6.25.2020

WHAT IT'S LIKE GROWING UP BLACK IN ITALY


Because of what’s going on in our world today after the unjust death of George Floyd, we had the chance to have more and more conversations about blackness, racism, injustice, and privilege than ever before.

I’ve never been that vocal about what my past experiences were while growing up in Italy as a black woman when I was younger.. I wasn’t ashamed by them, but I wasn’t prepared to have extensive conversations about it either.

Italy has such a rich cultural history. From cuisine to architecture, from musical talents to the history of the nation, Italy has got it all.

This will probably be one of the first articles where I share a candid view of my past, hoping that by doing so, there can be more light on why George Floyd’s case was not a dedicated episode but the results of a much bigger problem.

Italy has been a great place to grow up in and I am very appreciative of having had the opportunity. I don’t want this post to be considered a post where I'm complaining because this is not the case. I am proud to consider myself Italian, to speak Italian whenever I can, to have Italian friends, and to praise Italy as a whole.

Born in the mid-90s by immigrant Nigerian parents, my family was one of the few black families living in my town. In recent years, there has been an influx of different nationalities and people moving to Italy. The town that I grew up in was extremely small, predominantly white, and with few other nationalities sprinkled here and there. The other black family lived closed by. We got along pretty easily. 
Sharing similar experiences, troubles, and situations outside in the real world brought a sense of community between us families. 

Until I started school, race and skin colour were concepts that I didn’t care for. My time was dedicated to playing, learning colours and singing my favourite cartoon theme songs. Normal kids stuff. I got along pretty much with everyone. I am the type of person that doesn’t open that much at the beginning, but once I get a bit of confidence and I know I can talk freely, I can’t stop sharing! 

I’ve started noticing a few differences and learning more about diversity once I started attending school and had to be daily around other kids. 

You start noticing: the double takes that I would receive whenever I started talking to other kids were a clue. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could feel that there was something different between the way that I was approached.

If you are a young black kid and your family doesn't explain to you what to expect when leaving the house and venturing in the real world, you might be confused.
You can’t pinpoint why you are trying so hard to be lovable and carefree, while the world around you answers in a much colder and slightly offensive way. You can't connect what you did wrong to deserve certain behaviours from others.

When I finally got older and put two and two together, I realised that the colour of my skin was the cause of people’s odd reactions. I wasn't dreaming about it! 

At that point, I was extremely relieved because at least I knew what was the issue and that it wasn’t something to do with my personality or something that I've previously done.
 The sense of guilt and confusion quickly vanished and got replaced by a sense of perpetual frustration.

There are more incidents than I can count but I wanted to share some of them so you might understand more my point of view.

BEING OFTEN THE ONLY BLACK GIRL IN THE ROOM
I didn’t have many black peers living close to me while growing up. I had loads of friends, both female and male and all white. I was always the only black girl in the class, the only black girl in a shop, the only black girl during class trips, and the only black girls at parties. 
That wasn't an issue per se, but I could feel the stares every time that I moved and that can be exhausting in itself.

ALWAYS ACT RIGHT BECAUSE YOU REPRESENT YOUR WHOLE RACE
 Being often the only black person in a lot of public places, I quickly realised that I had to carry “the burden" of having to act a certain way so that people won't label "all black people do that certain thing".
I know it sounds crazy and I should probably do whatever I want instead of having to actively restrict myself but is not that simple. I don't blame this on racism or prejudice but on how our brain works.
Our brain tries to make connections to simplify our lives. For example: if you meet three moms and all three wear a certain shoe brand, you'll associate moms with that brand from that point on. 
The problem starts when the association is based on negative aspects like violence, theft, and other reductive stereotypes. It's also quite insulting to group people with the same skin tone altogether. We are not a monolith entity; there are so many different nuances within the black community that should be acknowledged.

The only thing that I can say to this matter is that “Google is your friend” and you should consider visiting him before forming an opinion on people. 

BEING ASKED ABOUT “DO ALL BLACK PEOPLE...”
"Can I ask you a silly question?" is normally how the interaction would start.
Yes, you think that the question is quite an “innocuous” person that we’ll ask you very random, sometimes personal questions, and tries to cage you in with all other Black people.
The actual question that starts with “do all black people…” is not even worth answering. No, Karen: I don’t know every single Black person in the world so I can’t answer you. 
I can answer questions about my personal experience with you, but assuming that I would know the answer to a “do all Black people” is quite insulting, ignorant, and offensive. I think a question shouldn't be asked if, by exchanges 

THE SHOP EXPERIENCE: BEING TREATED DIFFERENTLY WHILE IN A STORE

If you are Black, you know this feeling very well: you get into a shop, and immediately all eyes are glued on you. Every single move that you make is being analyzed.
You try to pick up the items that you need and quickly pay, so you can get out of there.
Sometimes you also have odd experiences when you arrive at the counter.  
While I was out and about with other white friends, I could hear the difference in vernacular, posture, and tone once I get to the till point. 
It doesn’t matter if I am over-polite, if I put up the biggest smile or if I keep all of the items that I want to purchase always on sight.
Sometimes the teller starts speaking with a different tone, or it doesn’t say as many thank yous that he said to the white counterparts that went before me, being slightly quicker in handling my items or once he produces the change, he’ll leave it on the counter rather than giving it to me directly in my hand. 

After Leona Lewis made a video about her personal experience in a shop in Chelsea years ago, you cannot tell me that “maybe it’s just me”, “maybe it’s just a coincidence” and “maybe I did something wrong and I deserved the treatment”.
What I can assure you is that that would be true if it wasn’t the case pretty much every.single.time. that I go shopping.  
It's exhausting trying to overcompensate, especially if in the end, the experience will be the same.


Racial discrimination is real. I wrote this article to explain to you my side of the story, that's all.
  
Thank you for reading my life experiences.

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