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While there are many white Italians in the media who are tackling racist and fascist discourse, second generations of Italians and migrant voices are not heard enough, which arguably plays a role in failing to ease current tensions.
I was born to an Italian father and a Dominican mother in Santiago de Los Caballeros, and raised by my white Italian family in a village of 4,000 people in Northern Italy.
While I have not experienced racist attacks in my life so far, I have known racist verbal abuse. The mother of a childhood friend of mine once called me “dirty n****r”, after I inadvertently stepped on the flowers in her garden; I was 6 or 7 years old, and that shocked me.
And whenever I have been stopped by policemen or carabinieri, I have always noticed a certain degree of racism in how they approach me.
While I can understand the reasons that led to this electoral outcome, and the support for the Five Star Movement, when it comes to their coalition partner, the League, and especially its leader, minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, my so-called duty towards journalistic objectivity has been deeply tested.
I was in Italy just two weeks ago, and realised just how much the small village reality of church-goers and the elderly and their penchant for local gossip, have always provided the perfect environment for far-right support. The League, formerly Northern League, has always been massively popular where I grew up.
The Deputy PM and his party have contributed dramatically, with their racist rhetoric, to creating a hostile environment for migrants, refugees and minorities. They have exploited the fears of the Italian population, fuelled by years of crisis and misled by dreadful political and media campaigns.
Such campaigns, to be fair, had been launched long before the last Italian elections. The anti-NGO rescues at sea, have been very influential in the establishment of the current environment, and in compromising humanitarian principles.
When neo-nazi and former League local candidate, Luca Traini, went on a shooting rampage against black people in Macerata on the 3rd of February 2018, I could not believe it. It sounded likesomething that could definitely happen in Trump’s America, but not in my country. But thinking so was a form of unconscious denial, and unfortunately, many other incidents like this followed this year.
On 5 March this year, a 54-year-old Senegalese man, Idy Diene, was shot dead on the Amerigo Vespucci bridge in Florence, by Italian citizen Roberto Pirrone. His statement that he wanted to take Diene’s life, and that the killing was not racially motivated, was considered false by Senegalese communities.
Unfortunately, there have been even more attacks like these in previous years.
Back in 2011, Gianluca Casseri, a CasaPound symphatiser, killed two Senegalese street vendors, Samb Modou and Mor Diop, and wounded three others in Florence. And in 2008, 19-year-old Abdul William Guiebre, known as Abba to his friends, was beaten to death by father and son Fausto and Daniele Cristofoli in Milan over allegedly stealing a packet of biscuits. The list goes on.
In 1989, when Jerry Essan Masslo, a South African refugee, was brutally killed by a group of criminals, the homicide shocked the country and led to the first anti-racist demo in Italy on 7 October of the same year, as well as a reform of the regulations on refugee status. That spirit feels so distant in Italy now.
Italian journalist Luigi Mastrodonato put together an interactive map with all the racist attacks that have taken place in the country since 1 June this year, when the Conte Government took office. So far, 29 physical aggressions, 11 fire and compressed arms attacks and two killings have been counted.
The first victim’s name was Soumaila Sacko, a 29-year-old union activist from Mali who was shot dead by an Italian citizens while he was looking for scrap metal, and the second was Hadj Zaitouni, 43-years-old, from Morocco, who was chased and beaten to death in Aprilia under the suspicion that he might be a thief.
Where are the national demonstrations and outrage for these two brutal killings?
I do not want to sound unfair, or to suggest that the whole country is racist, as there are many intellectuals, journalists and activists who are standing up to the kind of hateful thinking that has become more and more mainstream recently.
Having said that, while I love Italy, I can’t be blind to the lack of safety that I am starting to feel when I’m there.
There aren’t many people of colour working in the media in Italy. The first names that come to mind are the likes of Sabika Shah Povia, Adil Mauro, Nadeesha Dilshani Uyangoda, writers like Igiaba Scego, or cartoonists like Takoua Ben Mohamed.
But while there are many white Italians in the media who are tackling racist and fascist discourse, second generations of Italians and migrant voices are not heard enough, which arguably plays a role in failing to ease current tensions.
People might argue that if journalists like us were more visible, many would point out our inability to remain impartial on issues like these – which is a funny concept in a country where political interests keep dictating the media’s agenda.
Back in 1969, Elvira Banotti, an Italian journalist of Eritrean and Greek descent, challenged the Italian veteran journalist Indro Montanelli on the Italian television, over his apology of Italian colonialism and his dismissal over his relationship with a 12-year-old Eritrean child during his involvement in fascist military campaigns.
Would it be possible to see an Italian woman journalist of colour challenging Matteo Salvini or an Italian right-wing commentator on live television today? Unlikely.
Is it legitimate then, to ask a journalist of colour to be objective in this context? I do not believe it is. To quote the late legendary U.S historian Howard Zinn, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train”.