Italy & Racism? A National Struggle.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love… For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

There is a man in American politics right now called Mayor Pete. Pete Buttigieg is the neo-liberal hope for America in the way that anyone who runs the campaign to be “The Mayor of America” should be. He speaks several languages including fluent Norwegian, he’s a Navy reservist (after 9/11), a graduate from Harvard, and can count Mark Zuckerberg as a college friend. Oh, and he’s gay.

The reason I’m telling you about Mayor Pete is this; could America — a nation that seemed to turn itself into a thousand pieces over deciding between a narcissistic, thin skinned bullshi**er, or a woman that just didn’t know how to use E-mails — really vote for an openly gay, pro-religion, left-wing neoliberal in 2020?

The answer is I don’t know, but what I do know is this; America, a nation founded on the principles, laws and a shared vision of where everything is possible as long as you were willing to work for it has at least had one black President. Better put, by AA Gill, “America didn’t bypass or escape civilisation. It did something far more profound, far cleverer: it simply changed what civilisation could be.”

Whilst today’s inarticulate, spray tanned drunken bear takes to Twitter to voice disgust in all things relative to Saturday Night Live, Obama preached for hope and change. He did so on the back of the world’s biggest financial crash and on a 2008 campaign trail where race would dictate how he, the son of a Kenyan governmental economist and a Kansas born anthropologist would, and should react to race incidents across his time in his presidency.

“I can no more disown him (Reverend Wright) than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”

Whether it was Trayvon Martin to Ferguson, from Eric Garner to Charleston, South Carolina, his speech was an example that he, as the most powerful voice should lead in the chorus of racial equality.

America, a nation which can proudly say that they have had a black President 54 years after the start of the Civil Rights Movement. For all the flaws of the nation, the new age klan members who use tiki torches in protest – irony lost to the many – and for still, all the social injustice that exists, it remains a vision that can inspire others.

Others that must include Italy.

Because Italy can’t boast a black president. It can’t boast a civil rights movement and it can’t say that has the moral high ground on race relations. It can’t say that it does, even though it can say it has better food and the Renaissance. Ironically all possible thanks to the influence of non-Italians; generations of whom later are culturally maligned as part of campaign sloganeering and geopolitical impasse that can’t see the correlation between global wealth disparity and immigration.

Put simply, Italians enjoy fighting between themselves but come together to display a darker heart when it comes to race relations.  

What created Italy, the Italy that is known today is a historic quagmire of battles, alliances, backstabbing and surrender. It makes for great Sunday night TV like the Durrells meets Game of Thrones but it works least best as a cultural dichotomy of open-mindedness to race and immigration. When Italy finally unified, it experienced the disparity that still exists to this day. The North and The South can’t see each other as equals, whether that is in economic terms or via the food they eat.

Regional xenophobia is Italian to its heart. It’s hundreds of years old and seen as a societal issue, but race, it’s different. Race is about you being so completely different that you can’t possibly be, Italian.

The football terraces show this weekly. Italy, a nation where a 20-year-old, Italian striker, Moise Kean, was racially abused for scoring. When we look to leaders to find a solution, we find weakness and ignorance.  Unfortunately, his was the shape of Leonardo Bonucci. A walking Tamagotchi with the intellectual eloquence of a Pikachu. Instead of instant condemnation, the papers reported that the captain thought that his own teammate should “shoulder half the blame for the abuse”. Bonucci, the Fox News anchor that Italy never asked for.

It has not been the first time that Italian football has faced criticism, but it is the answer that shows that Italy has a problem dealing with it. It’s not an issue for the average Italian because for them, the narrative on streets, in town halls, at the family table is not about black Italians, it’s about Italians and about blacks.

Black people who have come from Africa. Immigration that has caused political polarisation and fear. Immigration that can’t be seen for the positive impact that it could bring because we find ourselves in a state of introverted, and populist propaganda creating myths and distributing lies. It’s easy to say you have a solution, harder to actually do it, as Italy is discovering, continuously.  

The lack of a movement has created a lack of response and a lack of understanding. Best demonstrated by pizza chef Gino Sorbillo who thought blacking up was the most appropriate answer to racial abuse his Napoli team captain, Koulibaly received. The sound you’re hearing right now is the collective facepalming of anyone that has re-read that sentence and realised it is true.

If we think we’ll find the answers from football, we’ll be looking for a very long time; our political leaders, that’s where I truly despair. There is no Obama in the foreground, there isn’t even one in the background. Race doesn’t make you the president, nor does a presidential voice make you a President, but the ability to strike optimism, faith, compassion and seek solutions can bring you a long way. That’s what carried Obama and it’s what is carrying Mayor Pete. Fear is short-lived, a lesson that history likes to remind us when we eventually stop burning books.

Leave the hats, the slogans and the three day strikes at home. Italy needs to have a desperate chat with itself, it needs to do it fast and it needs to recognise that Italians come in all shapes, sizes and importantly, colour.