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Tag Archives: Racism

Racism and confusion

Queens, New York

A poor count by both the police and The New York Times greatly underestimated the “Millions March” that took place in New York on Saturday. At least 50k turned up, although participants who hung around, clapped from the sides, and came out of their houses at night in Brooklyn made even that figure seem too low.

I was there with friends, joining chants and carrying signs. It was almost too peaceful, with the crowd respecting the lame opening up of the streets, one block at a time, as if the protest was less important than Christmas shopping. But the tranquil action was accompanied by the enraged voices of those in the crowd, who didn’t always find catchy ways to express their anger. It wasn’t a poetry contest, it wasn’t a stadium.


All came out well and one must expect follow up actions soon, but this is just the backdrop of my reflection here. On the other side of the country, a place that I can claim to know well, something interesting was happening.

In the middle of the UC Berkeley campus, someone hung and displayed effigies of lynched black victims from decades ago with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. At first, passersby were shocked, especially black students, who felt mocked by a disgusting joke. Uninformed observers shouted: “Racism hits one of the liberal capitals of the country!!” as if racism respects zip codes. Others took care of tearing down the effigies and started enquiring about the possible perpetrators.

An art collective came out (without naming names in their flier) and said the action was an artistic, albeit possibly offensive, attempt to link the past and the present, making sure to underline that racism is as systemic now, as it was then.

The identification of the collective as “queer black and POC artists” did not stop critics. “Black and POC have different histories, they can’t claim to have a common history with the slavery era” is the summary of the common reply on twitter. Defining and detailing the identity of those who dared show this “art installation” on academic soil became the pet peeve of observers behind virtual keyboards. They started classifying, cataloguing, and assigning rights of speech. If you’re such-and-such you can say this, otherwise it’s wrong.

I see racism as a political threat, a choice. You’re not born racist, society makes you one (or not, that’s why it’s a choice). Politically it should be countered and called out every time. I agree with the art collective, racism is systemic and knitting past and present together only helps understand the causality and origin of some actions that can be thought of as isolated.

If an art collective of diverse racial background cannot use powerful, borderline-offensive imagery to portray what racism has done and is doing to America, then I shouldn’t have gone to the March. I’m white, why should I hold up a sign that says “Black Lives Matter”? That should be as illogical as a Latino artist hanging up portraits of lynched victims, in the critics’ eye.

Instead, this is ours, of all the people that take a stand. It’s about your political choice, not about your family tree.

Long live Berkeley, where artists are misunderstood and politics are confused.

Le novità e il razzismo

Glasgow, UK

Mentre in Italia la democrazia è sospesa, in un periodo storico nel quale le elezioni politiche non danno risultati politici, quando viene chiesto a un Presidente della Repubblica uscente di “salvare la partia” e ripetere l’esperienza, nella discontinuità più evidente con la storia parlamentare repubblicana, proprio nel momento in cui un democristiano “giovane” sceglie un esecutivo con molte donne e “non divisivo”, ecco che l’Italia si riscopre razzista.

Comedovequando? La nomina a  ministro dell’Integrazione di Cecile Kyenge Kashetu, medico di origine congolese, ha fatto sollevare molte sopracciglia sia nel mondo politico sia in quello del bar dietro l’angolo. Una “nera” ministro! Non era mai successo nella storia repubblicana – e non ha alcuna relazione con la sospensione della democrazia, anch’essa una novità repubblicana. Dall’insediamento al Quirinale ecco il fuori onda “ma come si pronuncia?”, dai siti nazisti ai leghisti, tutti hanno sparso un pizzico di razzismo sulla vicenda. Qui sotto un estratto da Repubblica del 30 aprile:

“Scimmia congolese”. “Governante puzzolente”. “Negra”. “Negra anti-italiana”. “Vile essere”. “Faccetta nera”. E poi: “Il giorno Nero della Repubblica”, con sotto la sua foto. Fino a un “ministro bonga bonga” (il copyright è del fine pensatore leghista Mario Borghezio che Cécile l’ha già ribattezzata “faccia da casalinga”, “scelta del cazzo”, una che è arrivata lì “perché si sarà arruffianata qualche gerarca del Pd”).

Repubblica va a cercare gli insulti su benitomussolini-dot-com. Ma non ci sarebbe bisogno di andare così lontano nel mondo del web per trovare espressioni di tale ignorante e diabolica bassezza. I vicini di casa, gli amici al bancone del bar, le nonne dietro l’asse da stiro, tutti hanno avuto un momento di difficoltà interpretativa di fronte alla nomina di un ministro di colore. Vanno bene le “coloratissime” squadre di calcio e basket, con gli oriundi vinciamo campionati e mondiali. Vanno bene i poveri disgraziati che ci vendono occhiali taroccati sulle spiagge mentre noi ci abbronziamo. Ma le decisioni politiche? Quelle devono restare in mano agli “italiani”.

Ma chi sono questi italiani? Quelli che non sanno coniugare i verbi al congiuntivo, o che lo scambiano con il condizionale (siciliani, parlo con voi)? Quelli che dicono “ho rimasto” (Romagna!!!)? Quelli che sostituiscono il “te” al “tu” (lumbard, parlo con te)? Oppure quelli che non conoscono le differenze tra Gramsci, Matteotti e Moro (alunni del SID di Forlì), quelli che non capiscono l’importanza del XX Settembre, quelli che non sanno che la Calabria non confina con la Campania, quelli che non riconoscono l’importanza dello studio di Dante e Bufalino, oltre che di Montalbano?

E chi è razzista? I puri del Nordest che insultano i “colorati” mentre li sfruttano nelle fabbriche e nelle campagne? Gli ignoranti siciliani di cui parlai un anno fa?

No, gli italiani sono quelli che in Italia hanno vissuto, ci sono nati, ci vivranno. Quelli che partecipano alla costruzione della comunità nella società. Molti dei rosei che vivono nello stivale sono meno “italiani” dei più scuri di pelle che ci vivono accanto. Ius soli? Yes, caro Maroni. Chi nasce in Italia non deve essere costretto a “tornare al suo Paese” quando arriva alla maggiore età. Perché il “suo” Paese è proprio l’Italia!

Il problema del razzismo talmente aperto da generare sdegno a prima vista non è la questione più pressante, ahimé. Il motore immobile di questa ventata razzista, il momento razzista fondamentale è stato generato proprio dall’impalpabile presidente del consiglio. La scelta di Letta di assegnare a Kyenge il Ministero dell’Integrazione rappresenta la principale scelta razzista sul caso apertosi. La logica del “visto che è nera, capirà i problemi dei migranti” non è altro che l’affermazione che il problema del razzismo si trova principalmente nel discorso politico. Più di 5 milioni di persone di origini straniere vivono in Italia e l’unica cosa che il governo riesce a pensare è di dare a una loro “simile” un ministero. L’integrazione, o meglio la convivenza, non si raggiunge grazie a un ministero o al colore del ministro. L’Italia avrebbe potuto dare un segnale contro il razzismo inerente alla nostra cultura poco cosmopolita dando a Kyenge o a chiunque altro, di qualsiasi colore, un ministero “attivo”, rilevante e magari con portafoglio.

Ad esempio, visto che Kyenge è un medico, perché non affidarle il Ministero della Salute? No, il trasparente-presidente ha deciso di affidarlo alla berlusconina Beatrice Lorenzin, che dall’alto della sua maturità classica sicuramente coglierà in un batter d’occhio tutti quei complicati prefissi di origine greca.


Glasgow, UK 

‘Twas a very low-profile end of the year, but here we are again. After some vacation and without much time to waste, here’s a little story of the facts involving two Italian soldiers arrested last year in India for having shot 2 fishermen dead. For my Italian friends, there is a non-translated, non-abridged version of the story by Giap here (author: Matteo Miavaldi)

Listening to the Italian media is excruciating. This sentence can be – and is – used by anyone living in Italy and turning on the TV.

Reading the Italian papers is a waste of time. This sentence can be – and is – used by anyone who speaks Italian and has access to newspapers, either in print or online.

Verba volant, scripta manent. Latins knew how to depict feelings in one sentence: the TV brainwashes you and you don’t even realize it, while you can note down all mistakes a newspaper prints on the page. But what’s so special about the Italian media? More than its audience, it is racist and bigot to a disproportionate extent. The case of the two Italian soldiers who allegedly shot dead 2 Indian fishermen while “protecting” an Italian tanker nearby the Indian coast is a case in point. After the whole Christmas merry-go-round of fascist utterings by several Italian politicians, the time was ripe for a rebuttal from honest people who actually know the facts and live where they have occurred. It just takes a little reading and a pinch of surfing the web to get the perfect recipe of information on this case. Serving their political agenda, Italian newspapers and newsreels have built a farce in order to purport a different reality to their customers.

“It’s not fair that our soldiers are kept in prison by those barbarians”. BOOM! Racism, supremacism, imperialism, and fascism all in one go. This was never said by the news, but is what the news have generated within the numb brains of many Italians. Here’s what happened, according to the article – and reality.

On February 15, 2012 the Italian tanker “Enrica Lexie” (EL) is sailing not far from the coast of Kerala, in South-Western India, in its journey to Egypt. 34 people are on board. Among them, 6 “Marò” (Italian marines) from the Venetian “Reggimento San Marco” whose duty was to protect the boat from pirate attacks, which proved to be a concrete risk along the route that brought them close to the waters of East Africa. Not far from there, an Indian fishing boat “St. Antony” [sic] has 11 people on board. At around 4.30 p.m., the incident. EL thinks it’s under a pirate attack and the Marò shoot towards the “St. Antony”, killing Ajesh Pinky (25) and Selestian Valentine (45). The “St. Antony” reports to the coastal guard of the Kollam district, who immediately contacts the EL, asking if it were involved in a pirate attack. EL’s confirmation leads the coastal guard to ask the Italian boat to approach the port of Kochi. The Italian Navy commands to the EL’s captain Umberto Vitelli not to sail to the port and not to let the Italian soldiers on Indian soil. The captain, who’s not in the army but a private citizen, has to respond to the shipowner first and so he concedes to the requests of the Indian authorities. The same night, the victims’ bodies are examined with an autopsy. Two days after, they are buried. On the 19th, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, two among the Marò, are arrested upon charges of murder. The Tribunal of Kollam sentences that the two Italian soldiers be kept in custody at the guesthouse of the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force), Indian police corps. This detail is important, because they are not kept in a regular prison.

The Italian news and the Italian people have been vomiting racist crap on the issue for almost a year now, but the amount of bullshit intensified last Christmas, when the two Marò had been granted a special permit to visit their families in Italy, while they wait for a trial. An exceptional case for people who are accused of murder. Especially given that, without the consent of the Indian court, the families of the victims were “presented with” a donation of 10 million rupees (around $200.000) on a cheque signed by the Italian government. On top of this slimy conduct, a grotesque scene took place when Rome lobbied their neighbors in the Vatican to get a local Catholic priest to “open a spiritual channel” in connection with the families, both Catholic. The Indian authorities were unhappy of this attitude, to say the least.

There are three questions that leave a bitter taste to those who care:

1) How is it possible, in the XXI Century, to think you can resolve international questions with bribes and slimy practices just because Italy is dealing with India (ppfft. they don’t even have laws down there!)

2) How can Italians negate their inherent racism when they approach a foreign country in such manner, and how can we stand the presence of so many fascists (many among them are actually in Parliament or in Government)?

3) Why, why on Earth, do Italian soldiers “protect” private tankers abroad? The law that allowed this practice was signed under the usual Parliamentary silence. Apparently, corporations in Italy are more important than people. Suck it, Colbert!

Keep Gaza in your mind

Glasgow, UK

Cease-fire! After a couple of weeks of bombings from the sky, clouded by the full-fledged military operation “Pillar of Defense” of the Israeli government on Gaza, the intervention of Egyptian president Morsi seemed to have brought the much awaited cease-fire. The death toll, is as always tilted to the detriment of Palestinian civilians, hundreds of whom fell under the indiscriminate explosions. In the following days, Morsi issued a decree that reinforces his position in the balance of institutional power in Egypt, showing that he is no liberator, looking rather Napoleonic or Pharaonic. Tahrir square is full again and the chants from the people are clear: “Morsi is Mubarak”. People in the West are happy, because this contingency put a stop to the Israeli bombings and scrapped the option of a ground attack. People in Gaza are a little relieved: they now can count the victims, cure the wounded, and assess the immense damage (both visible and invisible) caused by the bombings. They can do so, not fearing for a hard rain to fall. Hostilities are over, peace is restored, let’s go back to our Christmas season of shopping!

If the world was as “realists” à la Kenneth Waltz, then there would be a binary relationship between war and peace. On/off, like a switch, peace is the absence of war and conversely war is the absence of peace. This depiction of the world has simplified the life of violent and oppressive states in the modern era: in lands that are far from us, once hostilities cease, then rainbows, peace, and happiness appear. And we, who collected money to be sent to war-zones, who wrote articles, who started political quarrels, we can stay at ease. Nobody is getting killed anymore. Unfortunately, the world is not so simple. There are ways of waging war without shooting a single bullet and Palestine has been the battlefield of such wars.

The continuous colonization of the Palestinian soil has seen no “peace” since the Roman times at the turn of the calendar from BC to AD. During the past century, however, the Zionist acceleration for the repossession of the Holy Land and the British blind eye have allowed for the creation of an eternal conflict between cuddled colonizers and hated colonized. Israel received the recognition as a sovereign state before its boundaries were even defined. Open war was waged on Palestinian soil by both enraged Arabs and greedy Israelis, who sought to take advantage of any war situation to ask for more aid and to justify the occupation of more and more area of land. The result is in the picture below, that shows how much of the Arab soil has been grabbed by Israeli colonizers.

Land Grabbing in Palestine

Isreal is a Jewish state, the democracy of which is based on ethnicity and foreign aid. However, the conflict has nothing to do with Jews. They suffered the Holocaust during the Second World War and were wrongly paid back by the guilty Western world with a strip of land, ripped from under the feet of other people whose backwardness allowed the White Man to kick them out. There’s never enough space in one sentence to describe what went on in those horrible years around 1945. But this is not the point. Was it Auschwitz survivors who bombed Gaza? No. They know what it’s like to suffer ethnic cleansing in a systematic and cruel manner. It’s the racist and supremacist Israelis (who just so happen to be Jews, but this is a common characteristic among humans, unfortunately) that caused the bloodshed. Only a racist and supremacist group, such as the Zionist of the late 19th century, could think of sweeping clean the promised land from the “barbarians” who had inhabited it for more than nineteen centuries.

Not all Germans were Nazis, just like not all Jews are Zionists. But what has been happening in Palestine since the end of the Second World War is a genocide, carried out through the means of ethnic cleansing. One must never forget that what goes on every day in Palestine is much more horrific than a week of bombings. It has no solution, it entails no freedom, it provides no security. Every day that the Israeli government stands on the Palestinian soil threatening to forcibly or peacefully steal some more Arab land, the terror endures.

It is a question of oppressor and oppressed. In this case, I have been standing with the oppressed ever since I was acquainted with the situation. Not with Fatah or with Hamas, who keep missing the point of the struggle and use their power position to gain personal wealth. With the people. With them I took the streets several times. I protested against the business-as-usual attitude of Western governments towards Israeli diplomats, who are nothing more than expression of a racist government and a killing machine. I don’t think that the handful of rockets launched by the armed Palestinian resistance are useful for their cause. However, I remain apalled by the lack of indignation towards such a deliberately disproportionate reaction on the part of Netanyahu. Who perhaps thought that the West would have even tolerated a ground invasion. The end of hostilities can be seen more as a Western rejection of such a strategy, than the effort of a corrupt Egyptian president who is nothing more than a newcomer in the Middle Eastern arena.

Viva viva, Palestina!

Capitalist Anti-Semitism

Oakland, CA

Jean-Paul Sartre tickles my mind. So, when I come across one of his books that I haven’t already read, I grab it and I  take it home. There it sits for a while, until the time is ripe (and my mind is free). This time I didn’t go for either a novel or a theatrical piece. I approached a libellum titled “Anti-Semite and Jew” written in France in 1944 (date and place are important in this respect). Knowing that Sartre is not Jewish and that he is politically a Marxist, I couldn’t answer the riddle that the title created until I read the first pages. In line with much existentialist literature of the time, JPS chose an issue of current socio-political relevance in order to abstract the fundamental question further up to a more general level. Just like Sartre in his narrative, here I would like to express my pleasure for reading the book and my take-home lesson with a very simple language.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew (here I include free versions: html and pdf) was written in 1944, after the Nazi occupation was over in France, but well before the war ended and the crimes against the Jews were fully disclosed and accounted. The title in French is more elusive: Réflexions sur la question juive is less provocative and more to the point. In this book, JPS deconstructs anti-Semitism and portrays the customs of (French) society for what these really are. Jewness is harder to spot in a person than skin color. For this reason, the reading that I filtered through from the book is more far-reaching than what one can imagine at the beginning. At one point, especially if you’re just starting to understand race in a more systemic way like I am, you can read beyond the characters on the pages and play more with the crude words of the French philosopher.

Sartre, apparently using Instagram

Sartre starts by making everybody in France who carried the book – or read part of it in Les Temps Modernes – feel anti-Semite. There aren’t anti-Semite opinions. There are just anti-Semites. People who buy into stereotypes of street culture (and fascist propaganda),  people who turn a blind eye on the issue, people that cannot shake off from their mindset the prejudices against a race-less, nation-less (at the time) community. JPS also marks the distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic Jew. The latter being someone who denies himself, his roots, his personality, in order to appear less of a Jew to his fellow compatriots, who in addition advocate for the universal man, the Frenchman, devoid of any characterization besides his nationalism. [note: here I use the same gender courtesy that the translator used in the version that I read. Both the anti-Semite and the Jew are male types – French is a romance language and the masculine is commonly used as a neuter gender.] Crooked noses and curly hair are simply not enough to define a Jew, but are chatacteristics that can be singled out in a Jewish person. The path of the deconstruction of anti-Semitism is very long for JPS, who winds to all sides of human behavior and psychology.

He argues that anti-Semitism is driven by passion. One not justified by a direct provocation, causing anger not through logic. But, as he notes, one must “consent to anger before it can manifest itself.” So the anti-Semite has chosen to hate. In opposition to a concept, not something real. The anti-Semite’s Jewish friends are never a direct target of his anger. But when the crowd shouts: “I hate the Jews”, he joins. Sartre also discusses the reason for Jews’ attachment to money and possession, as the only legal, tangible means to emancipation that an outcast of society can seek for. Here’s the twist: JPS portrays the anti-Semite as member of the middle-class, angry at the Jew, member of the nonproducer, burgeois class. But “The Jew is free to do evil, not good” and therefore he is also a ruthless Bolshevik ready to destroy France in the name of Socialism. The anti-Semite’s arguments are very hard to sort out: he believes in Good and Evil and is certain of his position and of the position of the Jew in this configuration. JPS’s Marxist soul appears here to throw light on the essence of the class struggle is between two world orders, alternative in their administration of humanity and nature, both far from the perfection typically associated with the archetypal symbols of Good and Evil. Sartre pulls also the existentialist card by noting that the anti-Semite is afraid of himself, his consciousness, and his liberty, not of the Jew. The anti-Semite is a coward who would rather be a stone than a man.

One-third of the book is already gone and JPS has just acknowledged what the XXI century reader has already figured out: the anti-Semite only needs the Jew as a pretext; his counterpart elsewhere “will make use of the Negro or of the man of yellow skin”. The second chapter is dedicated to spiting the democrat, the universalist, the enlightened, etc. who only recognizes man, “man always the same in all times and places”. The democrat’s acceptance of the Jew as a man leads to the denial of the latter as a Jew. What follows is the creation of the inauthentic Jew as a way of mini-salvation for the Jew. Sartre aptly describes this condition in Part III as a conscious choice and dwells philosophically and pragmatically on it (the term is of course devoid of any moral blame, as the philosopher clearly states). There, he also rejects the definition of race as “that indefinable complex into which are tossed pell-mell both somatic characteristics, and intellectual and moral traits.” At the same time, JPS slashes those who “can’t see race,” but only individuals. Then he goes on against the defenders of the true France and the purity of the Frenchman. As usual, Sartre takes everybody to court. Interestingly, the theme of the judgement comes in the book with the assimilation of the condition of the Jew to that of the hero of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

For JPS, however, there is a clear culprit: “It is our eyes that reflect to him [the Jew] the unacceptable image that he wishes to dissimulate. It is our words and our gestures – all of our words and all of our gestures – our anti-Semitism, but equally our condescending liberalism that have poisoned him. […] It is we who force him into the dilemma of Jewish authenticity or inauthenticity”. The choice of inauthenticity stands before the Jew who is “haunted by the spectre of violence”, and chooses to deny himself in order to be left alone.

One of the chief problems with Sartre’s argument is the treatment of Zionism just as a byproduct of all this hatred. It becomes harmful for the authentic Jew and an additional weapon in the anti-Semite arsenal. JPS only lightly touches upon the issue of the colonization of Palestine under Zionist principles. But our dear philosopher could not imagine that the course of the events would have taken such inflexible path.

The fourth, and last part sums up the argument and deals with solutions. The “regressive social force” of anti-Semitism is to be countered by propaganda and education, which alas will not prove effective enough. Let’s not forget that the anti-Semite is the champion of legality in France. Anti-Semitism is the product of the burgeois division of society in classes, communities, and sections. The Jew cannot accept assimilation in such a world – he must fight for a society without anti-Semitism. “What is there to say except that the socialist revolution is necessary to and sufficient for the suppression of anti-Semitism? It is for the Jew also that we shall make the revolution.”

The revolution indeed. What struck me the most about this book is the possibility to cross out and substitute the words anti-Semite and Jew with analogous oppressor-oppressed dynamics (white-all other colors/types; even rich-poor, although most of his reasonings remain relevant through racial arguments). Only a change in the type of society we live in may bring about the obliteration of such dynamic. White oppression is synonymous with capitalist oppression. It’s about time that we realize it.

In the words of Richard Wright: “There is no Negro problem in the United States, there is only a White problem”. There’s no poverty, racism, inequality, exploitation, pollution… there’s just their root-cause: capitalism – the Evil we should fight against.

Europe Is Not Racist

Oakland and San Francisco, CA

I’ve been messy with this blog. I stopped for a while due to assignments and travels. And now that I come back, I disregard previous drafts and write a piece in English about a local Italian issue. You’ll discover through the lines how this is not just local or Italian.

Reading the usual news about some unfinished infrastructure in Italy was not yielding new material for my brain until I noticed a quote. Let’s give a little background to this.

Giarre is the Italian capital for incomplete public structures. Stadiums, pools, theaters… you name it. There’s a “polo” field where citizens go running and kids play soccer with the few sports teams that are still alive in the area. The whole structure was built with the money that the national budget allocated for the World Cup in 1990. Now nothing could technically occur within its premises, except from emergency gatherings and helicopter landings. Few people in Giarre, a little town of 27,000 inhabitants, have seen an helicopter land in their town. Only a handful has ever heard of “polo” as a sport (not a shirt, not a popular candy).

The “polo” field, where kids dream of turf.

The structure was not completed because the allocated money passed through the drain of political corruption, undoubtedly overseen by the mafia’s blinking eye.

I often visit the structure when I’m in my hometown and I noticed that the kids playing for the team founded by my father play soccer in worse conditions than I did 10 years ago. Now the rooms that host the offices of the team (unofficial, unregistered, and uninsured) are constantly subject to vandalism. Behind the immense and empty bleachers, lay dozens of recycling “bells” – containers as tall as 6″ and as wide as 4″ that used to be around the city, when the administration pretended to be recycling the citizen’s waste, instead dumping it all in the same garbage truck – next to them, drug dealers waste their afternoons too close to the young 6-14 year old soccer pupils.

Another important piece of background information is the fall of ash from the nearby Etna volcano. Since 2002, these phenomena have multiplied and keep disturbing the quiet life of the town.

The municipal administration has been conquered for two consecutive terms by conservative forces that keep “favors” as the first priority and have severely worsened the balance in the budget. So now they don’t have money left even for “ordinary” cleaning, which is a minimum requirement for local administrations. Among ordinary tasks, there is that of cleaning up the coat of volcanic ash that often covers streets and other public spaces. The soccer team and the citizens who like to have a clean track to run on have decided to do it themselves and brought sweeps and brooms from home to restore the cracked red track. Valuable effort that has not been even noticed or acknowledged by the administration, which has been ducking in order to avoid any public record of their misdeeds.

The straw that broke my camel back was not the fact that a few creative Milanese guys (that I shall call “human zoologists” ethnographers* in my own derogatory concept of the word) have brought the issue to light in the mass media, highlighting the incapability of Sicily in finishing what it starts; nor was the fact that British ethnographers human zoologists (again) from the BBC have issued a documentary on us, the Sicilians of the laziest kind. No, what pissed me off (pardon the expression) was an innocent quote reported in a local newspaper.

A member of the administration was naïve enough to utter:

there are a few political refugees from Burkina Faso. They are hosted by a local church and often ask for integration activities. We should devise a system that allows them to volunteer as street cleaners, with assignments to the polo field as well, provided that we ensure that they’re covered by health insurance during their working hours.

I had to read the quote two, five, ten times. Coming from one of the responsibles for the financial breakdown of the town, this statement is absolutely inappropriate because it should be in the administration responsibility to provide the “ordinary” cleaning service of public spaces. By employing people, paying them a wage and contributing to their pension fund, not by begging for volunteers.

Most importantly, however, this statement inexcusably shows the European racist mindset that has been so hard to identify for me, a boy born and raised in catholic/conservative Sicily. They’re Africans, therefore they are supposed to do cheap/slave labor. That’s what they’re used to. Clean up, hurry, tidy up the mess caused by nature… and now that you’re there, clean up the white man’s mess too. Political refugees? Whatever, at least they’re not clandestine, so we can exploit their work without breaking the law.

Blonde people are a rarity in Sicily, as tanned southerners are unusual in the northern provinces. Europe is not used to mixtures. Now that more and more folks with diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds are free to travel Europe, the Slavic fear has joined France’s uneasy relationship with Maghrebis, Italy’s problem with Roma and Albanians, and Germany’s struggle for understanding its Turkish Gastarbeiter population.

In Europe we usually have to watch an American movie to say the word “racism”. We don’t understand its causes and its manifestations. This makes us racist even when we think we’re not. I am ashamed by the offensive and racist declaration of a member of the town administration and I regret the fact that those who call themselves the descendents of a democratic culture do not acknowledge that they’re also the heirs of a racist culture that has caused the worst inequalities and violences in human history.

The political refugees from Burkina Faso hosted in Giarre are not there by choice. They don’t enjoy the benefits of living in Europe, they are not blessed by the opportunities given by the Schengen treaty. No, if they want to find their place in society, they have to beg. They have to direct their prayers to pretentious douchebags that have nothing better to say than: “let’s have them do some slave labor!”. So there’s two sides to this story: 1) the declaration shows the wrongdoing and the disregard for administrative practices by the City Government; 2) the solution proposed is outrageously racist in that it suggests the use of African refugees for a task they are logically suitable for. 

*I forgot to define better my derogatory concept for “human zoologists”  ethnographers. They’re not just armchair-anthropologists, they’re condescending figures that are appointed by a State in order to show the superiority of the invading culture with respect to the exotic practices of the colonized population. Russians with Caucasians, Brits with Indians and Sub-Saharian Africans, Italians with North and East Africans, French with Maghrebis, Spanish with Central and South Americans, yes, Europe has led this pretentious race as well.

UPDATE: Thanks to a couple of friends, I had to amend this post. It was suggested to me to be more explicit in the condemnation of the racist statement by the politician, which I tried to do in the red section. Also, I received a detailed explanation about my wrong use of the word etnographer. My derogatory conception of the word comes from the colonial times, when ethnography and anthropology were just starting to be inserted in a more ample academic debate. Cultural relativism has since brought a much deeper understanding of the “other”. However, racism and supremacism are not relative concepts. That is why, although switching to human zoologist and apologizing to the many valid ethnographers out there, I still hold the belief that it is very hard for westerners to try and understand “other” kinds of societies without adding even a hint of our racist and supremacist self. I hope a larger debate ensues.