New Black Appointment Showcases Racist Italy
by The Associated Press, May 1 2013
ROME — It was hailed as a giant step forward for racial integration in a country that has long been ill at ease with its growing immigrant classes.
But Cecile Kyenge’s (pictured) appointment as Italy’s first Black Cabinet minister has instead exposed the nation’s ugly race problem, a blight that flares regularly on the soccer pitch with racist taunts and in the diatribes of xenophobic politicians – but has now raised its head at the center of political life.
One politician derided what he called Italy’s new “bonga bonga government.”
On Wednesday, amid increasing revulsion over the reaction, the government authorized an investigation into neo-fascist websites whose members called Kyenge “Congolese monkey” and other epithets.
Kyenge, 48, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Italy three decades ago to study medicine. An eye surgeon, she lives in Modena with her Italian husband and two children. She was active in local center-left politics before winning a seat in the lower Chamber of Deputies in February elections.
Premier Enrico Letta tapped Kyenge to be minister of integration in his hybrid center-left and center-right government that won its second vote of confidence Tuesday. In his introductory speech to Parliament, Letta touted Kyenge’s appointment as a “new concept about the confines of barriers giving way to hope, of unsurpassable limits giving way to a bridge between diverse communities.”
Unfortunately, his praise and that of others has been almost drowned out by the racist slurs directed at Kyenge by politicians of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, an on-again, off-again ally of long-serving ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, and members of neo-fascist Internet groups.
In addition to his “bonga bonga” slur, Mario Borghezio, a European parliamentarian for the League, warned in an interview with Radio 24 that Kyenge would try to “impose tribal traditions” from her native Congo on Italy.
Kyenge on Tuesday responded to the insults, thanking those who had come to her defense and taking a veiled jab at the vulgarity of her critics. “I believe even criticism can inform if it’s done with respect,” she tweeted.