Italy's first Black cabinet minister has been targeted by so much "violent" racist abuse from right-wing politicians and neo-Nazi groups that "the government [has] authorized its anti-discrimination office to investigate," reports AP.
Forty-eight-year old eye surgeon Cecile Kyenge was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and emigrated to Italy more than 30 years ago. Kyenge's April 27 appointment as Minister for Integration has sparked a "much-needed discussion on race and immigration" across Italy, notes TIME.
Kyenge has proposed overhauling the process for children born in Italy to immigrant parents to obtain Italian citizenship. These children can only apply when they are 18 under current law.
"Kyenge wants to impose her tribal traditions from the Congo," said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League in an April 30 radio interview. "She seems like a great housekeeper," he added. "But not a government minister."
Even in Italy, a country all too often permeated by casual bigotry, Borghezio’s words were a step too far. An online petition calling for him to be sanctioned or evicted from his post has gathered more than 75,000 signatures, and the Northern League’s leader, Roberto Maroni, a former Interior Minister, has come under pressure to denounce him. Maroni himself reacted with hostility to Kyenge, voicing opposition to her proposal on citizenship.
Meanwhile, the Italian government has launched an investigation into neo-fascist websites, on which Kyenge has been denigrated as a "Congolese monkey" and "the black anti-Italian." Kyenge denounced the attacks as representative of a minority opinion and called for the public at large to respond. "I’m black and I’m proud of it," she said. "It’s important to underline that."
The Guardian adds:
"[Kyenge] is one of two naturalised Italians in the government, both elected for the centre-left Democratic party. The other is a former international canoeist, Josefa Idem. The inclusion in the cabinet of blonde, German-born Idem, who won an Olympic gold medal and five world championships for Italy, caused no similar controversy.
In related news: A racist poster created by anti-gay activists has depicted the French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira as King Kong. Taubira made history with her appointment as the Minister of Justice and became the highest ranking Black cabinet official ever in French government. Taubira emerged as the government's spokesperson on the marriage equality debate. France became the 14th nation to legalize equal marriage nationwide on April 23.
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