Sunday

26th Sep 2021

Feature

The activists calling out racism In Italy's media

  • Italian activist group D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista have a growing Instagram collection of racist, sexist and homophobic content in Italian media (Photo: D.E.I. Futuro Antirazzista/Facebook)

Last month, Italy's Mediaset network broadcast an episode of the TV show Felicissima Sera [Good Evening] - in which two white Italian comedians proceeded to use discriminatory terms and racial slurs in a diatribe on political correctness.

The show claimed to be demonstrating that these words hold no meaning unless they are said with the intention to offend.

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  • Outrage at RAI's content has been triggered partly by the show during which white actress Valeria Fabrizi used the n-word (Photo: Wikimedia)

Italian activist group D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion. An Anti-Racist Future] immediately added a clip of the episode to their growing Instagram collection of racist, sexist and homophobic content in Italian media.

But their battle to stop the use of the n-word, blackface and other offensive content on Italian television and radio means standing up to a systemic, deeply ingrained racism that pervades Italian society.

D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista is a passionate collective of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and and LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and allied/asexual/aromantic/agender) Italians living in their home country and abroad.

The group's founder Alessia Reyna has a clear goal: to make Italy antiracist. "We have a huge problem with systemic racism," Reyna tells me in a phone call. "Italy is far worse than people overseas imagine, and a huge part of it is the media."

Reyna and her collective have begun to challenge media content because of how it reflects and reiterates the racist attitudes so prevalent in Italian society.

Reyna takes me through the episodes of aired offensive content from the beginning of this year, which include repeated use of the n-word, insults towards the LGBTQIA+ community, and the now-viral mocking of Chinese people's accent and appearance.

"It's getting out of control, that's why we decided to report each case of racism or misogyny or homophobia," says Reyna.

D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista's posts on Instagram have garnered a lot of interest.

"People are tired of what they see in the media, they've even stopped watching television," says Reyna. Although some of the most offensive comments in Reyna's view have been on the Mediaset network, she explains that public broadcaster RAI has been a big target recently because "whether you watch it or not, you have to pay for it".

State broadcaster

Outrage at the network's content has been triggered partly by the show A Ruota Libera [Freewheel] during which white actress Valeria Fabrizi used the n-word to describe her own appearance in an old photo and commented on how ugly she looked.

This episode sparked the #CambieRai campaign by several black and POC associations to call for the network to stop broadcasting offensive content.

D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista also added their signature to a recent letter to RAI that calls for accountability and changes to broadcast content. The network later said they would "do their best" not to include blackface in their programs again, but Reyna says this response was actually addressed to a letter from an association of white activists sent in January rather than the more recent correspondence from black associations. "If RAI doesn't involve black people in this conversation, how do they think they are going to solve this issue?" comments Reyna.

These issues in the media reflect attitudes in Italian society as a whole.

Many members of D.E.I Futuro Antirazzista have been pushed to move away from their home country because of the challenges of being a person of colour in Italy. "There is racial profiling every day," says Reyna, "and people overseas have no idea what's going on with Italy."

She explains how she and fellow group members have struggled to rent apartments and find employment because of their skin colour.

Reyna suggests these racist attitudes are often cultivated in schools and even recalls experiencing racism from her teachers.

Earlier this year, Italian primary school textbooks went viral for content that seemed to reinforce racial stereotyping. In one, a black child speaking in broken Italian asks to learn Italian properly. In another, a white boy asks a black girl "Are you black or are you dirty?"

Giulia Selmi, vice-president of Educare Alle Differenze [Educate the Differences], which campaigns for inclusive scholastic materials, told Al Jazeera, "Primary education is a critical phase of human development. Portraying a non-white child in a textbook as illiterate or unable to speak Italian properly sends a certain message that, if learnt at such a young age, can translate into prejudice and discrimination in adulthood."

In addition, Italy's colonial history is largely missing from the curriculum. Journalist Vivian Iroanya, an Afro-Italian who moved to the UK in search of better job opportunities, wrote, "This educational erasure strikes me as one of the primary forces driving how Afro-Italians are mistreated today."

This amnesia of Italy's 'black' history feeds into anti-immigration policies — including citizenship laws based on Italian ancestry rather than being born in Italy — and a media that lacks people of colour representation and propagates racist attitudes.

"I'm really happy that some of the media has been called out for broadcasting racist content but this is not an isolated episode," says Reyna, "we need international help to stop this madness."

Author bio

Rebecca Ann Hughes is a freelance journalist in Venice.

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