INTERVIEW VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION
FORMS OF CONTEMPORARY (POST)COLONIALITY
Generally speaking the word “post” is always to be taken with a pinch of salt.
In regard to colonialism, I can tell you about Somalia, but we can think of many other examples, I think that the colonial system never actually ended. The same Italy is living in a colonial system, the same Italy has been colonised and is the coloniser at the same time. These are things one must also consider, maybe you are not colonised by a country, but you are colonised by a financial system, I think that what we are experiencing at this time it is a kind of colonialism, that is a financial system that is colonising our daily habits, our communal ways of living and sharing: that is the very foundation of civil society. What is happening in Greece is atrocious and what can we call it if not colonialism? If not colonialism of finance? So the word lends itself to many meanings, but also to many speculations.
If we refer back to the historical colonialism and to Somalia in particular, I think that Somalia never got out of a colonial system. Actually it was officially decolonized in 1941 when Italy lost the colonies. However, between 1941 and 1950 there has been the British interregnum that was supposed to help Somalia bridging the decision to give it the independence or to give it the Trust Territory of a third country. The United Nations decided to give it a trust territory. Clearly the Somali people didn’t appreciate it as they wanted their independence immediately, as it should have happen.
But the terrible mistake that was done has been to give this regency of ten years, from 1950 to 1960 to Italy, a country at random! But why? Italy was until yesterday the coloniser, so how can Italy teach democracy?
Aside from that democracy cannot be taught, I always say this when I go into schools. It is similar to what we did in Afghanistan or Iraq, exporting democracy, when your own democracy hangs in the balance.
I was very impressed that it was not Benito Mussolini who was asking the Trust Territory – “the colonial adventure ends with a bang”, as it was said at the time –but the likes of De Gaspari, Togliatti, all of them from right to left, from the Christian Democracy to the Communist Party, they all agreed to go back to Somalia. So there was a colonial mentality deeply rooted that goes beyond just fascism. In fact, I always say do not look only at fascism because the history of colonialism begins with liberal Italy, it begins after the Unification of Italy. Somehow to have a colony was a way of saying “we are a nation”, an Italy that has never been one and I do think it is not even now.
During those ten years, those who were already settled there concluded their business.
In my opinion it did not help the Somali people and I say this because of what my father told me – he was part of that group of people who went to study in Italy; he took the exam in Somalia and then came to do some sort of internship in Italy. He said what they learned during that time was a lot of laws, institutions, jurisprudence, etc. The roots of this education was actually Christian democracy and politics and not even the more suitable Christian democracy, rather the worst because of the buying and selling of votes, wheeling and dealing, bribery, all those things that we know pretty well and so these things have been transported in Somalia just in the same way. I think that our democracy that lasted 9 years – Somalia has not voted for 44 years, the first and last vote was in the 1960 – did not have the time to take off on its own, and this is troubling and very serious.
After this democratic parenthesis – which was full of mistakes but at least they were democratic – Somalia, having passed from one error to another, entered into the 20-year military dictatorship of Siad Barre, which was first a communist dictatorship – a communist so to say, the only communist things Siad Barre had were the military parades, the iconography, Mao, etc. – and then out of the blue, since he no longer had the alliance of the Soviet Union, who had chosen Somalia as a partner of the USSR, he suddenly became an ally of the Americans, he forgot everything he had done before and he became a capitalist.
We had 9 years of Italian Trust-Territory, 20 years of Siad Barre dictatorship and then 23 years of civil war, so I believe that Somalia never left the colonial system. And even now if peace is being born – I really hope it’s a good peace as Somali and as Italian – I still see many things that I do not like, so many external influences, from Turkey, the United States, as well as from England, the same Italy, and China. This is because Somalia is tempting too many countries as it has oil, raw materials, etc. that are needed by multinational corporations. So I do not know if it is a truly independent country.
On the 1st July it is the independence of Somalia is celebrated, every year we go to the streets with the flags, with patriotic songs, but they are only rhetoric and folklore. Our country has never effectively managed to be truly independent from some strong powers either because of economic ties or because of ideological ones. So this means that colonialism has never ended. I’ve spoken about Somalia but this applies to many other countries in the world.
That being so, we must revise our concept of (post)colonialism.
GENDERED AND RACIALISED COLONIAL REGIMES., CONTESTING THE PATRIARCHAL SYSTEM
In the colony some women didn’t meet the Italians because they were hiding, many other unfortunately did interact instead. I also think that there were some real love stories – I don’t want to neglect this possibility – at least I hope there was, but for most of the women who were still tied to Italians, however were then abandoned with two or three children. Once these men ended their period in the colony, they would return to home, leaving these offspring and women at the absolute mercy of it all. They were the infamous ‘Madame’, so it was said during Italian colonialism. Then there were the rapes, during the wars or while rounding up the villages.
I have an obsession with fascist songs lately. I’ve heard a lot of them because they are very, very interesting. There is the famous “Faccetta Nera”, “Pupetta Nera”, and “Africanina”. The latter should be listened to because it says “you will get to know how to kiss in the Garibaldian way”, “I will teach you this and much more” and then at the end of the song it says that women should give birth to children who had to be called “Balilla” (the name given to the fascist youth). Another song is “Ziki Paki Ziki Pu” where a woman hides behind a tree, she has sex with an Italian man and then he leaves her because she is fat.
If one goes to the local market today – I often go to Porta Portese and every time the various men of the market make fun of me because I ask for fascist photos, I don’t care and ask them anyway as I’m interested in this because of my studies – there you find a lot of pictures of naked women. The gaze of these women always struck me, because it was as if they knew they were in front of a camera, they were naked, they were the goods of the person who was photographing them. However they did not lower their gaze. I read in their looks a slight challenge, as opposed to what they were subjected to.
These are very interesting photos, terrible but interesting because they make us understand what Italians believed they could do in the colony. This was commercially a very big business; photos of women were everywhere. At some point Mussolini started to dislike this fad, so “Faccetta Nera” became prohibited by fascism because it promoted interracial marriage in a time when Italy was approaching Nazism and the racial laws of 1938.
RACISM AS THE LOGIC OF COLONIALITY OF POWER
I think that racism today in Italy is the result of colonialism. Unfortunately I see very precise colonial mechanisms that operate towards women, especially women, but also men, etc. There are keywords or key concepts that are taken from that past and applied in today’s world. It is no coincidence that two years ago two guys from Senegal were killed in Florence by a neo-fascist linked to a group called Casa Pound – at least he claimed to be tied to it, they said he was not, anyway we will never know the true story. He took a gun and killed two people and injured three, just because they were black. So that is precisely part of an ideology, a racist ideology that stems from the racial laws of 1938 that targeted Jews and colonial subjects: Eritreans, Somalis, Libyans and partly Ethiopians.
In the book I’m writing I speak about a female figure and all the stereotypes imputed to her. When black women are talked about in Italy it is said that they are sensual, available, a “thing to be used”. There is an old book written in 1934 by Mitrano Sani, a writer of that period, in which it is said that Elo, a Somali woman, is a “thing that the white men use when he has carnal needs”. It is a very heavy sentence for a book of that time, but then I see the same logic repeated in erotic movies such as the one with Ines Pellegrini or Zeudi Araya, I see it in the 80s commercials like the Morositas one but also in more recent advertising.
I have many friends who are Italian actresses, daughters of immigrants, that when they look for a part for a movie they are asked to be either prostitutes or caretakers, usually more frequently prostitutes then caretakers.
So we also have a quite distorted way of looking at reality. We never talk about a black woman, a daughter of immigrants, who is a student, a journalist, etc. There are these figures in reality but it is always preferred to tell the same story.
In general the black body is considered a hyper-sexualized body, both female and male bodies. There was an advertisement for liquorice, I can’t remember the brand, that said: “After dinner don’t have a sleepless night. End your night with a black”. So there have always been these sly allusions… In another commercial, “Coloreria Italiana” (a product to dye textiles) there is a woman who puts her husband, a pallid and very pinched man, in the washing machine together with the “Coloreria Italiana” product and then it comes out a black, beautiful, hunky man.
Additionally, the body is seen as a metaphor of foodstuff, like chocolate, sensual and naked. For example you can find this in “Magnum” ice-cream commercials, I guess this is the brand, either chocolate or coffee, always something to eat. This makes me crazy. Even the Fiona May commercial where there are those two chocolate slices with white milk cream in the middle. In other words these are messages that convey something annoying, heavy, that when you look at them you say, why are they doing it again?
FASCISM RELOADED: CELEBRATING RODOLFO GRAZIANI
On 12th august 2012 there was the inauguration of a monument to a war fascist criminal – I would also add butcher – Rodolfo Graziani that was built in Affile, a small town near Rome. Butcher because this man gassed Ethiopian populations during the Mussolini’s imperial campaign, but even before he had murdered Libyans from Cyrenaica, put them in concentration camps, and hanged them. He got up to all sorts of things. We shouldn’t forget what he did after the attack he underwent in ’37…he killed almost half of the population of Addis Ababa. He avenged this attack all over Ethiopia, he killed people, even story-tellers and soothsayers which shocks me as a writer. Finally he wiped out poor deacons of a convent town, one of the greatest monastic cities of Ethiopia: Debra Libanos. So he was a terrible character that we can compare to Himmler or Heydrich, to so many Nazis who we have unfortunately studied in history books. He has nothing to envy but the SS.
To build a monument for such a man it is unconstitutional; it is absolutely unconstitutional.
Sadly Italy has a bad historical memory and people think that what happened under fascism rule, it was nothing [to do with Italy], the entire fault was of the Germans, in fact it was not like this, it was fault of the Italians too.
Basically everything that happened in that period has been removed. Italian colonialism has been removed by saying that it was benevolent and was lousy compared to others. So Italians defined themselves as “good people “.
This has resulted in us – not me personally – building a monument to a war criminal in 2012. I use “us” not by chance because the monument has been built with the money of the Lazio region, so since I come from Rome, it was paid for with my money, with the money of all taxpayers.
It is a monument that attracts fascists, neo-Nazis and neo-fascists like a magnet. I’m talking to you now, but in fact today on the 29th June, there is a gathering in Affile where Rodolfo Graziani is practically commemorated and celebrated. This means that there is a very precise project by the city mayor – a mayor alas, that has won back the election, even with a large majority, more than 60% – to transform this area into a Predappio (Mussolini’s hometown), a Predappio of Lazio, a city that’s maybe even worse than Predappio itself because the most grimy and cruel fascism is celebrated there. And let’s not forget that Graziani was also a member of the Salò Republic (a puppet state of Nazi Germany).
Personally, like many others I felt outraged and from the first hour, when on the 12th August when I heard the news, I started to send e-mails all over the world but I was not alone.
The thing that struck me was that before becoming an topic of discussion in Italy, the first article that came out on the Affile issue was in “The New York Times”, so not a neighbourhood newspaper or local newspaper, while our “Repubblica”, “Corriere Della Sera” (both national newspapers) were enjoying their holidays.
I found this very, very serious and those who rallied the matter – the ones I call ‘the usuals’ and thank god that there are ‘the usuals’ – like the Anpi (the national association of the Italian partisans) and people such as Giacometta Limentani who is a Jewish writer from Rome; Alessandro Portelli and many others; Alessandro Triulzi; historians; especially historians and intellectuals; writers such as Maaza Mengiste; myself… Groups of indignant people all of who absolutely want to do something about it.
In addition, to this unified group, a local group affiliated with it, that is constituted by young people who have labelled themselves as “Affile anti-fascist committee”. They are trying to fight not only against the monument but in particular against the mentality that is in construed within monument.
Personally, I have also made a petition against the monument, which went very well; people from all over the world helped me. I managed to involve Amitav Ghosh who is one of the greatest living Indian writers. In short, thanks to him, many people from the United States have signed the petition. Unfortunately, the monument is still there and I think that there are no other solutions, it should be torn down or seriously modified. The problem is how can we change such a monument that is stained by this story?
So, I went to see it, because many people said, “We must do something else there”, but one should go there and see it for oneself.
I went there several times and the monument is actually a block, like a cube, and to make people understand that those who are nostalgic of fascism are not too clever, one must note that the monument and the bathroom look the same, the only difference is that the bathroom is smaller, they are two cubes.
COLONIAL HISTORY DENIAL TROUGH THE EDUCATIONAL STATE APPARATUS
Unfortunately colonialism is not taught at school because we know that is not possible to come to that point within the school program. They say “we have no time”, “that’s the way we can deal with the Second World War”. These things must absolutely change.
If I was the minister of education I would change the program, I would try to do intersectional programs, because it is important to know what the ancient Egyptians did but it is also important to know the history of the twentieth century! I think there are many reasons why fascism is a page of inconvenience for the Italians. They had a quite strange exit from the war. They started the war with the axis, so allied with Germany, and then they ended to be allied with the Allies because after the 8th September 1943 everything was disrupted.
Italy did not have the same treatment as Germany had. Italy did not have to be divided into four, there were very few losses; it lost Istria and temporarily Trieste, and now however, it has regained it, so the wounds eventually healed. So what has been done? Italian history has preferred to separate itself more and more from fascism, to forget it. The resistance has rightly emphasized it because it was very important, but to say that Italy was a country of all partisans is a big difference.
There are always many problems when approaching the history of fascism because in fact the transition from what happened before and after the 8th September was not processed. It is still an open wound, a wound on which absolutely everyone needs to reflect, because to reflect on that historical moment means also to reflect on the reason why Italy has experienced 20 years of mad dictatorship.
A dictatorship which initially was not perceived by all as such. There were those who dealt with it, as Gramsci and others did, and some who have accepted it without any resistance, who took the membership card of the fascist party, who have been living together with fascism until the end.
We have to think of that the historical moment when Mussolini made the announcement to have conquered Ethiopia – having entered Addis Abeba – it was the moment of the greatest consensus of fascism in Italy. Not even a war of that kind has outraged so many Italians.
These are things that we should all look back to with composure, but it is necessary, it should be studied, one must also somehow take its own responsibilities.
History is taught very badly in every school globally, so it is a specifically Italian problem that is actually bound to a worldwide trend.
We absolutely must defend the history because without history there is no democracy.
DE-COLONISING LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS AND POLITICS!
I was very impressed by the Dominican American writer, Junot Díaz, who said that we must decolonise love. This is a strong statement because we have very unbalanced relationships between employer and employee, or between members of the same family or even for a couple. I think that to decolonise love, affections and the labour relationships is absolutely important. We must begin to tell the truth, to scatter these alleged inferiorities and superiorities.
We have to, and I’ve thought about this for quite some time, to decolonize Italian politics because it is full of stereotypes. It ranges from the hatred of the Northern League – “We don’t want these King Kong people, they should return to their countries!” ,a rhetoric we have lived with for twenty years and more – to paternalism.
I believe that the Italian leftists or Italian progressivists have to decolonise their relationship with the migrants and migrants’ children because personally I’m tired of always being considered the victim, -I’m not a victim at all – or who claims to speak in my voice – I have my voice and I can speak for myself – and then above all the debate on “ious solis” makes me want to vomit because for many years they just speak about making a law, which is rather simple.
We are beyond paternalism. This means to not understand that your country is anthropologically changed because there has been a very strong change.
Then we always talk about children when the problem also affects people of my age – next year I will be 40 – I was not born yesterday, I’m the daughter of immigrants, I’m Italian and Somali, so let’s stop talking only about children, we are both children and adults, soon we will be the elderly, we would need to talk about our pensions. Politics stewed me greatly and then also the rhetoric of embracing black children to show that we are so progressive etc. No, there is no need for exterior superficialities, we need stability and facts.