An incident involving CNN anchor Chris Cuomo has ignited debate over if – and why – the name “Fredo” is an ethnic slur directed at Italian Americans.
A video surfaced on Monday evening showing Cuomo berate a man for his reference to The Godfather films’ fictional character Fredo Corleone.
The Corleone brother is seen as the weakest brother in the films, seeking approval from his mafia boss father.
In response, Cuomo claimed that Fredo is “like the N-word” for Italians.
“Are any of you Italian?” he asked of the men involved in the altercation in the profanity-laced video. “It’s an insult to your people… It’s like the N-word for us.”
Cuomo’s analogy to the N-word drew condemnation, with critics saying it was inappropriate to compare Fredo to the explosive and offensive term once used to insult black slaves.
Citing Oprah Winfrey, journalist Yashar Ali wrote on Twitter that “the N-word is the last thing black men heard before they were strung up from a tree… Nothing is comparable.”
Anthony Tamburri, dean of the John D Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College City University of New York, said that he and his colleagues spoke about the incident, and do not find Fredo personally offensive, but recognise the potential malice behind the term.
“The use of the word Fredo as an ethnic slur… is a regionalism,” said Mr Tamburri, who is a third-generation Italian American. “It’s definitely something more local than it is national.”
In some parts of the US, Italian Americans would see the term as neutral, he added.
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“Italians for the past 140 years have been accused of many things, including being lazy, and therefore I can see how lazy transfers to incompetence, as Fredo was seen in the Godfather,” Mr Tamburri said.
“He’s the older weak brother… He’s not the brightest, not the strongest,” he continued.
Mr Tamburri suggested that Cuomo’s outrage may be rooted in the notion that he is the weak link of his family, similar to Fredo of the fictionalised Corleones.
“It’s possible to see how Chris Cuomo may have taken it personally as well considering his father was one of the United States’ best contemporary orators and considering his brother is the Governor of New York,” Mr Tamburri said, referring to Cuomo’s famous family members. His father, Mario Cuomo, was a former governor of New York and his brother, Andrew Cuomo, currently serves in the same role.
CNN political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas invoked Fredo in this manner on Cuomo’s show in January, when she compared US President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, to Fredo.
His “only call to fame was being his daddy’s son”, Navarro-Cárdenas said.
The president seemed to draw on this thread when he weighed in on Tuesday, writing on Twitter that he “thought that Chris was Fredo also”.
While Mr Tamburri recognised Fredo as inflammatory, he said it pales in comparison to other slurs against Italians.
But Mr Tamburri hesitates to compare even these slurs to the N-word.
“As much as Italians have suffered and suffered greatly, African Americans and Jews have had to deal with things we have not had to deal with,” Mr Tamburri said, citing the “tragedy of slavery” and “the tragedy of genocide”.
“It doesn’t in any shape or form condone the use,” he continued, “but as Italian Americans we just need to know where we stand within the greater scheme of ethnic politics.”