Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, is once again facing vicious racist attacks. This week it started with the anti-immigrant Northern League party’s newspaper “Padania” starting a new column “Here’s Cecile Kyenge” which lists her public appearances so that party members can go heckle her.
This feature appeared after she was harassed last weekend at an appearance in Brescia, in Northern Italy and before an appearance this Saturday (tomorrow) in Milan.
The Northern League has attacked the Congolese-born Minister from her first days in office (see my blog posts: Call Me Black and Racial Slurs and Death Threats in Italy). She has been called an orangutan, and has had bananas thrown at her.
As Minister of Integration one of her top priorities is changing the law on citizenship. As it stands now, a child of immigrants born in Italy cannot apply for citizenship until he or she becomes 18. Kyenge would like to make it possible for any baby born in Italy to have Italian citizenship. Many Italians do not like that idea.
Kyenge responded with her usual calm to the column, noting in an interview with the Italian daily “La Repubblica”: “My schedule is public, anyone can have access to my parliamentary duties and my appearances around Italy. I will go forward. One thing is certain, I will not cancel any meeting, or skip any appointment. I will not change my politics which remain anchored in the values of non-violence and dialogue.”
Matteo Salvini, the Secretary of the Northern League and Member of the European parliament made matters worse by stating, “Kyenge is paid by Italian citizens to concern herself only with foreigners. A useless ministry, useless expense, dangerous ideas. With this column we offer a service to the readers of “Padania” who are curious and want to go hear the Minister: we did not write “go and beat up Kyenge.”
In my opinion only one Italian politician came forcefully to Kyenge’s defense. Nichi Vendola, President of the Italian region of Puglia declared, “Our racists think they are in Alabama or Mississippi a half century ago, or in South Africa under apartheid. Can someone tell them we are in the Third Millenium in a civilized country, despite them.”
Since Vendola mentioned Alabama a half-century ago, let me add that Kyenge’s calm and understated style reminds me of American Rosa Parks who in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat in the colored section of the bus for a white person. The bus driver had her arrested.
Over the course of this week, the situation has gone from bad to worse. On Wednesday morning an envelope with a white powder leaking out of it and addressed to Kyenge was delivered to the Prime Minister’s office. Firefighters were called to close off the area and discovered the powder was baking soda.
Again, Kyenge responded with calm, “I have to go forward, and I feel safe. I have to thank my escort for this: six people who I spend a lot of time with, I feel very close to them and they are very attentive with me. “
And if that was not enough for one day, Wednesday, a member of parliament from the Northern League stood up in parliament, began using make-up to darken his face and declared, “let’s make ourselves blacker so we can have the same help the foreigners do.”
What a fool.
Italy’s population is rapidly changing from being predominantly white and Catholic to being mixed. Italian population growth is among the lowest in the world but thanks to the immigrant population it continues grow. However, some Italians do not want to accept a mixed-race, multi-religious society.
Again, let me quote courageous Cecile “No one will stop me in my efforts against racism: even if they continue to attack me, they will not succeed in stopping me.”
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.