Italy is a dreamy destination that sits atop many bucket lists, its history, architecture, picturesque villages, food, beaches, and culture have inspired many romantic stories. There is a plethora of reasons why one would want to visit Italy, and it doesn’t hurt that its one of the most publicized countries ; glamorized posts on social media, curated magazine photo-ops and romanticized movie plots make it impossible to not fantasize about traveling there but there is an open, dark secret about this place; ITALY IS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD FOR BLACKS .
As a solo, female, traveler, there are a few places I’ve visited and left with a bad experience, other than safety related issues, racial discrimination is the other major factor that spoils a place for me and Italy ranks top of my list in that category. I’ve been to Italy three times, visited some of the major cities : Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and a few smaller towns and all three times I experienced racism, overtly in some instances, subliminally in others. Speaking with friends, family, foreign locals and fellow black. travelers, most have experienced some form of racial profiling. Let me start by saying, Italians are known to be snubs, chalk it off to the fact that they know how appealing their country is to tourists with millions visiting the country annually, so many that some cities are trying to limit the number of visitors in a bid to conserve their way of life which is also a paradox given as the country is struggling to pull itself from the great recession of 2008-2009 and tourism accounts for close to ten percent of the national GDP.
The great recession, followed by the European debt crisis and subsequently unemployment of twelve percent left the Italians stressed and unhappy , then in 2015 the migrant crisis only made matters worst in a society that had an aversion to foreigners. In 2018, A group of UN special rapporteurs said that the rights of migrants are at risk because of the atmosphere of hatred and discrimination that is widespread in Italy. “Removing protection measures from potentially thousands of migrants and limiting their ability to regularize their stay in Italy will increase their vulnerability to attacks and exploitation” . And 2015 is was the first time I visited Italy with my family, and I could sense the disdain from many Italians, from looks of ‘You can’t afford to eat here’ when we walked into upscale restaurants to ‘ You don’t belong here’ at the upper class apartment complex we rented. Below are some of our experiences:
We rented a villa in the hills and it was amazing. The host was a well travelled Italian who made our stay memorable and helped balance out the negatives. On our second day, we left the hills to visit the city of Florence. We walked into a shop and the staff followed us everywhere as we looked at items. I was looking through a rack of blouses and the store attendant decided at that instant she needed to rearrange the rack and almost snatched a blouse I was looking at and only backed off when I yelled at her to back off. My son’s stroller lost a wheel and we wanted to buy a new one but didn’t know where to go. Every family I tried to approach and ask where they got theirs won’t talk to me and will walk away lol.
We went out and my mother returned to our rental apartment before us and we only had one key so she went into the court yard to wait for us. A local walks up to her and asks “What are you doing here?” Then proceeds to drop five euros at her. We visited the Vatican and caught a local bus to our apartment. On the ride back, the bus got very packed and without AC it got very hot. My two year old, was hot and started crying. The bus driver stopped the bus and asked us to get off because he couldn’t drive with a crying baby. An argument issued as I refused , some local women on the bus sided with the driver saying their own children don’t cry that loud. The only person who came to our defense was a local man of Arabica decent, he kept cursing at them, saying how racist they were. Well, I wasn’t getting off that bus either way so the driver continued till we got to our stop. I never knew Italian babies don’t cry lol.
I chased down a pick-pocket but that wasn’t due to racism, I just thought it was a stupid, but brave thing I did lol. The second time I visited Venice (2022) I chose a hotel that had amazing reviews and everyone mentioned how the owner will come speak with the guests and make recommendations. She did come by while we were at breakfast to ask if we need coffee, then went over to speak with a white couple on the next table. We walked into a local restaurant for lunch and the waiter yelled out, in annoyance “Madam if you don’t have a reservation you have to wait outside”. We turned around and walked into the restaurant, next door for some delicious food.
We’re in line to check-in for our flight. When it’s our turn to go to the counter, airline attendant, closes her counter, with a scrawl says “It’s closed” and without further explanation turns and is talking with her counterpart. We stand there not knowing what it means, is the flight full, are we late? We wait for another counter to become available and move to that attendant to be checked into the flight.
In many of the places I visited in Italy, you can sense you’re not welcome but fortunately , your status makes you tolerable. Many Blacks who’ve visited Italy recount being solicited for sex, being cat called as they walk and in some instances verbally assaulted. Speaking with local migrants, they paint a picture of pure disdain and some instances hatred. Like we recently witnessed with the killing of of a disabled Nigerian street vendor, Alika Ogorchukwu. This is one case out of many and it’s unfortunate because the Italian government is not ready to address the high level of racism in the country but is passing laws that puts the lives of immigrants at risk. A recent law on immigration and security tightens the rules on immigration, the law includes actions that remove humanitarian protection for migrants.
What’s more concerning, is the recent election of the new far right prime minister Giorgia Meloni who won on a campaign built around a promise to block migrant ships and support for traditional “family values” and anti-LGBTQ themes. I’m apprehensive on how this new cabinet will influence the people and their view/ treatment of foreigners, especially blacks.
What has been your experience with visiting Italy, especially as a person of color.