Italian Senator Roberto Calderoli Said That Congo-Born Minister Kyenge Looks Like An Orang-utan This is just a vulgar manifestation of widespread racism. At its roots is the impossibilty to assimilate mostly poor and uneducated African immigrants in Europe

By Paolo von Schirach

July 19, 2013

WASHINGTON – So, on top of everything else — sky-high debt, record unemployment, corruption, the Mafia, cities filled with uncollected garbage, no economic growth strategy and lack of modern services– now the world discovered that Italy is also racist. How can this be? (Yes, it so. And, in case you missed it, there is also illegal gambling in Casablanca. Shocking.) The fact is that there is widespread racism in Italy and in the rest of Europe. It is a reaction to the relentless immigration of people, mostly from Africa, who cannot be assimilated. This huge, in truth insoluble, problem caused the growth of various nationalist/racist movements from France to the Netherlands.  

Minister compared to a monkey

Of course, this being Italy, deep-seated racism had to come out in a colorful and most vulgar way. None other than the vice-president of Italy’s Senate, Roberto Calderoli (of the once upon a time separatist Northern League), said in a speech that Congo-born Cecile Kyenge, an eye surgeon and now Minister in charge of Integration Affairs in the patch work coalition led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, really looks like an orang-utan. Yes, he did say that. He called a Black woman, and now a Minister of the Republic, a monkey.

No real apology

After the outcry, Senator Calderoli sort of apologized. Bu he did not really back track. In fact, he stuck to his obviously racist comparison. Adding a farcical element to the open offense, he said that he often compares human beings to various animals. And indeed, looking at Minister Kyenge –what do you know– she really looks like an orang-utan. So, what’s the big deal?

Another lower ranking member of the Northern League went a little farther, wishing that Minister Kyenge became herself a victim of rape, so that she could experience first hand how Italian women raped by immigrants feel.

Yes, there is racism in Europe

All this in gentle Italy, the country of culture, of Verdi’s operas, of the Sistine Chapel, cappuccino, red wine and focaccia? Yes, right there, in Italy. Are you really surprised? Well, the only surprise here is the open manifestation of racism. The truth is that Senator Calderoli articulated in public what most Italians think and say, although generally in private. The fact is that there is growing racism, not just in Italy but throughout Europe, because Europe has been experiencing an unprecedented wave of immigration, mostly from Northern and Sub Saharan Africa.

Immigrants cannot be assimilated

The reality is that this large immigration wave is conspicuous and problematic. It is very difficult to assimilate large numbers of people –most of them illiterate– who have a hard time adjusting to the customs and rules of their host countries. The cultural, intellectual, religious and psychological gaps are just too wide. The vast majority of African immigrants are poor, uneducated, and often Muslim. Getting them into the European mainstream is an immense challenge, especially in impoverished Southern European countries in which social services are already strained, while astronomic numbers of young people are unemployed.

Even in America immigration is a controversial issue, so much so that it is doubtful that a bill that would usher comprehensive reform may pass the House of Representatives. And yet America is a country of immigrants. With all its problems, America is a country that still attracts talented people from all over the world. Sure enough, in the mix you find illiterate peasants from Nicaragua; but you also find Ph.D graduates from India, China and Korea who set up software companies, this way adding to America’s intellectual wealth and high-tech leadership. Therefore, the prevailing consensus is that overall immigrants add value to America.

Immigrants viewed as takers

No such luck in Europe. No comparable influx of highly talented immigrants. Sure enough, Minister Kyenge is a highly educated professional. But she is a rare exception. Most of the Senegalese, Nigerians or Congolese who came to Italy, France or the Netherlands are not educated; and there is no chance that they will soon catch up.

Besides, there is widespread perception that many Africans who get to Europe, legally and illegally, do so in the hope to get some kind of welfare. Even a little bit of state help would make them far richer than they would ever dream to be in their homeland. The larger point here is that in Europe immigrants are generally viewed as people coming “to take something”, as opposed to eager newcomers willing to work hard in order to get ahead. And this perception of immigrants as parasites and nuisances breeds resentment and racism.

Demographic gap

On top of all this, policy-makers and observers looking at the prevailing demographic trends across Europe have even more reasons to be scared. In most of Europe there is a negative fertility rate. Very few babies. In Italy more so than elsewhere.  Immigrants are the only segment of the population showing positive fertility. Well, everything else being equal, in the long run the Africans in Italy will grow in numbers, while the indigenou Italian population will shrink.  Same story in most of Europe.

More racism

In an ideal world in which immigrants could be easily assimilated, this way acquiring not just the language but also the culture and the skills of the native population, this would not be a problem. But the truth is that assimilating villagers from Senegal or the Maghreb is not the same as welcoming highly educated computer wizards from Bangalore. Therefore, expect more racist resentment in Europe.


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