Traveling While Black: Italy

Ahh Italy, gelato, pizza, pasta, shopping, history. I was too excited to go. Of course my excitement didn’t stop a particular “friend” of European decent from telling me that Italians didn’t like Blacks so I should be prepared to face racism. Well, uh, who wants that? However, I refused to believe him. Sure I’d heard of some Italians who were racist but that wasn’t all Italians.
But thanks to that jerk I was on guard going to Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona and Pisa. Jersey Shore was filming in Florence at the time we went so I would not be deterred (not sure right now why I was so excited about that).
Anywho, I came, I saw, I shopped, I ate and ate. I mean the food was really good. What I didn’t experience was racism. But here’s what I did notice. Loads of black people. From Africa to be precise. There was even a mini African neighborhood (I couldn’t tell you what countries but there was a salon, heeyy).  It was funny because yet again I met an African cleaning woman who asked me where I was from because she could not imagine black people traveling for fun. At first she thought I was English then from Latin America.
So I can’t figure out why so many Africans came to Italy. I can only assume its the same story any immigrant community has. Someone came there, made a comfortable living and told others back at home and the word spread. However, there were Italians who didn’t appreciate it. I can’t say it was because they were racist but there was a different treatment towards them (hence, my Caucasian “friend” from home saying they were racist). However, Italians clearly knew the difference between my friends and I and the African immigrants. A lot of it felt the way some Americans feel about Latin American illegal immigrants and it was sad to see.
I think part of it came because there were many African immigrants peddling “doohickeys” (touristy stuff)  to make money. They were on the street everywhere, especially in Venice. Selling their goods. In fact it is a crime for tourists to buy from them. Yes, you read that right. A crime to buy a trinket from a vendor on the street. Not sure if it was a crime for them to sell though because they were obvious about it. Which leads to the international incident I mentioned in a former post.
As I said in a prior post, from some of us in the African diaspora there is an expectation that we will “hook” each other up. Many times we got from the peddlers on the street “sista this or sista that”. As fellow black people we were supposed to buy from them (and get locked up or fined for it, no thank you). It was boarding on harassing. So one of my trip mates finally got fed up and told a particularly aggressive African peddler to leave us alone. Well he was greatly offended that we black women were not buying his goods and telling him stop bothering us. So he responded by cursing my friend out to which she returned in kind. I tried to step in and move her from the scene. We do not need black on black crime in a European country (anywhere really).
So, the only inkling of racism I had was when we were searching for a particular club in Rome and we headed down an alley in search for it. Halfway in we came across some neo Nazi symbols spray painted on the wall. We looked at each other and jogged/walked in our heels the hell away from there. Never did find that club.
The only other note on race we experienced was in Venice when for some odd reason our group of six were a bit of celebrity to certain Asian tourists groups because they kept taking pictures of us. Almost like a very small paparazzi. Not sure if they thought we were a female singing group or maybe it was their first time seeing black people in “real life” or something but it was odd. At a certain point we just got in on it and started posing for their pictures.
And that my dears was my biggest memories regarding race in Italy. Outside of that, people were perfectly friendly and the men were flirtatious! I’d love to buy property in Florence so it’s a go for me!
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9 comments

  1. Racism is all over the world. We just can’t get away from it but in no way should that stop us from living our lives.Most big cities have very tolerant people and while some people won’t embrace your presence many will. Glad you enjoyed Italy. I have not been yet so I’m looking forward to it. One of my non-black friends said I should go because Italians love blacks.LOL go figure. Now that I”m thinking of it why do these non-black friends have so much opinion on who will and won’t love us and why should we care? crazy

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I would probably snap on the peddler too if he was being super persistent/aggressive.

    On the note about the Asian tourists.. I was in Turkey for a month long mini-mester abroad (Istanbul & Anakara). And after the first day I quickly realized that I needed to look my best because no matter where I went, someone would come up to me and ask to take a photo with me almost every hour of the day. I always say I got a glimpse of how it was to be Beyoncé. It was a combination of flattering, exhausting, and sometimes annoying. Most of them were sweet about it calling me beautiful and just displaying respectable curiosity. Ladies in the full-on face-covering hijabs would come up to me hugging and kissing me. But it was only annoying whenever I caught someone trying to sneak a picture of me and try to be slick about it.

    It got scary a few times when I was at tourists sites and a few ppl would ask for a picture and the few slowly turned into many. Until I found myself surrounded by a crowd. When i looked up I saw European tourists looking bewildered and trying to take pics as well lol! They probably thought I was some obscure celeb.

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      • It was a little nerve wrecking. But fortunately I had a tour group with me. It ended up a lot of time to take a picture with everyone, and I was holding the group up. So finally the tour guide’s wife grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the group, while they all protested lol.

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  3. Was I that friend cursing out the poor African peddler? I think I was. I’d like to take this time out to apologize for the almost international incident. There, but for the grace of God, go I. I regret engaging in the confrontation, I was not at my best that day. It was an enlightening trip. Great post, Cat!

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  4. I love this “Traveling while Black” idea! As a black American living in Israel, I can identify. Here they don’t always automatically differentiate, but once they know you are American you are treated as on a higher level than Sudanese and other African immigrants for sure, and even perceived as better Ethiopian Jews who are citizens here, which I find sad. You inspire me to share more stories. Thanks for sharing.

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