Target: Enrico Letta, Italian Prime Minister and President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic
Goal: Promote the acceptance of diversity in Italy
The Italian state needs to promote the respect for diversity in its country. The tendency among many Italian people to traffic in crude and ignorant stereotypes of African-Italians and to feel comfortable hurling racial epithets in public forums such as Facebook can only be reversed with anti-prejudice instruction in schools, universities, and media campaigns. Judging by the way that the immigration minister Cécile Kyenge has frequently had to suffer racial insults from prominent politicians and businessmen for her proposals to extend the rights of immigrants, it is obvious that the lack of respect for individuals of different races and ethnicities is absent in a broad spectrum of the Italian population. Cécile Kyenge’s calls to grant citizenship rights to children born to foreign-born parents and to decriminalize illegal immigration has sparked an outrage that provoked people to lash out at her in dehumanizing language.
The Italian politician Mario Borghezio of Lega Nord, or the Northern League, brought up the worst stereotypes one could have about Africa, conceiving of it as an uncivilized land where simple, unintelligent people lead primitive lifestyles lacking modern technology and rule of law, and pinned them all on Ms. Kyenge. He said that she would force “tribal conditions on Italy” and create a “bongo bongo government.” Another one of his comments demonstrated that his opposition to the minister’s immigrant integration measures was based on the underlying fear of the supposedly inferior primitive Africans polluting the pure Italian genetic stock. “Africans,” Borghezio said, “had not produced great genes.”
The attacks on Kyenge are no surprise since the Northern League opposes the immigration of Muslims from Africa and the Middle East and can not look kindly on the minister’s proposals to decriminalize illegal immigration and offer the progeny of the immigrants a pathway to citizenship. Another of the party’s senators expressed his view of the inferior nature of Africans by stating that Ms. Kyenge’s features remind him of an orangutan. These kinds of degrading comparisons aren’t limited to politicians, but are also echoed by businessmen. Fulvio Bresson who specializes in wine production in Northern Italy posted a Facebook message that called the immigration minister “a dirty black monkey.”
However, some of the insults have crossed the line from degrading animal comparisons to branding Africans as sexually depraved. Dolores Valandro, a former Northern League councilor from Padua, wrote on Facebook that someone should rape Kyenge to make her sympathize with the plight of young women sexually threatened by African immigrants. This vicious statement, despicable for its incitement to violence, perpetuates the stereotype of Africans as sexual delinquents. Even worse, Kyenge’ s African origins may have prevented Valandro from seeing her as a human being worthy of respect. You certainly have to overlook someone’ s humanity to openly call for their rape. (Note: Dolores Valandro was convicted of instigating sexual violence for racial reasons.)
The lack of respect for black Italians that leads to insults and incitements to a violence is a major societal problem that must be dealt with. By signing this petition, you will be asking the Italian government to commit itself to educating its citizens about diversity so that they are less likely to be influenced by negative stereotypes of African-Italians. In order for this minority group to be fully accepted and integrated in Italian Society, Italians have to learn to view them as equals.
Dear Enrico Letta,
In order to eradicate the shameful tendency among some businessmen and members of government to use demeaning stereotypes and dehumanizing animal comparisons when discussing Italians of African origin, a broad national campaign geared at educating Italians in respecting diversity is needed. There is absolutely no reason that any Italian should look at immigrant from an African country and think about his or her resemblance to a monkey. There is nothing cute about the identification of a human being with a primate. Such talk harbors the view that black Italians do not have the same intelligence and aren’t endowed with the same potential as white Italians.
While Cécile Kyenge’s push for the right of Italian-born descendants of immigrants to acquire citizenship is a step in the right direction towards putting African-Italians on an equal footing with other Italian citizens, the fight to gain such rights can only succeed if the Italians as a whole have a deep and abiding respect for the inherent equality of blacks with whites. That is why educating Italians to respect diversity is so important. The battle for legal rights would become easier, discrimination would be more likely to drop off, and the integration of African-Italians into Italian society to succeed if the Italians as a whole would reject anti-African prejudices and be willing to view those of a different skin color as fellow citizens and not as inferior foreigners.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: sissa-official via Flickr