By Tom Cardella

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Nov. 29, 2012

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I hate stereotypes. Maybe it’s because we live in an area that has become one big stereotype. Play a word association game with folks outside our area and see what they identify with South Philadelphia (notice I didn’t write “South Philly” because I dislike that nickname as much as people from San Francisco hate “Frisco.” I don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just a personal thing with me.)

Maybe I’m being too sensitive, but I don’t think so. Years ago I worked as a sports talk host at WIP. The program director called me into his office one day and said, “I thought you’re from South Philly.” 

“I am,” I replied, wondering where this conversation was heading. 

“Well, you don’t sound like you’re from South Philly,” he said. 

We got into a brief discussion about how he thought I should sound because I resided in South Philadelphia. The conversation included a snide remark from yours truly, who mentioned my folks had paid good money to send me to Temple University where I majored in communications so I wouldn’t think the plural of “you” is “youse.” It went right over his head. I left his office feeling that somehow I had disappointed him. 

What I realized years later was WIP has a lot of listeners in this part of the city. The boss must have believed if I started referring to the callers as “cuz” I would have connected better with the audience.

Look, I understand there is a grain of truth in stereotypes. I also understand not all of the stereotypes about our area are necessarily negative. The problem is everybody gets tarred with the same brush. Strangers assume they know you because of where you live. I don’t want someone to assume they know my likes and dislikes, my attitudes and such because I have lived here all my life.

Don’t be mistaken. Not wanting to be stereotyped is not the same thing as being ashamed of your background. Far from it. There’s a lot to like about South Philadelphia or I wouldn’t have remained here all of my life. I like the food, the accessibility, the sports complex, the overall feeling that South Philadelphia is where it is happening. I do wish South Philadelphia had even a fraction of the number of bookstores as it does pizza parlors and tanning salons. 

What I don’t like is somebody automatically assuming my favorite food is a cheesesteak; I have a photo of Frank Rizzo in my wallet next to a picture of my wife; I don’t know proper English; and maybe I’m mobbed up. Not that there’s anything wrong with liking cheesesteaks, Rizzo, that my English would please the Queen or having strangers thinking you might not be someone to mess with. Stereotypes are wrong because it’s a lazy way of thinking about the world and the people in it without doing the necessary personal research. It’s shorthand for insight.

Another thing I don’t like is folks who perpetuate the South Philadelphia stereotype, trade off it, and then get offended when others stereotype them negatively. You keep calling folks “cuz” and using “yo” and some folks are liable to also believe you took basic English 101. When some stranger says this is a “colorful” area of the city, he or she is right, but it doesn’t mean the only musical heritage we have is played at the parade on New Year’s Day or singing in harmony on street corners. It doesn’t mean hoagies are our haute cuisine or our only interest in life is how long Andy Reid is going to haunt us before Jeffrey Lurie finally fires him. It also doesn’t mean we can’t get along with any ethnic or racial group but our own or our mother had a mole on her chin, went to church seven days a week and only took time out from praying the rosary to make meatballs on Sunday morning. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it doesn’t necessarily define all of us.

It might surprise you to find out that not everybody down here thinks “Rocky” is the best movie ever made. Some of us even realize Rocky Balboa is fictional and a stereotype off which Sly Stallone made a career.

Pardon me if I take offense when I first meet you if you start asking me about mob hits or assume I never read a book. And I am not exactly thrilled when you ask me if it’s safe to walk around my neighborhood. It is and maybe we don’t want you walking around our neighborhood if you really feel that way.

I just turned 74. I’m a white male and although I do get grumpy on occasion, I resent also being stereotyped as just another grumpy old white man. Is there a limit to the number of stereotyped groups one can fall into? Well, there should be. It might just surprise you this “grumpy old white man” thinks the only good tea party happened when Sam Adams and the boys dumped that British tea into the Boston Harbor, and that I have no problem with gay folks being gay or getting married. 

Please take the time to get to know us.

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Carol said... on Nov 29, 2012 at 03:33PM

““Tom - Just read your column in today's Review regarding South Philadelphia. Really enjoyed it. I, too, wish that our area had bookstores in place of the many nail and tanning salons. Seems to me that the Starbucks on Broad Street serves as a good meeting place for people to congregate over coffee. A nice Barnes & Noble would serve our area well in the same respect. Prospective developers must maintain the notion that the residents of South Phila. do not read and therefore, do not need a bookstore. This issue has been annoying me for a long time. I desperately hoped that the K-mart on Oregon Ave. would be replaced with a bookstore. (As you may have already guessed, I am an avid reader and frequent visitor of the local libraries.) If you ever want to rally the masses regarding a bookstore, keep me in mind. Thanks again for an enlightening column.”

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2. Tommy Foglietta said... on Nov 29, 2012 at 07:30PM

“Be careful. You attribute traits and viewpoints to Republicans that just some of them have.”

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3. Tom Cardella said... on Dec 1, 2012 at 09:23AM

“Any viewpoints I attribute to Republicans are the official position of the Party and are closely adhered to by their members of Congress. As testament to this, the Party has weeded out almost all of its moderates in Congress except for Susan Collins. Hopefully enough of those Congressional Republicans will see their way to agreeing to slightly higher tax rates for higher income earners as part of a deal to avoid the looming fiscal cliff.”

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4. Tommy Foglietta said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 11:15AM

“Well, using logic from the master:

Look, I understand there is a grain of truth in stereotypes. I also understand not all of the stereotypes about Republicans are necessarily negative. The problem is every Republican gets tarred with the same brush. Tom Cardella assumes he knows me because of my party registration. I don’t want someone to assume they know my likes and dislikes, my attitudes and such because I have been registered Republican all my life.

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5. Peter North said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 01:24PM

“Well stated, Tommy, Foglietta, that is, not Cardella!!!”

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6. Joyce said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 03:32PM


I really appreciated this column. I moved to deep South Philadelphia after many years in Center City and wouldn't ever go back north. The area is so much richer than its stereotypes (though those make it really special too...)”

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7. Tom Cardella said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 05:42PM

“Dear TF--You are off base. I have voted for Republicans, love members of my family, who are mostly Republicans and the same goes for my Republican friends. Each of them are individuals and I treat them that way. When I write asbout Republicans, I am dealing with the positions of the Party today as reflected by congressional Republicans or other public figures or the Tea Party. The real problem is that few Republicans politicians today deviate from the Party line in fear of being targeted for defeat by the Tea Party.”

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8. B4cheesesteaks said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 05:47PM

“I get an "are you from New York" after speaking to people here in Central Florida. I must say, I think So Philly Italian-American culture is superior
to the goombahs in the north.

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9. Tom Cardella said... on Dec 4, 2012 at 12:05AM

“To Frankie Bones--No, it was guy named Michael Herrington back in the mid-1980s.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Dec 4, 2012 at 10:04PM

“You yourself are participateing in stereotypes jut with this article by not recognizing all people from south Philadelphia your are representing the article as someone from an area closer to broad street and neglecting those that are not from there u I will say are taking it from the south Philly Italian standpoint what about the Irish on both sides of broad on one side they are drunk mummers and the other are drunk racists or so the stereotypes would have u believe include everyone from south Philly not just your little enclave”

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11. Tom Cardella said... on Dec 4, 2012 at 11:58PM

“Dear Anonymous--Because I didn't specifically mention every ethnic and racial group in South Philadelphia doesn't mean that I believe in stereotypes. I don't, but I'm writing a 900 word column not a novel.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Dec 5, 2012 at 05:11PM



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