t considered white back then, but I had no idea they actually wrote them down as black on census forms. That shocked me, and when I found that my friend’s ancestor was listed as black on that census form, I thought the ancestor was just a biracial who had a Sicilian father, and so did she. We were just as surprised to find that he was just a teenage Sicilian immigrant. My friend has tanned skin, dark hair, blue eyes, and freckles to boot. So you can see both ethnicities in her. My Greek professor is way darker than her, and he also has a white, WASPY mother.

Italians are still discriminated against. I remember hearing a group of white women referring to them as “Ghetto Whites”. Many whites who feel they have a “true bloodline” dont like them. Anglo Saxonism is a bitch. Pretty much anyone not from England, Gemany (not Jews), Netherlands and so on is not “truly white”. From my experience and when I look at history, this is how white supremacists feel. Spaniards are technically considered Euopean/”white”, but many dont accept them as that. Discrimination among the white race is very prevalent.

Courtesy Lipstickvalley

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302 thoughts on “When Italians were “Blacks”: The dark-skinned Sicilians”

  1. I wonder if the original poster knows my family!! My Italian Brooklyn Dad married a southern woman (from Charleston). It goes something like this…his father and mother were both from Naples and emigrated during one of those ‘italian waves’ after the turn of the century. Both of my grandparents were medium – dark olive complexion – my grandfather was fairly short, and had a very large hooked nose. My grandmother was more refined looking but not a looker, though I saw very old pictures of her own mother (my great grand) and she was absolutely beautiful.

    So, once my grandparents met in America, they married and had 5 children. All of them had their own look and all had very big noses. One of my Aunts’ was very dark complected and the others were med. olive. All had brown eyes. They were poor and lived in the “Italian ghetto” —I mean they were really poor. My grandfather wasn’t educated and was made a naturalized citizen after serving in the army. He learned English but never how to write. My grandmother was very shy and only learned broken English – but all of her children spoke it until later when my father and his younger sister forgot how..

    My Dad, while serving in the military met my mother in S.C. She has English ancestry and blue eyes. As a child she was called a “toe-head” because her hair was almost white.
    When her parents met my Dad, they saw a very handsome and charismatic man, but yes, he was a dark “eye-talian.” Very interesting because as you know just prior to this the south was very segregated. Anyway, my father moved my mom back to NY and had 4 kids. I’m the youngest. This is how we look:
    My oldest sister could pass for biracial and looks African American, Spanish, Mexican, Egyptian, Arab, Italian etc with dark wavy hair, brown eyes, full lips. She is very pretty. My brother…light olive complexion, blue eyes, dark hair. He is nice looking. My other sister…dark hair, med olive complexion, hazel eyes and tans dark and can pass for Mexican or Spanish. Also attractive. Me…white alabaster skin, dirty blonde/brown hair, freckles, hazel green eyes. In my youth I was quite pretty, now i’m just getting old! Anyway, my 2 sisters at first glance resemble each other because of their hair color and nose shape, which isn’t big, just average and nice shape. But in other ways, I resemble my oldest sister and people say we look alike even though she’s much darker and has fuller lips. When I look at her I see such a mix, it would be interesting to do her ancestry and then my own and see how similar or different it comes up.

    I think I’ve read that even in the same family not all siblings will carry the same exact amounts. BTW, I can’t stand any form that asks about “race” and find it insulting. Why do they need to know at the doctors office which race I am – I’m of the human race. So, normally I leave it unchecked.

    Last, my son had blonde hair, olive complexion and light brown eyes when little. As he grew, his hair darkened and his features sharpened. He looks of Arab or Egyptian descent especially when he grows facial hair. His nose is a smaller version of my grandfathers nose. His Dad (my spouse) is a real mix… has a ton of everything,…English, French, Irish, and Native American Indian. I feel like our son grabbed the Native American and the Italian features and whatever subsets or mixes are associated with those. VERY interesting topic.

    While on the subject, I think it’s safe to say that Italian immigrants were very much discriminated against. My aunt told me a story of how when my grandfather had to go up to her school, the teacher yelled at him and called him a “greasy wop” to which he replied furiously, “I served this country” as he pointed toward the American flag in the classroom.

    I myself, experienced my own problems in middle school when as one of the few white kids attending a particular Brooklyn school was called all kinds of names from both Puerto Rican and Black students and was constantly harassed by both groups. Some of the P.R. kids looked whiter or more European than me. Interestingly, my only friend in school was a beautiful very dark skinned Indian girl! They didn’t like her either and would make fun of her eating curry she’d bring to school, it was an awful time for both of us. But we made quite a pair…me with long dirty blonde hair and her with jet black long hair. Sadly, this was when I first realized I wasn’t liked just because of my skin color and my hair. Before this, I was just a kid who had lived in both NY and SC…and our differences didn’t matter because children are innocent until society, media and culture tries to divide us. I have nothing against being proud of heritage and culture…because that’s what makes the world go around and we would not be able to appreciate each others foods, music, customs and traditions without it, but I am so tired of everything being about social, political and cultural correctness. GAG me over and over, why can’t everybody just get along? “Come on people now, smile on each other, everybody get together and try to love one another right now.” -The Youngbloods,
    “One Love, One Heart, Let’s get together and feel alright,” – Bob Marley

  2. The term “black ” italian stems from the fact that Iberia” the “Moors” were at war with Italy in the 11th century before there was ever a “Spain” and some stayed behind and had families. Spain did not exist until Isabel who was not of castille until she eloped with Ferdinand against the Pope’s wishes and Ferdinands army win her castille at which point she became of castille and Spain then all of Europe was created. The seat of the Moorish conquest was Grenada and at that time there was no Spain. This also is where the term “black Irish” comes from. They are the decendants of a moor who survived that time. This is history not a personal need not to be something. Please refer to your history books and read more than one. The term romantic languages stems from countries who were together in war and who benefited from those spoils. Look at how Africa was divided and who gained territories there

  3. I am Sicilian. Thought I was 100%. Just did a DNA test. Found out I’m 60% Sicilian and 40% French. Europeans have been meandering around Europe since the being of time.

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