To be black and Italian at the same time is a new reality the Italian society is still struggling to accept.
Adoption and increase in the number of mixed marriages between Italians and Africans are gradually leading to an increase in the number of Black Italian children, the so-called Afro-Italians.
But the Italian society seems unprepared and unwilling to cater for the social and educational needs of these children.
In a recent interview, Sabrina Jacobucci, aka Flora NW, President of the Association of Afro-Italian Children, reveals the reasons that led to the foundation of the Association, the problems African children face in the country, and suggests what should be done to make the education system more responsive to the needs of mixed heritage children.
A snippet from the interview
Afro-Italians is quite a new concept in Italy. How do people react to it?
I think the very concept is disturbing to some people. Even the word Afro-Italian. I remember when I started posting on a (all-white) parents’ forum using the word Afro-Italian as a nick name, a lot of people reacted badly to my comments judging the nickname “aggressive”.
I think people in Italy are afraid of someone defining him/herself Afro and Italian at the same time because in the collective consciousness you can be Italian only if you are white. This is demonstrated also by the treatment given to the famous black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli – what racist hooligans sing is that there is no such a thing as a black Italian. Celebrating our children’s dual identities, black and Italian at the same time, has a symbolic aspect which is disruptive to some people.
From your experience, in Italy, are mixed heritage children facing different problems from those of other children?
Mixed race children often face the same issues black mono-heritage children face. No matter their skin tone, they are seen as black and therefore it is healthier and more empowering for them to identify as such, without denying their dual heritage at the same time. A racist is not going to ask them whether they are mixed-race. And yes, black and mixed race children definitely face different problems from those of white children.
What are the main problems?
Problems such as name-calling: on the first day of primary school, one of our mixed-race girls went home to her mum and asked: What does “negra” mean? A child in class told me today “Don’t sit next to me, negra!”; refusal by classmates to hold the black child’s hand at playtime in nursery (an experience that another of our black girls, aged four or five, had). In both these episodes unfortunately what emerged was the lack of action by the teacher. Teachers all too often do not have any training in multicultural education, and therefore when faced with episodes of racism or pre-racism by children, they do not know how to react and tend to minimise, even telling the victim to look the other way, or calling the victims oversensitive if they report a racist incident and expect justice. This is very serious because with racism, any action is better than no action at all. The victim should be comforted and the perpetrator reprimanded, always.