Italy is a racist country
by ANNA CURCIO
Italy is a racist country. There’s no point getting around that. President Napolitano’s statements about granting full citizenship to migrants’ children born in Italy aren’t enough to question it. Nor is the new Ministry of Integration created by Monti to sweeten – at least for the leftwing and Catholic voters – the bitter pill of sacrifices and austerity. Welcome to the desert of reality: yesterday in Florence Italy went on stage. Casseri, far from being a depressed madman, is first of all an Italian, in the sense that fully reflects the racist identity of this country. The whole history of this country, its identity and its construction are impregnated with racist violence; and it’s a long history that has its roots in the unification, of which we celebrate the 150th anniversary this year. It’s a history of lynching and summary executions: first the Southerners, then the colonial “others” and the Jews, and today the Roma people and international migrants. It’s a history of abuse and exploitation, marginalisation and violence: brutal violence, fully real, that I’ve seen happening too many times already.
What happened in Florence wasn’t an isolated episode. It’s in fact part of a system, a repeated way of relating to the migrants who work in this country. It’s the creation of the ‘monster’, the ‘different’, that evokes unresolved fears at the heart of our national culture. “Look, a Negro; I’m scared!” was the efficient summary by Frantz Fanon. It’s this racist way of looking we have to confront, this idea that race – which is never a biological attribute but a socially constructed category with the aim of marginalising and subordinating some social groups – is made of hierarchies: whites on top, blacks at the bottom, period.
Racism, and it should be said more often, is not an ideological vice or a mental pathology. It’s a capillary system of subordination, dominion and exploitation built upon the idea of race. The problem, then, isn’t just the racist and fascist rhetoric of the Northern League and other political forces – which undoubtedly constitutes an outrageous aggravating factor and gives it legitimacy, especially when coming from the benches of Parliament. The more complex problem is the precise system of dominion and exploitation that feeds attitudes and behaviours largely widespread.
It smells like racism the fact that on last night’s news the news of the massacre in Florence came among the last, and some of the comments make us shiver. I was particularly outraged by Enrico Mentana on La7 at 8pm, where he referred to it as a “safari”. And yet he had a sad, frowning look. He was, in his way, saddened by the event, but still couldn’t stop himself from comparing Senegalese people to animals – which is the image the word ‘safari’ suggests. No comment! Or better, it comments itself. The question then is that, apart from institutional racism, there exists a widespread racism often among people who see themselves as antiracist, among those who always start their sentences with “I am not racist, but…”. The racism of those who see things in opposites, good and bad, the Senegalese are hard workers, the Chinese don’t pay taxes, the Romanians are fascist. Duh!
Racism is sly. It’s everywhere, where you least expect it. It’s behind deeply violent attitudes and behaviours – like a few days ago in Turin, yesterday in Florence, in the past few years in Rosarno or Castel Volturno, like the everyday violence we have seen over the last few years, that doesn’t always get the attention of the media but still takes its victims, accurately selected according to the colour of the skin or the geographical provenance. Some months ago a police officer in Civitavecchia shot dead his Senegalese neighbour because he didn’t want to see him in the garden adjacent his flat. In Brescia a Northern African man was killed by his boss who didn’t want to pay him arrear wages.
Also, many episodes of racist violence happen in a work context. Even Casseri didn’t choose by chance his victims; he went out and looked for them where they worked. Of all the workers affected by the crisis, migrants are without a doubt the most hard hit. They’re the first to get thrown out of workplaces, the first who have to accept blackmail and abuse, the first who have to adapt to the iniquitous conditions of the black market. And in the racist substrate which is in the background of our present, they’re the first to be hit by the blind rage of people affected by the crisis and austerity. It’s fine by all that the migrants especially should pay for the crisis and be the targets of our social rage. When racism manages the social and work organisation it is possible to maintain a class of “racialised” workers, that is, marginalised and unskilled workers, willing to work under any conditions – with a clear advantage for companies and bosses who, at times of crisis, are more than ever in search of profit.
Among all the things said about the Florence murders, I was impressed by the surprise of some at the fact it happened in Florence. “The Florence of La Pira”, commented with surprise Giuliano Giubilei, TG3 vice-director. Sure, in 1962, Florence’s Mayor Giorgio La Pira welcomed Léopold Senghor, President of the independent Senegal, and invited him to launch “the message of Africa, Mother of Continents” to the world: a message of resistance and anticolonial struggle. But in the 60s, Italian racism was focused on Southerner workers working in the North’s factories, and wasn’t in the least interested in African people, who back then were still far and distant. It’s only in the 90s that the attitude changed, when international migrations became a reality and Florence rediscovered its racism. Anything but ready to welcome Africa’s message launched by Sengor, Florence was among the first Italian cities to start organised violence against migrant workers. In February 1990 the traders of the historical city centre took advantage of the Carnival’s crowd on the streets and organised a dressed up “street vendor hunt” (mostly young Senegalese men), with group beatings and raids of stalls. The event deeply outraged the local “illuminated bourgeoisie”, but the outrage never turned into a proper elaboration of what had happened. The reaction was therefore empty and insubstantial; empty and insubstantial like Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi’ words sound today, or the ridiculous contribution for the repatriation of the victims’ bodies.
More in general, then, the long history of Italian racism confronts us with a lack if elaboration of it. In Italy, racism also has a history of removal. And it’s not just the removal of the inconvenient legacy of Fascism: the Holocaust and the colonial violence. More precisely, it’s the lack of elaboration of the systemic racism that crosses the entire history of our country. Because racism is not a contingent effect, connected to other social factors, but it’s a deep system of inequalities that throughout history has split our national space, with heavy implications on the social and work organisation.
To fight against racism therefore means to confront ourselves with this history and these implications; it means to critically re-examine the history of this country to highlight the system of inequalities and exploitation hidden behind racism. Only with a critical work of this kind, and only questioning many of the assumptions that come back in our conversations and in our imagery, it will be possible to really try to change things, and make this country at least a little less racist. To put it in different words, the fight against racism cannot be mere solidarity, however just it is to express solidarity with the Roma people in Turin or the Senegalese in Florence. The fight against racism must be a radical project of change that starts from the foundations of society and concerns everyone, white and black, migrants and non migrants. Nobody can be excluded from it. It’s a more wholesome fight against exploitation and the barbarisation of the social and political life. Otherwise, it simply isn’t.
* Translated by Italy Calling