African Women Voices
In the last days I have talked to several people about something I was not really expecting.Everything began in Rome, a couple of weeks ago, when I went with a German colleague of mine to make a photoreportage on what young people want: the idea was to ask random 20/30 something what they want from life, government etc. Of course I had to go forward because not everyone in the Italian capital speaks English.
What a shocking surprise!
Not their answers but their attitude towards me. Firstly, one random guy, cycling his way uphill, burped very loudly and as soon as I looked at him, he went: “In your face!” I had no answer to that, except from a “Really? That did not just happen!”
Secondly, as we were approaching people who looked annoyed and not interested all the time, one guy with his friends came towards us saying in English: “I like chocolate!” It’s always a good idea not to punch people in their face so I just answered “Good for you” and started to explain in Italian what we were doing there, but I wasn’t able to finish since the guy interrupted me for saying the smartest of things: “So, now you people also speak Italian?”
That was it, I let him go, I gave up.
After about one hour of this, I felt like I have contributed to build one of the Egyptian pyramid so I was tired. The weather was contributing to fry my brain and drain my energy so it was humid and hot in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. We had been there for about three hours in total. But what was tiring me the most and keeping my head wonder were the questions: was it so difficult because of my skin colour? Is that erecting a barrier between me and some people? Does my skin colour instantly generate stereotypes?
Maybe yes, but how did I not know?
I have been living in Italy for most of my life, born in a 30,000-people town, studied here. But the truth is, I never had to face Rome. Some might call it the Eternal City others really feel like is an inhospitable place. It comes to my mind a young Brazilian man I met ages ago in a pub in Rome who, raving under the effect of the alcohol, came to me saying my friend weren’t really my friends, because “they will always look at you as you are different!” It did make sense in some ways but that simply wasn’t my experience.
Something that I really hate is making a deal out of someone background, times are gone when we had to relate everything to the skin colour, to racism or discrimination. Or at least those times are over in my mind. Yet, I found myself having to face these same arguments, and the best way I know to do this is by interrogating other people. So I sent a series of email and messages to friends and acquaintances who have experience or have a mix-race background. And two out of three suggested me to read.
Isn’t that interesting?
Two out of three doesn’t make a reliable statistics but certainly it gave me something to think about. It is always said racists are only ignorant (which you might disagree on) and need to be educated, but what if even who withstands racism and prejudice need to read to be able to smartly give an answer?
Bill Jensen, is an inspiring person. He is the leader of the “Do Epic Shit Manifesto” to promote a society of people who excel, of disruptive heroes. I want to be a disruptive hero and that led me to contact him and tell him about my experience. He suggested to read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts and added: “mostly it’s fear… Fear that your differences somehow affect them. Many fight back, but ultimately loving others more is the best response.”
Geneviève Makaping is an Italian journalist, originally from Cameroun who knows what is like to face racial issues, she has been director of the paper La Provincia Cosentina and when I contacted her through Facebook, she strongly encouraged me not to give up, and suggested I read her book Traiettorie di sguardi. E se gli altri foste voi? (Sights’ path. What if you were the others?)
Finally, I spoke to a journalist I recently met in Turkey, Alev Karakartal. Her surname already says it all: “kara” in Turkish means “black”, while “kartal” means “eagle”. She explained to me when I first met her at the French Institute in Istanbul that most Afro-Turk have the word “black” in their names. When I told her about my experience in Rome she was quite surprised as last time we met I told her that in my opinion racism wasn’t that bad in Italy. She also experienced discrimination, maybe more than I will never do here in Italy. However, I agree with her, there are also some terrific people out there, even in Rome.
Again, two out three suggesting to read to be ready to answer to prejudices, is not a punctual statistics but it definitely rings a bell. It did for me. First be conscious of who you are and then be ready to answer, teach or attack. Whatever works.
An enlightening piece of work in that sense, since we’re talking about books, is the one by Lilian Thuram My Black Stars. I highly recommend it, you can really learn two things or three about the history of Africans.