‘Dear Italy: As the world cries for equality, your racist scars must be healed’

An exhausted and emotional Chidozie Obasi reflects on his homeland, racism and why change is happening far too slowly

Words by Chidozie Obasi, journalist and editor of @fuuuckingyoung – Main photo by Lorenzo Basili

The events of the last few weeks have proved, beyond doubt, the world has a serious problem with racism. As everyone in the global black community, I’m exhausted. I’m sobbing as days go by, because I never thought I’d have to cope with a racial crisis in my twenties.

As a black man living in a whitewashed reality known as Great Britain, I never stopped feeling the pain of being different. I was born in Italy, a beautiful country rich in culture and heritage. However, it’s a country with the poorest sense of racial tolerance.

Italy is a country where former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi thought it was fine to joke about President Obama. Anyone who has listened to an Italian political debate will quickly learn my homeland is not a liberal country. The country’s political class is absurdly ignorant and doesn’t care about minorities. Rather, it jeopardises them.

And my Italian mates never had to worry about the consequences of calling myself a negro. Because for them, it’s OK. As Italians will freely admit, theirs is a provincial reality. Any outsider is treated as an alien – if not as an enemy. The awful truth is that intolerance is woven into my country’s heritage. Italy remains inward-looking, a shockingly monocultural place. This truth saddened me so much that I has to leave and start a new life in the UK.

Photo of the Milan protest, courtesy of Lorenzo Basili

But last Sunday afternoon, thousands of Italians came out to protest George Floyd’s killing. Witnessing this spontaneous act of national solidarity brought utter joy to my heart. Winta Beyene, Milan-based merchandiser and style curator spoke for many of my countrymen when she told me: ‘I was at Milan’s Black Lives Matter protest and people of all ages and from different backgrounds screamed, ‘No Justice, No Peace’, a sentiment echoed around the world. As tragic as Floyd’s killing is, these protests give me so much hope for the future. This is just the beginning of our fight against racism in Italy.’

The conundrum of racism in Italy is beyond appalling, and the only way forward is to heal the sores of the plague. But the willingness for change is appallingly slow.

Photo of the Rome protest, courtesy of Alessandro Amico

‘Without fear there’s no courage, and without courage, there’s no hope,’ mulls Milan-based model Federico Massaro. ‘We must not be frightened to fight for what we feel is right. We’ll never know what the end will be, but we must advocate to ensure hope hazes our fear for change.’ But what is it that scares us so much about change?

I wanted to believe I was living in a country where colour didn’t matter. But sadly the country tore me apart. Italy is very conformist: it’s all about being seen to wear the same fashionable coat, walk in the same trainers, eat the same food. Traditionally Italy isn’t a country where different cultures have been welcomed with open arms.

Photo of the Rome protest, courtesy of Alessandro Amico

The dignity and decency of Italians will only happen once esterofilia (an attraction to or love of foreign people, manners or culture) is universally embraced across my homeland.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once said: ‘If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all.’

I plea to you, let that sink in deeply. Now and forever.

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