My Mafia Coat and Gangster Culture

One of my co-workers said that I was wearing my “Mafia coat” today.

It’s this long coat; she said that with it, my ponytail and goatee, and authoritative walk (no, really, she said that), that I reminded her of one of the characters from the Sopranos. [1]

Uh, yeah. Whatever.

But that got me to thinking. While the Italian stereotype of organized crime has gotten a lot of popular attention, they were not the only ethnic immigrants who turned to crime. The Irish mob predates the Italian one, and a Jewish mob existed during that time as well. All three groups were immigrants and – perhaps most importantly – during the time of gangland crime were discriminated against.

It’s easy for most of White america to forget that the Irish and Italians were not considered white eighty years ago. [2] Since that time, the Irish and Jewish mobs have become a mostly-forgotten curiosity, and the Italian mob – at least in popular culture – has become a stereotype and cariacture of itself.

Which brings us to black gangster culture.

It seems to share a lot of similarities with the other groups: an ethnic minority trapped in poverty carving out a musical and stylistic niche [3], a glamourizing of violence, and a particular (and strict) ethical code. Also similarily, those musical and fashion elements have quickly been appropriated by white culture – sometimes benefiting the creators, often not. [4]

Okay, yeah, this isn’t a full on treatise. I’m not intimately familiar with the history of any of these groups. And there are a lot of differences, especially stylistically. The situations are not identical… but the broad strokes are strongly reminiscent of each other. And that’s what makes me wonder.

Our society keeps producing ethnic marginalized minorities that turn to crime and create a subculture that mainstream White culture later appropriates. Why does this keep happening? And when it does happen, why do we blame the minority group instead of system that shapes them?

[1] And, of course, we could talk about the “Trench Coat Mafia”. I was routinely followed, treated with suspicion, and even questioned by police officers for wearing a trench coat as a youth – and that was well before Columbine.
[2] Anti-Jewish sentiment had not yet peaked, and is, unfortunately, still with us.
[3] Sinatra, etc.
[4] Strangely, as I was writing this, a white guy in the room had a rap ringtone go off on his phone blasting the N word.

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