Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Racism Isn't Just An American Institution-- It's Everywhere There's An Active Right-Wing


Fascist hack Roberto Calderoli and Minister Cecile Kyenge

In April, Dr. Cécile Kyenge, originally born in the Congo, was sworn in as Italy's Integration Minister. Elected to the Chamber of Deputies, she is also the first black person in an Italian Cabinet. And neo-fascists, who are a powerful, resurgent force in Italy, went bananas... literally. A far right senator and former cabinet minister from Italy's GOP, the Northern League, (Roberto Calderoli, but think Ted Cruz or Rand Paul) likened her to an orangutan. Calderoli is the Vice President of the Senate. "When I see images of Kyenge I cannot help think, even if I don’t say that she is one, of a resemblance to an orangutan," he said.

And his shocking attack has been followed by Italian teabaggers throwing bananas at her when she makes public appearances. Another Northern League elected official, a doppelganger for our own Steve King (R-IA), mouthed off on Facebook that she should be raped so she gets a first hand understanding of what it's like to be a victim of crime committed by immigrants.

And it's not just the Northern League. Another proto-fascist party, Forza Nuova, is protesting her proposal that everyone born in Italy be automatically be granted Italian citizenship.

If you're wondering if this Italian racism comes from Roman times, that's probably not the case-- although there was certainly a feeling of superiority among the Romans. On the website Historum, Sylla 1, wrote that there was "no racism proper, plenty of ethnic and national discrimination."
In general terms there was no popular concept of "race" among the ancients.

Phenotypes and physical traits made of course easier the distinction of particular ethnicities, but there was no systematic classification of the human varieties, aside form an elementary "us" (Romans) and the "others" (Barbarians).

Contrary to a common mistaken inference, that didn't imply the absence of discrimination; au contraire.

Probably more than what was already the rule for other contemporary nations, the Romans were extremely chauvinistic and xenophobic virtually from the very beginning.

The natural national pride from their military and imperialistic deeds understandably simply exponentially increased such feelings.

For example, ethnic jokes and archetypes were a regular literary resource for the Roman satyrists.

The Romans were certainly notable in ancient terms for their openess to assimilate conquered nations... in the long term.

The process of Romanization regularly required generations.

Up to the Constitutio Antoniniana (212 AD) the Roman citizenship (even if often incomplete) was a precious gift reserved for a minority of the conquered nations, and even later the distinction with alien people (slaves or barbarians) was forever systematically categorical.
If there is a case to be made for Roman racism it would be towards the German barbarians-- and it's persisted over the centuries.

UPDATE: Is Racism Part Of Everyday Life in Italy?

Author Tobias Jones writes in The Guardian that "anyone who has listened to Italian political debate, or worse, stood in an Italian football stadium, knows that Italy simply isn't a tolerant place. This is a country where a recent prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, thought it hilarious to joke that Obama had a decent suntan. The racism isn't restricted to right or left, old or young, rural or urban: it is noticeable everywhere." Actually, it's pretty much restricted to the right but I'm sure Jones was trying to be oddly PC.
The reasons are pretty obvious. As Italians will constantly tell you, theirs is an incredibly provincial country. Campanilismo-- the attachment to one's local belltower-- is one of the reasons the place is so charming: people often stay put, they're rooted rather than rootless. All over the country, even in a tiny village, you'll see caput mundi graffitied on walls, suggesting that this sleepy place is considered the capital of the world. The downside is that outsiders are treated as aliens, if not enemies.

Through the centuries Italy has been, not a colonial power, but a colony, a plaything of the superpowers. So with the exception of small parts of Somalia, no other country speaks Italian. Unlike France, Britain, Portugal or Spain, there's no large diaspora of Italian speakers who can immediately integrate into the "mother country," [apparently Jones never heard of Bensonhurst-- or America] knowing already its literature and history. So the peninsula remains insular, an astonishingly monocultural, monoconfessional place.

There are other reasons for the racism: the legacy of fascism and the continuing adulation of Benito Mussolini; the tangible insecurity, even sense of inferiority, of many Italians; widespread economic misery for at least the last decade; and a political class that is absurdly ignorant.

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