What It's Like Being Black Italy

3.26.2018

When you think of Rome, you think: food, landmarks, and history. But, do you think, Africa? When I first arrived in Italy (read about why I moved to Italy), I was shocked by the abundance of young black people that I saw. I would see them and wonder if their experiences as black men and women in Italy were the same as mine in America. It was clear that they had adapted to the Italian culture. But, how did they it come to be, how did they really feel about fitting in when it came to language and customs, but not fitting in skin-wise? I had to know, and so I reached out to one of the young men and asked him all that I wanted to know.

 

Below is the dialogue between myself and Eric, the young man I interviewed. You can also check out the video here:

 

 

Tell me who you are, and how you arrived here in Rome, were you born here?
 My name is Eric, I'm 22, and I was born in Albano [Italy].

 

Where is your family from, and how long have they been here?

My family is originally from Nigeria. They arrived here 26 about years ago, and so it's been a while since they've been here. 

 

How did your family arrive here in Rome?

When my father won a scholarship, he left [Nigeria] to come here and he started to study here and work here. He continued to study, and after his documents (visa, permit to stay, etc.) were processed he was able to stay here, and then after my mother came here too.

 

Do you identify yourself as Afro-Italian or just Italian?

I say I’m Italian with African origins.

 

How do you think other Italians define you?

I think that on one side we're all equal, but when they don't know me they see [my] physical aspects. For example, I am black. The first thing under their eyes is a foreigner because my color is different. So, I think...to see the physical aspects of the person. But, when they know you, and they see you speak Italian well and you have many things in common they start to see you in a different way.

 

Do you think Italians see you as equal?

No, not exactly because of the difference in skin color. It's a sort of veiled racism. Racism is an ugly thing here like pedophilia, it's an ugly thing. So, they don't let you see so much that they are racist because it's an ugly thing, but it's underneath in their behavior and the way they carry themselves it's what you come to see in the end. Maybe you're on the metro, you're sitting and you see that they never take the seat next to you. They only take the seat next to you if all the other seats are taken. So, from that you start to understand and you say whatever. 

 

Do you think there’s a difference between the way the young Italians treat you vs. the older Italians?

I get on well with Italians. In the end, what’s important is that you’re being respected, and that you come to a general agreement. I’m not always in contact with older Italians, their mentality is different. Here, a long time ago there was Duce [Benito Mussolini] and fascism. The foreigners were seen a bit as an enemy. Their mentality is changing, but up until now that is what I see.

 

Are there stereotypes of Blacks in Rome?

Yes, a bit...yes. For example, blacks are seen as a virile people, speaking sexually. If not, maybe certain times they are seen as good- for-nothing. For example, maybe something like a thief, or someone who always ready to do something to you. Instead for foreign women, they are not seen as bad, in my opinion, they are seen more as a sexual objects who are good in bed.

 

What do you think it means to be black?

Being black, for me, is about skin color, not where you were born or your heritage. There are many rich people who are black. Even Indians are black, but because of their skin color even though they were born in India. A Moroccan, for example, is mulatto. It also depends on the culture, and in the end, how and what you’ve lived; you come to understand you are black by that. Also, there’s skin color, something that always shows.

 

What do you think it means to be Italian?

Being Italian, in my opinion, is what you feel in your heart. It’s like being black; it’s how you’ve lived your life. For example, I am Italian, I was born here, and I grew up here. I eat pasta even though I’m black. Being Italian is what you feel inside and until you’ve grown up. That’s what, in the end, defines you as an Italian – leaving aside your color and everything else because in the end that is what being Italian is.

 

Do you think things, in regards to race, will change?

I hope so, I hope so. Well, racism is something that’s been here for a long time but let’s say it’s work in progress, and I hope in the end it can be sorted out, but I’m hopeful even though there is a lot of work to be done.

 

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So, what are your thoughts on what Eric had to say? Was there anything he said that really stood out to you? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. 

 

 

 

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© 2019 by Shania O. Mason