BHMF Talks: A Culture of Avoidance

Mackda Ghebremarian’s lecture entitled “It has been said it is not racism” exposed Italy’s culture of avoidance and denial when it comes to race.

As this was my first introduction to race relations in Italy, Mackda’s lecture was truly enlightening — her passion for the subject matter was immensely apparent in the potency of her words and the sternness of her tone. Zeroing in on two occurrences of violence perpetrated against black bodies, she exposed the dynamics that preserve the prevalence of systemic racism in Italy.

On February 3, 2018, in Macerata, Luca Traini opened fire on a group of black migrants, injuring six. On March 25, 2018, in Florence, Roberto Pirrone shot and killed Idy Diene, a 54-year-old Senegalese man. Mackda emphasized that these were no random incidents but rather a reflection of the brewing sentiment of xenophobia and racism that has been ravaging Italy, which she referred to as “xenoracism.” However, the discourse surrounding these events was even more telling of Italy’s racial climate. What followed was an outright denial that these incidents were racially motivated, changing the narrative of a hate crime to just crime. Trying to avoid conversations of race at all costs especially with an ever-growing immigrant population in Italy will only be detrimental, as avoiding the existence of racial tensions can only last so long.

What really struck me was responses from some of Italy’s political leaders. One Italian minister implied that the Macerata attack should be blamed on the influx of immigrants, and blamed the left for creating a “breeding ground” for these types of incidents to occur. In regards to the Florence attack, an Italian politician, condemned the Senegalese community for their protest in response to the killing, deeming it violent and unacceptable. First he claimed to empathize with the pain felt by the Senegalese community, but then proceeded to negate that statement with his opinion that they must entrust law enforcement with the pursuit of justice.

With these responses I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Italy and the United States. This criminalization of the Senegalese community is very comparable to the criminalization of the black community fighting against racially motivated acts of police brutality. Black Lives Matter, a group that was created to fight against the perpetration of violence against black people has been now been deemed a hate group. Individuals protesting against police brutality are often portrayed in the media as unruly and threatening. Yes, protests and civil unrest are not always tranquil, but the over-policing of responses to acts of violence against marginalized communities reflects our preference for silence.

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