Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Come se dice "racism" in italiano?

In January of 2012, my high school decided to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time. We had an assembly that afternoon; the choir sang, the jazz ensemble played, and I performed with my fellow cheerleaders a dance routine that had absolutely nothing to do with the life and works of Dr. King. The final performance was a skit by the 7th grade class. They demonstrated the impact of Rosa Parks by re-enacting her refusal to move to the back of the bus. The only problem? There was no African-American girl in the 7th grade, and they had to get an 8th grader to play the role of Ms. Parks.
                To me, this story illustrates what it was like attending high school in Italy. My senior year, there were five black students in the high school and middle school combined, and all were children of diplomats. There are virtually no “black Italians” in the country; most are African immigrants and not legal Italian citizens. I lived overseas for 16 years, and moved to the United States for the first time this summer, right before starting at Rhodes. This has offered me an interesting perspective at racism in other countries, not just the United States.
                Italy has produced discriminating legislature concerning immigrants, especially those from Africa. One example is push-backs; intercepting ships coming from Libya to Sicily and sending them back. These ships are full of immigrants, often escaping persecution and harsh living conditions in their own countries. This is something that isn’t taught in school; I had never heard about push-backs until my parents told me about them.
                If immigrants (either from South Asia, Africa, or Romania) do make it to Italy, they face harsh working conditions. Most are uneducated and have few opportunities for work. Anytime I walk in downtown Rome, I see dozens of men selling roses, cheap toys, knock-off handbags, and chestnuts along the street. Some have limited English skills, but will try to get your business by using all the words they know: “cheap” “come buy” and “discount.” There are inadequate housing opportunities for immigrants and many sleep on the streets. Two years ago, when heavy rain caused severe flooding, the only person to die was an immigrant living in the basement of a building.
                Racism isn’t just directed towards immigrants; the few blacks at my school were also treated poorly due to their race. They were often called “negro” by the Italian students, which literally translates to black or negro, but is used more as the word “nigger.” There’s even an expression in Italian, “lavorare come un negro” (literally work like a black), which means to slave away at something. People from Romania are derogatorily called “gitani”, which is like the word gypsy in English. Racism is a part of culture and language.  
                Returning to MLK Day assembly, I think that there could have been a better way to address racism and civil rights than a dance routine and a song by the band. Racism and immigration should be discussed in schools, and educators should focus on reducing racial slurs towards other students. Just like in the United States, racism in Italy is a problem that continues to this day.


  1. We've talked a lot in class about how many people view racism and the civil rights movement as a strictly Southern US problem. Growing up in the North and then moving to TN, most people assume that the South would be vastly more racist. My northern town is so racist that there were no black people in my high school. Everyone there was some combination of Irish/Italian/ethnicity associated with Catholicism. My neighborhood was so racist that every person who bought a home there paid a $10,000 tax so that they wouldn't have to have low-income housing brought into the area. In the town that I live in, poverty and minority status are synonymous. The only group of people with stronger stereotypes are Jewish. I felt like your post was important, because it is easy to fall into the idea that racism is only still perpetuated in the southern United States. There is still a lot of work to be done before racism is actually no longer a problem.

  2. I noticed similar racism towards immigrants when I was in the U.K. recently. The influx of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrants has really brought racial tensions to the surface. What's interesting to me is how it's not really predicated on obvious racial differences, but on the cultural differences. Blacks born in the U.K. will join in taunting African immigrants using words that you would think they would find offensive to themselves. The national origin issue has become hugely important, and I'm interested to see how that plays out in the U.S. with the continuing influx of Latin American immigrants.

  3. One thing I find interesting as MLK is starting to be widely celebrated across the world. With this said the understanding of the events that happened are changed. I know many children in America see MLK day as nothing more then a day off from school and I cant begin to imagine what other children in other country see it. The way you described your High Schools celebration of MLK it seems more like a pep rally or a carnival. This actually make me kind of strange to the whole situation by the whole thing as no longer people see it as a time of great struggle but more like a festival.
    The whole situation with the immigrants in Italy seems to be very similar with the immigrants from Mexico. When it comes to immigrants though if everyone allowed them in the country would certainly suffer and these people might end up worse off.