As a black American in her adopted country of Italy where I’ve lived for the last twenty years, I’ll admit to being confounded by the conversation surrounding race here. Baffled, bothered and bewildered, am I.
There has been an alarming increase in racist attacks here in Italy since Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini was appointed. A quick aside for those of you who are unfamiliar with the current Italian government officials. Mr. Salvini is currently responsible for internal security. Extremely concerning as his party is the Lega Nord ( The Northern League). Actually, let me digress here for a hot minute- the full name of the party is Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania (Northern League for the Independence of Padania) and their initial focus was a campaign for the succession of Northern Italy. Hence “Padania” which is their name for the north of Italy. Salvini, however, has changed that objective and currently concentrates on things like a crackdown on immigration as well as Euroscepticism and embraces other populist policies. He is advocating to unite far-right political parties across Europe including Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Rally, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom and Harald Vilimsky of Austria’s Freedom party.
Now, this is a pompous bully who likes to quote Mussolini in his tweets. He’s a blustering, opportunistic, power hungry, wannabe despot. Sound familiar my American family? He has brought about a climate that has created an increased sense of entitlement; allowing citizens to exhibit acts of racism with impunity. Does THAT sound familiar? 12 shootings, two murders, and 33 physical assaults have been recorded in the two months since Salvino has taken office.
For the same period in 2017 ? 9 attacks on immigrants were reported- no shootings, no deaths. Of course, that’s just what WAS reported.
So that’s the background. The latest case is that of Daisy Osakue. You might have seen it in the news. She’s an Italian athlete on the national team and is headed to the European Championships. Some kids threw an egg at her with such force that her cornea was damaged. She told the media that she thought she was targeted as she was in an area known for black prostitution, and felt as though that was the motivation behind the aggression.
Now, the debate here is fierce, with many detractors accusing Daisy of crying wolf. Salvini has demanded an apology. Her Facebook feed, Daisy has since deleted the posts and disabled the comment feature, was burning up with hundreds of comments - the majority of which were racist hateful Italian trolls dragging her. The interesting thing is that of the few purportedly supporting her; most qualified their support with statements like,
‘I’m sorry so many people are attacking you here and I can understand that your first impulse would be to play the race card as you’re young, but I’m really sure it wasn’t racially motivated. You know kids will be kids.’
It is outrageous and deeply troubling that Daisy and other athletes such as Mario Balotelli who, when they try to speak of the discrimination that this country has oppressed them with throughout their lives are so viciously, thoroughly put in their place.
Happily, there is a movement starting up with Black Italians, a desire to unapologetically tell their stories. The singer Cecile is a great example. Her lyric on this is outstanding!
This is a recurring theme in my conversations with Italians when I recount episodes of passive racism directed my way, and in twenty years there have been many. Eighty percent of the time I find my friends, my fellow musicians, acquaintances become terribly defensive as though I am attacking them personally and “explain”, (italiasplain) to me the nuances that they are sure I’ve missed. The most common comment is.
“Aw, They didn’t mean any harm, they are just not used to seeing… uh, er people like you.”
Then we have to have a conversation about colonialism and how great Italy is because they haven't taken that path (actually they tried and failed but that’s another story) and how that’s why there are so few people of color here and so people don’t know how to act, but really it’s just ignorance, no offence intended.
I am well aware that Italians do not share America’s long painful history on the subject of race. I also am able to recognise when a person is categorising me based on an assumption formed because of the color of my skin. I do know what prejudice looks like and what it feels like. Covert or overt.
I’ve personally found that Italians are incredibly sensitive to being accused of racism. I am continually amazed by the fact that instigating a dialogue on what racism is and it’s existence in Italy is so terribly difficult. The liberals that comprise the majority of people with whom I’m acquainted on more than a superficial level are no different. Racism seems to mean to most Italians, those cretins who publicly spew hateful rhetoric, engage in violence directed towards brown people, who ACTIVELY express their bigotry. If someone stops their car while I’m at a bus stop and asks me how much I want, accompanied by rude gestures just in case I don’t get their drift, just in case I don’t speak the language- sure, as many people tell me, that might happen to an Italian woman as well. I have yet to meet one who, when I tell the stories of the several occasions I’ve undergone that, tells me she has endured the same. I’m tempted to just write a list here of all the times- delineating all the ways I have been subject to the unacknowledged pervasive racism that most certainly does exist here in Italy.
The thing is, I’m sure there ARE some white women, perhaps even Italian women who’ve undergone the same treatment but That. Is. Not. The. Point. The fact that the boys may have thrown eggs at other citizens besides Daisy does not remove the fact that they targeted the recipients of their game for specific reasons- conscious or not. As do the confident men with their lewd suggestions, the people who offer me their hand me downs, those who raise their voices and explain with gestures when they initiate a conversation as they are sure I don’t speak Italian ( and then compliment me on how well spoken I am when I open my mouth) the fingers in my hair, the unapologetic stares. The condescension, the patronizing platitudes all stem from a deep-seated denial of the reality of race relations in this country.
Positive change regarding the immigrant and black Italian experience cannot come about until Italians can come to terms with the racism embedded throughout their culture and learn to listen to the black Italians and immigrants on their experiences within this country.
And yup, I got a song on this subject that unfortunately bears repeating. Lyrics below. (Traduzione Italiano sotto)
Answers to your questions. You look at me like you’re lettin me know they were the wrong ones. What’s with the aggression? I haven’t begun to be done. Now you brought it up and I’m just talking truth . Being black in Italy... Well, no way to put it wittily there’s an awful lot of bigotry.
Of course, that’s not everyone an’ it exists every place but why pretend that here is a safe space?
I’m not trying to offend you, these things happen all the time. Passive racism counts, just sayin’. While you may have been indoctrinated that doesn’t mean that I am obligated to pretend your ignorance is nonexistent . It’s not like I’m goin’ ballistic
Wherever I go I need bring patience with me, teach and not sigh rolling my eyes to the sky . The fact that you dare poke your fingers in my hair reach out and touch my skin. That’s wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin
If I were to say that to your face I admit I’d be disgracefully ignoring your non-complicity, you really don’t know . So every time I try to explain with a smile how the twist in my hair is born.. watch you torn as to what to ask next and I am locked in dread
cause I know there’s gonna be a long conversation ahead.
I can’t stand on the street for a second I reckon without someone asking how much do I want,
strangely enough, my white Italian female friends don’t endure this same taunt
When people throw bananas at the first elected black minister in parliament , you gotta think things are a bit turbulent
Now, Cecile, she got appeal and a whole lot of style she didn’t spit any bile just stood there & what made me smile was her astute reply...
What a waste of that fruit when people are hungry. Shame on you, thinkin’ you’re cute
She is working hard to change the law and allow immigrants children citizenship Now not to be bourgeois a freedom that to an American like me seems natural
You know to be recognized as coming from the country you were actually born in, raised in often the only place you ever been. What don’t you deserve to be a citizen?
Oh yes that’s right cuz you value roots. When you asked I said I am an American, your response was Yeah, but where are you really from? I said Boulder Colorado what of it then? You insisted and said but where’d your people get off the boat from?
Or if not you’re convinced that I come from whatever country you have visited that has principally black villages. You look so much like the Kenyans, the Cubans
are you from Tunisia originally, not noticing me staring at you dismally, see cause I was there or maybe it’s Rhodesia??
When I insist I’m as American as they come, you get mad like you think I think you’re dumb . See cuz America’s so young and Italy’s so old. I wanna know if you can trace back your ancestry more than 400 years, most of ya’ll can’t so stop with that fantasy . Black slaves have been there since somewhere around 1619. You think you’re the first to ask? No that’s number umpteen.
Then I’m the one whose shoulders got a chip, uppity black negro bitch , oughta be happy with what you got. Don’t deride this country- you chide-
You don’t understand, those are just our ways, and this is definitely our land
It seem to me like you carryin’ a chip
you wanna get a grip
we are colorblind we got peace of mind
Risposte alle tue domande Mi guardi come per dirmi che erano quelle sbagliate Cos’è quest’aggressione Non sono neanche vicina ad aver finito Visto che ne parli Di dico la verità Essere nero in Italia Beh non c’è un modo spiritoso per dirlo L’intolleranza è tanta
Ovvio che non tutti son così E che esiste un po’ dovunque Ma perché fingere che qui siamo al sicuro Non sto cercando di offenderti Son cose che succedono continuamente il razzismo passivo conta Sto solo dicendo che tu magari sei stato indottrinato Ma questo non significa che io sono obbligatoa far finta che la tua ignoranza non esistama credi, non mi sto incazzando
Ovunque vado, devo armarmi di pazienza Meglio educare che sospirare e alzare gli occhi al cielo Il fatto che ti permetti di ficcarmi le dita tra i capelli e toccarmi la pelle è talmente sbagliato che non so nemmeno dove cominciare a dirlo Se te lo dovessi dire in faccia, confesso che ignorerei senza vergogna la tua mancanza di complicità, credimi, Così ogni volta provo a spiegare con un sorrisocome nascono i dreadlock, ti guardo mentre cerchi di decidere quale sarà la prossima domanda e aspetto terrorizzata sapendo che la conversazione sarà lunga.
Non posso star per strada un attimo senza che qualcuno che chieda quanto voglio Come mai le mie amiche bianche italiane non subiscono lo stesso oltraggio Quando la gente lancia banane al primo ministro nero eletto in parlamento devi capire che è un momento turbolento Cecile ha fascino e un sacco di stile, per cui non ha sputato certo bile È stata lì e la sua risposta arguta mi ha fatto sorridere
Che spreco di fruttaquando c’è tanta gente affamata. Vergogna, vi credete spiritosi Lei stava lavorando duro per cambiare la legge e ottenere la cittadinanza per i bambini immigrati Ora, non per fare i borghesi
Ma è una libertàche a un americano come me sembra naturale Essere identificato con il Paese in cui sei nato, cresciuto e che spesso è l'unico posto in cui sei mai stato. Cosa? Non ti meriti di essere un cittadino?Oh certo, vero, per te contano le radiciquando me l’hai chiesto ti ho detto che sono americanala tua risposta è stata si, ma da dove vieni veramente, ho detto Boulder Colorado, e allora?
Ma tu hai insistito e mi hai detto ma da dove veniva la tua gente che è sbarcata Oppure, sei convinto che io vengo da uno qualunque dei Paesi che hai visitato Dove i villaggi sono soprattutto di neri Guarda, sembri proprio keniota, o una cubana Ma originariamente vieni dalla Tunisia? E non ti accorgi che ti fisso desolataPerché, vedi, io ci sono andato, o forse era Rhodesia ??
Quando insisto che sono proprio americana Ti arrabbi come se pensassi che ti credo uno stupido Vedi, perché l’America è così giovane e l’Italia così antica Voglio sapere se è possibile risalire ai tuoi antenati più di 400 anni fa, la maggior parte di voi non riesce a smetterla con ‘sta storia Gli schiavi neri sono lì più o meno dal 1619 pensi di essere il primo a chiedermelo ma sei il millesimo
Poi sono io quello col dente avvelenato arrogante stronza negra Ritieniti soddisfatta di quello che hai Non deridere questo Paese, mi rimproveri,non capisciqueste sono le nostre abitudini, e questa è certamente la nostra terra
A me sembra che sia tu quello col dente avvelenatoDatti una calmata,noi siamo daltonici e siamo sereni.