Politician Roberto Calderoli Compares His Black Female Colleague To An Orangutan

Senator Roberto Calderoli compares Italian Minister Cécile Kyenge to an Orangutan, an insult rooted in colonial ways of thinking

This week in Italian racism, senator and anti-immigration campaigner Roberto Calderoli has said that Italy's first black minister, Cécile Kyenge, resembles an orangutan. Speaking at a rally, Calderoli painted Ms. Kyenge's success as bad news for Italy, claiming her prominence will only encourage "illegal immigrants."  Unfortunately he didn't stop there. According to the BBC he went on to say:  "I love animals — bears and wolves, as everyone knows — but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of, even if I'm not saying she is one, the features of an orangutan."

The upset does nothing for Italy's fast growing notoriety for virulent racism — remember this picture of Mario Balotelli, or the racist chants that prompted Kevin Prince Boateng's walkout? And it is only the latest in a string of attacks on Kyenge which were, much like this one, a toxic cocktail of racism and sexism. When Kyenge was appointed to head Italy's Integration Ministry in April 2013, Dolores Valandro a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, wrote that Kyenge should be raped, while another party member warned that Kyenge would impose "tribal traditions" on the nation.

It must be hard for haters to see such a shining example of exactly the kind of people they want to legislate against — non-white migrants. At 19 years-old Kyenge moved to Italy from DRC to study medicine: she paid her own way through medical school, worked at home as a caregiver, built a career as an ophthalmologist, established a family, and cemented a reputation in center-left politics as a tireless advocate for migrant rights that led to her inclusion in Italy's cabinet. Her success plus her position make it difficult to ignore the reality of multicultural Italy.

Before we lay this to rest with some sage words from Kyenge herself, it's worth exposing the colonial roots of the comparison that Calderoli reached for. The science that justified the maltreatment of Africans on which colonialism and the slave trade were established claimed that black Africans were just a step up from primates in the "Great Chain of Being." The various versions of this hierarchy, in which Caucasian Europeans are always right at the top, has left a long bibliography. In 1677 Dr. William Petty, one of the founders of the The Royal Society, claimed that Africans were the "missing link" between Caucasian men and other organisms — notably the ape. Like Petty, European scientists of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries conveniently decided that "savages" had been brought into the world to serve and follow the will of superior beings. When Calderoli works himself into a froth over Italy's first black minister, it's with the assumption that this particular "savage" has forgotten her place in the hierarchy. In Europe, racist thinking dies hard.

The best response to all this comes from Cécile Kyenge herself speaking on contemporary identity: "no one should be ashamed of who they are. I have never been ashamed of my economic situation or my position, my skin colour or my curly hair. I am Italian, and I am Congolese."

Postscript: Unlike a number of a news publications (BBC, Huffington Post, The Independent), we're leading with a picture of Roberto Calderoli because it's his racism and wrongdoing which is the topic of discussion here, not Ms. Cécile Kyenge's face.

Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage

George the Poet Declined Becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire

The Ugandan-British spoken word poet says the British empire is 'pure evil' because of the impact colonization has had on Africans.

Ugandan-British poet George the Poet, real name George Mpanga, reportedly declined an offer to become a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The award is the third-highest ranking of the Order of the British Empire and an order of chivalry which is given to individuals in recognition of their contribution to the arts or sciences and public service that is outside of the civil service sector. On the final episode of his popular BBC podcast Have You Heard George's Podcast? the poet cited his reasons for declining the offer by saying that the British empire is "pure evil".

Keep reading... Show less
Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Congress of Families is Expanding its Homophobic Agenda into West Africa

The far-right organization recently held a regional conference in Accra.

Last year, Ghanaians took to the streets to protest against laws criminalizing homosexuality. The protests were primarily in response to a 72-page report published by the Human Rights Watch which detailed how violence towards members of the LGBT community by mobs or their own family members was on the rise. Scores of protesters insisted that the country's Penal Code was not only a dated colonial-era relic but that it led to LGBT Ghanaians being treated as second-class citizens without basic human rights. While countries such as Botswana and Angola made huge strides this year and decriminalized homosexuality, Ghana's discriminatory laws have remained and lives continue to be affected because of it.

On November 1st, the World Congress of Families (WCF), a far-right organization that has been pegged a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosted a regional conference in Accra, Ghana. The two-day gathering included Ghana's political and religious leaders who subscribe to the conservative "pro-family" and "natural law" ideologies which condemn homosexuality, Islam, abortion and other reproductive health rights. There is increasing concern among members of the LGBT community, activists and allies, that LGBT people will experience even more targeted violence not only in Ghana but other African countries where homosexuality has still not been decriminalized.

Keep reading... Show less

Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi Crowned Miss Universe

South Africans celebrate Zozibini Tunzi's victory.

Today, Zozibini Tunzi got crowned Miss Universe at the 68th instalment of the global beauty pageant. The event took place at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta Georgia on the 8th of December.

Catriona Gray from The Philippines crowned her successor Zozibini Tunzi at the end of the event which was hosted by Steve Harvey as has been the case in the last five years.

Keep reading... Show less

14 Cultural Events You Can't Miss this December in South Africa

OkayAfrica's guide to must-see events during South Africa's festive season.

South Africans will tell you that December is not just a month, it's an entire lifestyle. From beginning to end, it's about being immersed in a ton of activity with friends and family as well as any new folk you meet along the way. Whether you're looking to turn up to some good music or watch some provocative theater, our guide to just 14 cultural events happening in South Africa this December, has something for everyone.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox