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So a couple days back I visit the EAH tag after a long absence and find racism drama, which is tragically unsurprising. I come into the usually more peaceful MH tag today, looking for Freaky Fusion updates, and lo and behold, more racism drama! After perusing my way through to figure out what went down, I have one question for y’all:
How come everytime this shit happens, you all get more mad at the people confronting the racists, than the racists themselves?
There are more reaction posts criticizing the confronters for being “too harsh” or “oversensitive” or “just looking for drama to make themselves feel superior,” than there are ones that maybe try to explain why those people are so angry in the first place. Yeah, there might be a few admonishing the racist immediately after the offensive post, but then for at least the next 24 hours it’s post after post about vile SJWs taking themselves and/or a toyline too seriously. And god forbid those disgusting bigots try to voice their displeasure in the tag, where other sympathetic tag-goers might see it and feel supported. OH NO, THEY’RE TRYING TO DIVIDE THE FANDOM! It’s almost as if you care more about maintaining a “safe space” for the racists and their “opinions” than for the people those “opinions” are hurting. Why the fuck is that?
'Cedar isn't coded any race, she's just wood!'
'Cedar is from italy and I've never heard of black italians'
'Her hair isn't a natural texture, she has italian curls'
I hope me adding my two cents won’t be hijacking your post, but I really wanted to contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion using my knowledge. I am white, and though I know a good amount about this subject, I don’t want to talk over any nonwhite fans in the EAH/MH fandom, especially given what’s happening in the tags right now re: safe spaces. That said, I thought it would be helpful to share what I know. (I think it’s important for me to say here that I gained this knowledge from a highly respected (white) Italian professor, an actual Italian woman, rather than by just applying my Americentric cultural context to historical information.) If I have joined a discussion not meant for me to participate in, please let me know!
Speaking of Americentrism, it’s interesting that so many non-Italians, and to some extent non-Europeans, seem to be so sure of the population breakdown of a country that they’ve never been to. “No black or brown people in X country,” is used as a would-be ironclad justification for willful erasure in lots of fandoms, but as it relates to Italy specifically I’d like to say the following:
A big part of the reason that people, like the person miwadake quotes here, have “never heard of black Italians” is that for the most part, the Italian media wants it that way.
Italy has longstanding problems with racism, both in society and in entertainment media specifically, but there are plenty of both non-European and non-white people in Italy including citizens, immigrants, and undocumented workers and their children. (I tried to look for census data to back this up, but the Italian 2001 census wouldn’t load on my computer and I can only seem to access individual sections that talk about the economy. Because I’m not a native Italian speaker, some of the highly technical words are something I struggle with.)
Antiblackness in Italian media can be seen both subtly and overtly, sometimes simultaneously. In commercials since the 1960s like this laundry soap ad featuring Calimero, white is codified as normal, good, and even clean. Calimero's family abandons him because he looks differently from them (note that all the chicks start out white). ‘I’m not your mother,’ says the hen (his actual mom), ‘I don’t have black chicks.’ At the end Calimero has blackness physically removed from his body, the milkmaid literally saying to him “you’re not black, you’re dirty!” This normalizes whiteness and stages blackness as an unnatural state - Calimero didn’t start out black, something happened to him that made him that way. (This analysis was communicated to me by Ombretta Frau, the professor I mentioned earlier. Not just boondoggleprospect the tumblr user talking out of her ass here, this is the accepted academic analysis of Calimero’s character, whose exploits often focus on becoming white or removing his blackness to sell soap through episodic mini stories.)
In recent published accounts of their treatment by other children, black and brown children in modern-day Italian elementary schools have written about how they are treated by their fellow students. One that has always stayed with me was the experience of a nine year old that basically translated like this: “They say to me ‘Is your poop black too?’ How ridiculous is that, just because they’re white doesn’t mean their poop is white too.” A child said that to another child. I can’t find the collection online right now, I read it published in one of my college Italian-language textbooks focusing on modern Italy. But looking for other sources to bring forward, I found this gem of a writing exercise: a collection of Italian schoolchildren’s writings about what it would be like if their families were black, or if black families lived nearby. The first kid says that if their parents were black, they and their sister would have to teach them “where they sleep, where the kitchen is, where the bathroom is […] my sister would have to cook and while cooking the food she’d have to teach my mom how to cook.” The second child talks about how “blacks are different from us because of [list of physical features]. Also blacks eat differently from us because they don’t have forks and knives.” Some telling examples from the youtube sidebar: videos entitled things like “Is there racism in Italy?” “IDENTITY, NOT RACISM,” and, most disgustingly, “Black children with a white heart.” This is a societal issue.
In 2006 an elderly woman on a train in Rome tried to get a group of my friends and I thrown off, saying that we ‘weren’t supposed to be there’ and that we hadn’t paid for our tickets. When pressed, she said that specifically our friend from Bangladesh didn’t belong there (the rest of us looked like white tourists or passably Italian). She got so beside herself at having to sit across from him that she moved to an entirely different train car.
Last year, in 2013, Italy’s first black minister (their first. one.) had bananas thrown at her, and has received death threats simply for taking office. Misogynoir is alive and well among white Italians, and that’s not a value judgment - that’s a fact, one that I hope I have successfully documented here.
The phrase ‘Bingo Bongo’ is a racial slur commonly directed at African immigrants and undocumented workers, and used by many Italian nationalist party members and spokespeople who want immigration reform to keep out people who seek to move to Italy (but they don’t mean immigrants in general; they mean immigration from Africa). It’s based on the title character of a 1980s comedy film about a man raised by chimpanzees. The implication here is clear - Black Africans (the primary targets of Italian racism) are more animal than human. The phrase illustrates the intersectionality of blackness and immigrant and undocumented labor in the country. (In my opinion male black undocumented workers probably see the most daily ire from white Italians on the street, but this is my impression based on my experience as a white American and therefore this is not at all on the same level as the rest of this analysis.)
It’s completely reasonable to expect and want to see people of color represented in Italian media and representing Italy. Italy has plenty people of color living in it. A fair portion of Italy just likes to pretend like it doesn’t. To simply exist as a person of color in Italy who cannot pass for white is enough to invite the vitriol of strangers and even people you know. Complicating the issue for black and brown people is that what is white-passing in Italy depends on where you are. Northern Italy has a lot of Germanic and central-European genetic influence, and southern Italy has a stronger Mediterranean and African genetic influence (and just a lot of tanned naturally-pasty white Italians). When white Italians find out that someone they’ve assumed was also white Italian was a person of color, they’re shocked and sometimes outraged (tw for ableist slur in the video about 24 seconds in). It’s totally fine to be a person of color in Italy, as long as you don’t look like a black or brown person to them - that is to say, the caricatured and warped picture of black and brown people they carry mentally.
It’s also important to remember that Silvio Berlusconi, who has been the prime minister of Italy three times, is a media billionaire and conservative politician. Some Italians worship him, but a good margin of them think he’s a scumbag. There was even a “This picture of a tomato can get more Facebook likes than Berlusconi’s official Facebook page” fan group on Facebook for a few years (now defunct, so I can’t provide a link). Berlusconi even owns the Milan football club. Basically, he has a controlling interest (and in some cases literal control) in a lot of Italian TV programming over the past few decades. He is an outspoken racist and Islamophobe. At least one of his coalition governments contained the Italian fascist party and what I feel like could be accurately described as the lobbyists serving the interests of north Italy’s 1%. Considering this, I think it makes sense why so few people have “heard of” black Italians.
I’m sorry for getting a little out of control on miwadake's post, but because I have access to all this information and a decent ability to translate it and make it accessible to an English-speaking audience, I wanted to share what I could to help emphasize the fact that this erasure is willful, and not indicative of “no black Italians” or any bullshit like that that so many bloggers love to peddle for truth. There are plenty of black Italians, and people should not confuse their false and racist impression of a foreign country with fact, especially not to excuse other acts of racism. To miwadake specifically, please let me know if you think I am overstepping as a white person! I do not want to speak over anybody. I also apologize for my part in exposing you to a fat heaping load of unpleasantness you didn't ask for in the form of the history and context discussed in this post. Thank you for your time.
if you take people calling out your fandom’s shitty behavior as a personal attack against you, you need to get over yourself
you also need to realize
1. just because you don’t see stuff doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen
2. just because you see stuff and don’t realize it’s shitty doesn’t mean it’s not shitty
3. just because no one calls out the shitty stuff doesn’t mean it’s not shitty
4. not liking a show/movie/etc. (anymore or in the first place) because of its shitty fandom is a perfectly valid thing because how can your perception of something not be influenced by the discourse around it (especially when that discourse reflects problems inherent in the media itself) and who made you in charge of how people feel in the first place?
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