My Heart Is as Black as Yours: White Backlash and Italian-American Stereotypes in New York City’s 1969 Mayoral Campaign

Maria C. Lizzi, University of Albany, SUNY

Speaking to an unfriendly crowd at a 1969 Harlem rally, New York City mayoral hopeful Mario Procaccino proclaimed, “My heart is as black as yours.” This gaffe was the Democrat’s attempt to distance himself from his image as the “white backlash” candidate. Although Procaccino used rhetoric that echoed racist law-and-order politicians such as George Wallace, he sought to win the votes of African-American and white ethnic Democrats by reminding them that just a few years earlier, white establishment candidates had questioned whiteness of Italian Americans. The 1969 election pitted Procaccino and John Marchi, both Italian Americans, against the WASP liberal John V. Lindsay. In the process, the meanings of whiteness and Italian-Americaness became central campaign themes. The candidates, the voters, and newspaper reporters rooted their interpretations of ethnic and racial identity in stereotypes that reflected both American and Italian prejudices.