Doctor Cécile Kyenge made history this week when she became the first black minister in Italy. We at Feminspire love when women make history, and as the first black minister she represents a positive step toward the eradication of racism. Premier Enrico Letta named Kyenge the to-be minister of integration in his government, which won a second vote of confidence Tuesday. In the parliamentary introductory speech, Letta referenced Kyenge’s appointment, stating it was a “new concept about the confines of barriers giving way to hope, of unsurpassable limits giving way to a bridge between diverse communities.” However, the celebration is short lived, as her achievement is marked by a disgusting and unacceptable show of racism from politicians of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, as well as members of neo-fascist Internet groups.
Born in Kambove in the Congo’s Haut-Katanga district, Kyenge moved to Italy in 1983. She then flourished as an intellectual, becoming a doctor and eventually Italy’s first black minister. Sadly, nothing scares patriarchy more than a powerful woman, and nothing scares xenophobics more than a powerful racial minority, and so the sight of a powerful black woman has sent some of Italy’s politicians into a baffling whirlwind of racist insults.
Much like a child bullying on a playground, fellow politician Mario Borghezio referred to the coalition as a “bonga bonga government,” because when you want to attack your opposition you should always do it with the no-fail tactic of spewing nonsensical words such as “bonga” (??) in some sort of bizarre reference to the race of a single member of the party. Borghezio also stated that Kyenge would try to “impose tribal traditions” from her birthplace on Italy. It doesn’t end there. Kyenge has also received a volley of racist insults from neo-fascist websites, among them referring to her as a “Congolese monkey”.
This isn’t the first time Italy has made headlines due to racism. Mario Balotelli, the AC Milan striker born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants and raised by an Italian adoptive family, has repeatedly received similar racial insults. A banner was hung during a match reading “Black Italians don’t exist.” As if that isn’t disturbing enough, Balotelli was also attacked with inflatable bananas.
It’s absolutely jaw-droppingly absurd that these blatant acts of racism are occurring en masse in public. In Europe, however, these incidences are not uncommon, and additionally anti-immigration stances are fairly popular, possibly due to the ease of blaming the “other” and immigration for the economic crisis gripping many European countries. The Swedish Democrats for example, repeatedly criticized for their intense negative stance on immigration, were shown to have their country’s support, doubling to 11% from the 2010 election. Across the Nordic region, anti-immigration parties, which languished after Norwegian far-rightist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in 2011, are gaining support. A whopping 20 percent of Swedes now believe the Sweden Democrats have the best immigration policy. This is probably a good time to note leading party members of the SD are under investigation for a leaked video in which they call a woman a whore and hurled racist abuse at a passerby. They are also seen pushing a woman into the side of a car and, and at one point, all three men wield aluminium pipes which they pick up from a construction site on the street.
While Europe has many shining examples of people in positions of power exhibiting racist ideologies, they of course aren’t the only ones with racism issues. We here in Canada have the highest concentration of KKK members in the entire world, and our own Prime Minister evidently doesn’t know the difference between an aboriginal, or indigenous, person and someone from India, referring to the former as an “Indian.” The U.S. had their issues on the forefront during Donald Trump’s infamous birther campaign set to slander President Barack Obama – not-so-coincidentally the first black president and the first president repeatedly harassed about his birthplace and citizenship. While Obama had a great sense of humor about the whole thing and responded by presenting his “birth video,” all these situations are just screaming that the world has a serious problem with racism.
When I read stories such as the recent racist abuse endured by Kyenge that are not just happening on a personal level, but also on a political one, it’s a sour reminder of the everyday lives of many people, as well as the political atmosphere in Europe and North America for immigrants and people of color It is important that we pay attention to publicized situations like Keyenge’s and remember the fight for equality is far from over. I’d like to offer my hopes to Doctor Cécile Kyenge that the rest of her time as a minister is not filled with racist absurdities as it has been thus far.