Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Cry, beloved country: of racists and apes and the denial of racism


One of the most disturbing (in fact, disgusting) expressions of the racist imaginary and its imagery is the association of Black people with apes. In many countries across the world the use of such an outrageous trope by the media or in public discourse would be unthinkable. Not so, apparently, in Italy, where the public sphere shamelessly accommodates the most blatant forms of racism.
A few months ago the newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport published a cartoon depicting Mario Balotelli as King Kong. Complaints from readers prompted the newspaper to apologise. However, the racist abuse was not acknowledged. The newspaper merely apologised for offending readers who might have ‘misinterpreted’ the cartoon. One might wonder, of course, what there was to misinterpret in such a clear-cut insult.
Now another such racial slur is following a similar course. Referring to the current Minister of Integration, C├ęcile Kashetu Kyenge, the senior rightwing senator Roberto Calderoli publicly affirmed: “When I see her, I can’t help but think of an orangutan”. Again, some sort of pseudo-apology followed, not for the abuse itself but for a “little joke” that the offender refuses to recognise as racist.
The long sequence of insults directed at Minister Kyenge by several politicians since she took office is evidence of an ingrained racist and xenophobic ideology. What is most worrying is that in the XXI century such ideology can still find expression in an institutional framework without this resulting in tangible consequences. The fact that Calderoli can, instead of resigning, get away with a spurious apology at the Senate and a bouquet of roses sent to the Minister is a depressing and distressing sign of the bad habit of dismissing racism as a minor offence, or worse, as in this case, of not acknowledging it at all. 

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