Razzismo In Italia?
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
by Sergio Carvajal-Leoni
Tackling the topic of racism in Italy requires a great deal of patience and open-mindness. In other words, societal norms and values that make sense in America, are in many ways impossible to be used effectively in Italy. This can become a great source of frustration for Americans who travel to the “Bel Paese” and encounter themselves in uncomfortable situations that they may never experience at home.
It is also very easy to forget that Italy, the unified country, is a relatively young project that started in 1861. Before this happened, what we now know as Italy was a land where many kingdoms existed and where practically each town lived independently from one another, constantly guarding themselves and their culture from their own next-door neighbors. That said, the idea of mistrusting foreigners - or “the other” - has been an important element that defined (and still defines) Italian culture. As a matter of fact, it is actually said that what we usually call “Italian food” can only be found outside of Italy, while in Italy there’s only regional food that differs quite a bit from one area to the other.
To learn more about this phenomenon, watch the short interview below with acclaimed scholar Dr. Paola Bonifazio from the University of Texas at Austin. In the interview, she touches on the idea of of Italian “campanilismo” as a way to explain the current socio-political climate of Italy. In simple words, campanilismo is the term used to explain strong niche cultures centered around the “campana” (church bell) of a city where everyone knows each other. Given that Dr Bonifazio is an award winning academic focused on film studies; she also spends some time in this interview talking about the interesting topic of representation of race in Italian cinema.
Now, If you are a dark skinned person such as myself, I know what you may be thinking: “This is all great and dandy, I get it, but is it safe for me to go to Italy, YES or NO? Will I have a good time or will I be blatantly discriminated?”
The answer to that question is that it really depends on how much you want - and are able - to expand your horizons and open yourself to the joys and dangers of exploring other cultures. Going anywhere outside of your hometown can be either an amazing time or a real nightmare. Stereotypes and generic advertising tends to sell us the idea that an entire country can be compared to Disneyworld, a thematic park where everyone may live more or less the same experience; however, nothing is further from the truth. The reality is that Italy is a living and breathing country, that must be treated with the same respect and caution you treat a person or an animal you have just met.
Based on my own traveling experience, I have personally found in Italy some of the most amazing and caring human beings I have ever met. I have found these warm and beautiful people both in the south and in the north of Italy; as a matter of fact, I have great experiences with people in the Veneto region, an area that can have the reputation of being racist and hostile to immigrants.
With the risk of generalizing, I can honestly say that Italians have a knack for making people feel loved and appreciated. I have yet to travel to any other part of the world where one can find this type of hospitality, besides my own home country Venezuela - back in the 80’s and 90’s - where 20% of its population was Italian.
On the other hand, I have also been personally discriminated and looked down upon in Italy. This has happened in small cute picturesque towns that seem out of a post card, as well as in supposedly civilized neighborhoods of Rome. Unlike the US, where a blend of corporate policies, possible lawsuits and political correctness culture makes it harder for people to openly discriminate others, especially in bigger cities, in Italy things can get fairly raw.
While traveling through Italy, I have also found that high self-confidence, polished personal image and extroversion are traits that Italians tend to respect. In other words, while in Austin, Texas introverts can easily get by wearing their pizza-stained Star Wars t-shirts as they stroll through Walmart at night; this may be harder to achieve in Italy without getting a pretty ugly and explicit stare down. In other words, sometimes a stare down can be due to your attire and the way you portray yourself, rather than because of the color of your skin.
In overall, going to Italy can be a fantastic experience that has the potential of changing your life. Furthermore, Italy is a country that highly values tourism; therefore, odds are that regardless of the color of your skin, you may find extremely warm and hospitable people that will be very happy to take care of you. That said, exercise caution. Understand that it is a complex time where immigration – usually dark skinned immigration – has become a central topic of debate and thus it is possible you may find yourself in undesirable situations.
We leave you with another interview, this time with Theo Kadia, a brilliant and charismatic student from the University of Texas at Austin, who was born in Cameroon and emigrated to Italy with his family. Theo told us that the seven-year period he spent in the Veneto region was one of the major highlights of his life. Despite his dark complexions, the experiences that he lived and relationships that he established in Italy are treasures that he will cherish forever.