PHILADELPHIA. Tony “Baby Shanks” DeFilippo came of age during the 1960’s, but he says he missed out on that decade’s social turbulence. “I was too busy chasin’ girls,” he says with a sly smile. “I didn’t have time for no Vietnams, North or South.”
But all that changed during the past year with the rise of “cultural appropriation” as a contentious item on college campuses across the nation. “I figure, Chinese, blacks, Puerto Ricans all gettin’ theirs, why shouldn’t the Dagos get a piece of the action?” he says of the movement to discourage the use of elements from one ethnic or racial culture by members of another.
DeFilippo, a garbage man who retired two years ago, was looking around for a new activity to fill his days, and hit upon double-entry bookkeeping, a foundation of modern accounting, which was developed by Italian friar Luca Pacioli in the late 15th century. “I look at all these places like-a Wharton,” he says in his broken English of the nation’s oldest business school at the University of Pennsylvania here. “Lemme tell you, when I see how much money those kids make with their freshly-minted MBAs, it really frosts my ass.”
So DeFilippo and two former colleagues who rode with him for nearly three decades picking up trash along the streets of Commercial Sanitation District #13 here–Steve “The Icepick” Cotto and Joey “Pockets” Gaetano–joined him yesterday to block the rear entrance to Vance Hall, which houses the business school’s administrative offices. “Ain’t nobody comin’ out or goin’ in until they give back double-entry bookkeepin’!” Gaetano shouts with a booming voice that he once used to yell pithy two-word sentences such as “Back up!” and “All set!” to garbage truck drivers.
“Cultural appropriation” has been used by college students to stop yoga classes and a proposed fashion event in which non-Asian women would have worn kimonos, among other protests. “Nobody’s gone after Tom Waits for trying to sound like a Mississippi sharecropper,” says Martin Weissbard, a professor of sociology at Bryn Mawr College, “but it’s only a matter of time.”
If DeFilippo’s group gets his way chaos could ensue, according to Leonard Beringer, incoming president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. “Our economy would grind to a halt if we were limited to single-entry bookkeeping,” he notes as he reviews a list of “non-negotiable demands” with a wrinkled brow. “We’ve been taught ‘debits on the left, credits on the right,’ some of us from infancy. We can’t change now!”
But the group isn’t backing down and they say they’ll keep the pressure on until they get a meeting with the school’s Dean. “I don’t wanna talk to no provost neither,” Cotto says, causing Gaetano to ask what the unfamiliar words means. “It’s a senior academic officer at a college or university,” Cotto says as he adjusts his moniker, which had been knocked askew by a gust of wind. “Either that or it’s a kinda cheese.”