Italy’s First Black Minister Suffers Even More Racial Abuse

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Domenico Stinellis / AP

Italian Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge listens to a question during a press conference in Rome on June 19, 2013

This April, Cécile Kyenge — a Congolese immigrant who has lived in Italy since 1983 — was appointed as Italy’s Minister for Integration, a position that made her the first black Cabinet minister in Italian history. But what should have been remembered as a momentous triumph of racial progress in Italy has turned into a national embarrassment. In the two and half months since Kyenge accepted her new post, she has been subject to an almost unceasing barrage of racism from both sections of the Italian public and fellow politicians.

(MORE: In New Job, Italy’s First Black Minister Confronts Culture of Casual Racism)

As TIME’s Rome correspondent Stephan Faris wrote on May 6, Kyenge’s first days in office were marred by prejudice:

Her April 27 appointment as Minister for Integration in Italy’s newly formed government has kicked off a much-needed discussion on race and immigration in a country that still struggles to come to terms with its rapid transformation. That discussion has taken some brutal turns. “Kyenge wants to impose her tribal traditions from the Congo,” said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League in an April 30 radio interview. “She seems like a great housekeeper,” he added. “But not a government minister.”

Meanwhile, the Italian government has launched an investigation into neo-fascist websites, on which Kyenge has been denigrated as a “Congolese monkey” and “the black anti-Italian.”

Since then, the racism has continued unabated. Later in May, members of the ultra-right-wing Forza Nuova party hung a banner outside Kyenge’s party’s offices in Macerata bearing the words “Kyenge go back to Congo.”

Then, in June, a local councilor from the city of Padua responded to an article about an alleged Somali rapist by posting on Facebook: “Why no one ever rapes [Kyenge], so that she understands what the victims of this heinous crime go through! Shame!” The councilor was ultimately expelled from her party, the anti-immigrant Northern League. But last week another member of the group, a Senator, was criticized for comparing Kyenge to an orangutan and suggesting that she be a minister “in her own country” instead of Italy.

Now Italian police have begun investigating a protest by Forza Nuova adherents against Kyenge in the city Pescara. The protesters hung nooses on lampposts along with signs stating “Immigration, the noose of the people!” and “Everyone should live in their own country.”

With a recent surge of immigrants in the past two decades, Italy’s demographics have undergone a pronounced shift. But the country still struggles to deal with its new multicultural face, illustrated poignantly by the travails of its soccer star (and member of the TIME 100 class of 2013), Mario Balotelli, who is of Ghanaian origin. The relentless nature of the bigotry hurled at Kyenge shows Italy still has a long way to go.

25 comments
BarbaraSilano
BarbaraSilano

Why does Italy have to integrate with blacks? Its fine the way it is. I go to Italy every year and I can tell you they don't want blacks or muslims coming to their country. I hear them say that all the time. John says asks countless black americans, who go there on a trip? I think you would ask any Italian first and and they would tell they don't want them there. I really don't know one italian who comes close to sub-set. This woman is getting backlash even from her peers doesn't that say it all. 

JohnMcFadden
JohnMcFadden

The "racist" comment hurled at her come from such a "fringe of the fringe" sub-set of the italian populace and are so far from being indicative of what the average italian thinks or how they would treat someone of that background. 

 Ask countless African Americans of their experiences in Italy and they will tell you that they have never met a more kind and gracious group of people in all their global travels. Don't let one very slanted, and cherry picked incident  tarnish your view of one of the friendliest nations on earth.

JohnMcFadden
JohnMcFadden

The "racist" comment hurled at her come from such a "fringe of the fringe" sub-set of the italian populace and are so far from indicative of what the average italian thinks or would treat someone of that background. Ask countless African Americans of their experiences in Italy and they will tell you that they have never met a gentile and gracious group of people in all their global travels. Don't let one very slanted and cherry picked article tarnish your view of one of the friendliest nations on earth.

wenzama
wenzama

Soon we will start chasing the many Italians who are livinng in Africa. Let the italians know that they are starting a war they will regrete in the whole of a generation. The number of Iatalians in other parts of the world is not small.

JordanWatson
JordanWatson

My mother is Italian! I'm glad she does not possess the same bigotry, had she myself and 9 siblings would not be here.

sab
sab

learned women...


sab
sab

stupid italians....when are u gona learn...you people think you are wise but fools


JJoyce
JJoyce

Those of you who wish to boycott Italian products because a few Italian politicians (in a nation of 60 million people) and a few ignorant supporters have made racist remarks are not any different from those same Italians who call all the black people they meet thieves and rapists because of single episodes

Catalyst
Catalyst

About the fact reguarding the so called "protesters" yelling everybody should work in their own country, let's point out that migration of "Italians" from Italy has reached record percentages, so let's not accuse people who do the same coming in Italy to work honestly of beeing pests.... because italians do the same things...

However to respond at xandersun, not all but nearly think the same about all emigrants classifing them as "The Work problem"... so immagine the life of the non italian families who work as hard as hell to ensure their children a better future... 

xandersun
xandersun

This is not a question about whether these incidents represent all or the majority of Italians. It is question of how the Italian public responds. Evil and cowardice are not the same thing, so it may be small consolation that most Italians aren't evil. Because Italian respect for human rights and civility is sinking, and will the politicians and public vanno a bordo, or just let Kyenge and humanity just go down with the ship? 

beableolow
beableolow

She should stick to scrubbing toilets just as she was bred to do.

mfra95
mfra95

And I repeat that the problem of racism, however, does not affect all Italian citizens.
And because the vote for Berlusconi, say that of all the other politicians is perhaps the least thief

mfra95
mfra95

some shocking news are false

mfra95
mfra95

However, some news to give only abroad. in Italy certain things you do not know

mfrongia
mfrongia

no words to comment, that rappresent who the people has voted for years.

I fell embarrassment to be Italian, but we are not all alike.

RenoNoone has written right "the best is yet to come".... unfortunately

mfra95
mfra95

I'm Italian, but I'm not racist.

we mustn't confuse what he does with the whole community. 

In Italy we are trying to combat racism, not to expand it


isaago
isaago

And there is something even worse. On July 14, Senate vice-President Carderoli - who belogs to Lega Nord separatist and anti-inmigration party - said that when he sees Minister Kyenge he cannot help himself thinking about a monkey. When Calderoli was asked to excuse himself, he simply replied that his comment was not racist but a pure aesthetic one - an excuse that sounds even worse to me. Prime Minister Letta moved critics to him and to his party that despite everything seems fully supportive to him. This is another black page in the Italian path towards integration and being Italian, myself, I feel deeply embarrassed and ashamed. 


BonganiGigaba
BonganiGigaba

I APPEAL TO THE AFRICAN DIASPORA TO BOYCOTT ALL ITALIAN MADE GOODS

RenoNoone
RenoNoone

Italy is FUBAR:  this is a country that has more retirees than workers, and they're too lazy to give birth to make more of their own kind, and they're against immigrants (more specifically, black immigrants from Africa).

Stay tuned.  The best is yet to come.

Tiffany5636
Tiffany5636

Why be a racist? We're all different & the same.

naveenanirada
naveenanirada

Boycott Italy,Italians and its products. Simple....

JordanWatson
JordanWatson

@beableolow Now why would you speak so harsh of your own mother? What are you scrubbing or better yet, sucking????

rdhakmil
rdhakmil

@beableolow REALLY? in this day and age this is what you post for the world to see? incredibly stupid musings of a racist too afraid to even have their image associated with their internet profile/id? your post only shows that YOU were "bred" to be a giant waste of skin and air. do yourself - and everyone else - a favour and go shoot yourself now. honestly, you are too stupid to be around much longer anyway and the world is better off without idiots like you pro-creating