Italy's first black minister defiant in face of racist slurs

Italian minister for integration Cecile Kyenge who said yesterday she would not let racist insults and hostile reaction to her appointment distract her from her goals to foster a greater sense of community and integration. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

Italian minister for integration Cecile Kyenge who said yesterday she would not let racist insults and hostile reaction to her appointment distract her from her goals to foster a greater sense of community and integration. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

Fri, May 3, 2013, 21:56

Italy’s first black minister has responded to a barrage of sexist and racial insults by saying she is proud to be black and that Italy is not really a racist country.

Cecile Kyenge, an eye doctor and Italian citizen originally from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was named integration minister by prime minister Enrico Letta last Saturday, one of seven women in the cabinet.

Since then, she has been the subject of taunts on far-right websites, which have branded her with names such as “Congolese monkey”, “Zulu” and “the black anti-Italian”.

She also faced race-tinged insults from Mario Borghezio, a European Parliament member of the Northern League, which has been allied in the past with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In reference to Kyenge, Borghezio called Letta’s coalition a “bonga bonga government” – a play on the “bunga, bunga” antics under Berlusconi – and said she herself appeared to be “a good housewife but not a minister”.

Dr Kyenge dismissed the comments, which the speaker of the lower house Laura Boldrini labelled “racist vulgarities”.

Dr Kyenge plans to push for legislation, opposed by the League, that would allow children born in Italy to immigrant parents to get automatic citizenship instead of waiting until 18 to apply.

“I arrived in Italy alone at 18 years old, and I don’t believe in giving up in front of obstacles,” Dr Kyenge, who left DRC so she could pursue her studies in medicine, said.

She also rejected the term “coloured” used to describe her in many Italian press reports, saying: “I am not coloured, I am black and I say it with pride.”
– Reuters