Italy’s First Black Minister Says The Country Isn’t Racist

Cecile Kyenge, the first black minister of Italy, is defending her adopted homeland after she had bananas thrown at her during a speech in July.

Speaking to a gathering of leaders of African descent in Colombia, Kyenge said the incident did not reflect the entire country.

“Italy is not racist, it is not xenophobic,” Kyenge, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said. “There are episodes of racism, but this doesn’t allow you to label an entire country.”

Cecile Kyenge was appointed Minster for Integration in April. She has been a constant target of racist attacks since then. Roberto Calderoli, vice president of the Italian Senate, said Kyenge had the “features of orangutan” and that she should work as a minister “in her country.” The ophthalmologist moved to Italy in 1983 and supports a law to grant citizenship to children of immigrants born in the country.

Another member of Calderoli’s party said Kyenge should be raped so that she would know what it was like to be assaulted by an immigrant. Far-right militants have also hung nooses in a town where the eye doctor was scheduled to speak earlier this month. There were also three mannequins stained with fake blood outside a town hall where Kyenge was supposed to speak.

The 49-year-old again defended Italy, saying that the country “arrived very late” to immigration awareness.

“I have never said Italy is racist, every country needs to start building awareness of immigration and Italy has simply arrived very late,” she said.

Cecile Kyenge also said that children growing up in the country don’t have the same prejudices previous generations did.

“It’s easier for the young who have grown up with a different mentality, who have come across people from other places,” she said. “If you ask a child in a class who is their friend, it is more likely he will say ‘the one with the green jumper’ rather than ‘the black one.'”

[Photo credit: European University Institute/Flickr]