Cecile Kyenge has had bananas thrown at her and been compared publicly to an orangutan, but the racism toward Italy’s first black cabinet member seems to be part of a much deeper-seeded problem in the European nation.
Italy appears to have a growing sentiment against what is seen as illegal immigration, feeling that have bubbled over in the form of discrimination against minority groups. Though Kyenge may be the most prominent example, the problems span across politics and into other areas of society there.
As the first black minister, Cecile Kyenge has been the target of much of the racism. This week a spectator threw bananas at her while she was making a speech, one of a string of racist incidents she’s faced since being appointed as minister in April.
Earlier this month an Italian senator compared Cecile Kyenge to an orangutan, saying she was encouraging “illegal immigrants” to come to Italy. Kyenge is an Italian citizen born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I love animals – bears and wolves, as everyone knows – but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of, even if I’m not saying she is one, the features of an orangutan,” said Roberto Calderoli, who comes from Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League.
Calderoli was met with a wave of criticism and eventually offered a half-hearted apology, saying his words were supposed to be part of a larger debate about immigration.
Cecile Kyenge hasn’t been the only target of racism in Italy. This week the Italian football federation (FIGC) opened an investigation after fans of AC Milan directed racist chants toward their own midfielder, Kevin Constant. The chants angered Constant, who fired a ball into the stands before storming off the field in protest.
It was the second incident of racism in Milan in the last month. The team’s midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng led his team off the field in protest of racist chanting from fans of the team Pro Pratia.
“The chants are despicable and must be fought,” Milan’s CEO Adriano Galliano said according to state news wire Ansa.
Though Cecile Kyenge and the AC Milan chants are isolated incidents, they are part of a lingering racism problem in Italy that has grown so bad, even the Vatican has addressed it. In an editorial in 2010, the Vatican wrote in its official newspaper: “Italy needs to deal with its racism, it is a weeping sore that needs to be treated.”