Going to Italy? Think Twice if you are Black!

Milano, Italy

“There is a war on drugs, and many of our family members are the enemy. I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.”

That’s how the Oscar winning American writer/director Stephen Gaghan decided to summarize in a sentence the essence of the movie “Traffic”. Replace “drugs” with “racism”, and the same sentence summarizes the essence of what I feel every time I come back here in Italy for a couple of weeks. Here is where I grew up, here is where my family and oldest friends live. But this is also the country I chose to leave four years ago. And this is what’s been happening:

“Emmanuel Bonsu Foster comes from Ghana. He was 13 when he settled in Italy with his parents. One sunny afternoon in late September, Foster, now 22, was sitting on a park bench in Parma waiting for his classes to begin at a nearby technical institute. Seven men--plainclothed police officers, although he didn't know that--suddenly appeared and knocked him to the ground. They beat and kicked him, beat him some more in the police car, strip-searched him at the station, taunted him with "monkey" and "negro," took Abu Ghraib-style photos of the cowering "criminal" and finally, after six hours, released him.

His left eye was hemorrhaging, and he was carrying an envelope with his personal effects on which the cops had scrawled "Emmanuel Negro." It seemed Foster wasn't a pusher, after all. He was just black. (The Nation, 2/2/2009).” “Abba was the nickname of Abdul William Guibre, who was born in Burkina Faso, raised in Italy and beaten to death here last month by the bar's father-and-son proprietors. The two, Fausto and Daniele Cristofoli, suspected Mr. Guibre, 19, of stealing money and set upon him with a metal rod, the authorities said, when it appeared he had stolen a package of cookies. During the altercation, the attackers shouted "dirty black," lawyers for both sides said. (The New York Times, 8/12/2008).”

To these, two of the few stories related to racism in Italy published by the international press, I want to add what “Redani” (Network of the Black African Diaspora in Italy) wrote in his last press release: “Actor Mohamed Ba, stabbed in the middle of the day in Milan without reason, in front of the complete indifference of the people. A Somali in Turin attacked on a bus made it alive with a broken jaw. A Congolese physiotherapist, attacked in front of his little daughter by a mob of twenty youngsters. And the latest killing of Ibrahim M’Bodi, stabbed nine times in Biella by his employer who owed him three months salary and didn’t want to pay him.” This is a small percentage of racism-related examples going on in my country on a daily basis. The highly delicate situation forced Gian Antonio Stella, one of the leading Italian journalists on the subject, to publish a book provocatively titled “Negri, Froci & Giudei” (“Negroes, Fags &
Judeans”).

I’ve been asked to write without generating “alarmism”, showing also the good side of Italy, highlighting the many examples of dialogue and openness carried out by millions of Italians on a daily basis. And I do that with pleasure: the initiative www.razzismobruttas toria.net (“Racismbadstory”) is a monitoring body, linked to the renowned publishing house “Feltrinelli”, that gathers via internet various stories related to racism and integration in Italy. “Milano Città Aperta” is a platform from which different kind of associations and single citizens try to “counteract the discriminatory and repressive tendency of the laws related to immigration” through articles, meetings, and campaigns. Just to give one last example, twelve tram-controlling officers were denounced by a civilian that decided to check their behavior with immigrant passengers. Abuses of power and intimidatory acts were confirmed mostly with people of color. The
twelve officers were later fired by the tram company.

I wanted to share this with you, especially with the African people that often express their will to live in Italy, or in the West in general, without having an appropriate idea of the reality, but basing their opinions on what they watch on TV.

Racism in Italy was one of the main reasons why I left. Given the gravity, atrociousness and ignorance of the events related to racism that are occurring here, it’s with great sadness that I feel I won’t ever regret this decision. As some of you might think, mine was not an act of cowardice, but an act of faith. Faith in what I could do from Africa. The war on racism goes both ways. Italy is my family, Africa is my family, the world is our family. The sooner we learn this very basic and fundamental lesson, the better.

I tried to answer to the question “How do you wage war on your own family”, and the first word that comes to my mind is: dialogue. We need to talk to each other and listen. Ours is a war of words, thoughts, looks, caresses. Let’s communicate and channel our doubts face to face, and when it’s not possible, through the media. We’ve got so much to learn from each other, we can’t dispute that nor deny it. Politicians are letting us down all over the world. So, I say, step up, speak out and let’s win this war ourselves.

Matteo Fraschini Koffi,
African-Italian freelance journalist based in Kenya.