Ostensibly attempting to bolster the stereotype that many Italians are intolerant of non-Italian born citizens, 57-year-old senator Roberto Calderoli unleashed a racist comment this past Saturday during a campaign rally directed towards Democratic Republic of the Congo born, but dual Italian citizenship government minister Cécile Kyenge. Calderoli is reported as saying "I love animals -- bears and wolves, as is known -- but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of the features of an orangutan, even if I'm not saying she is one." Yes, he used the "if" word, in all its shadowy uncertainty and cowardly indecisiveness. As a side note, in addition to being a high ranking politician the 48-year-old Kyenge is an eye surgeon as well.
The offhanded comment was met by a forceful rebuke from Kyenge's political party, and Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, who said the comment was "unacceptable" and that he and their party completely support Kyenge. Kyenge is Italy's first black government minister, and is unfortunately used to these types of racist and even some sexist comments. However, Kyenge is staying above the fray by stating, "I do not take Calderoli's words as a personal insult but they sadden me because of the image they give of Italy."
Not surprisingly, Calderoli is not new to spouting off racist remarks, as he did in 2006 after Italy beat France in the World Cup final. According to Calderoli's unparalleled perspective the French team had consisted of "niggars, Muslims, and communists."
In April Mario Borghezio, a member of parliament, said that Kyenge was looking to "impose her tribal traditions from the Congo" and that "she seemed like a great housekeeper but not a government minister." Imagine a U.S. politician speaking those words and then imagine how swiftly his career would be over. Apparently, the political and social reality in Italy is a bit different than here.
One of the reasons Kyenge is such a target for these various ignorant remarks is because she is attempting to change a strict Italian citizenship law in order "to make it easier for Italian-born children of foreigners to gain full nationality before they are 18." Yes, Kyenge is the lone black face in the sea of white ones in the Italian government that is attempting to diversify the Italian citizenry, but keeps slamming into the thick, wide, and immovable white wall. Sound like a country you know?