Monday, December 29, 2014

Today's MOZEN: The Subtlety of Racism

Words and photo by F LoBuono
My ancestors are Sicilian - on both sides. My mother's family comes from a small, baroque village in the eastern part of the island, San Salvatore di Fitalia. My father's village is an ancient town in the west near Palermo and is called Lercare Friddi. Both of these villages are rich in culture and history.

Whenever I tell someone that I am of Sicilian ancestry, I often get a strange response. I believe people think that what they are saying to me is funny without really thinking about it. They will ask something like, do you know how close Sicily is to Africa? Or, you know, you probably have "black" blood in you or Arab blood. Really? This is the subtlety of racism. So subtle that they are not even aware how downright insulting that is. The implication is that you are somehow inferior because of  "black genes" somewhere in your background.  And, I've heard this not only from other nationalities but Italians, as well. My response is always one of "polite indignation": I explain to them that I have the best genes possible - those of poets, scholars, adventurers, lovers, warriors and conquerors.  And, some of those people may have even been black*!

In a sense, they might as well have called me nigger! Because, deep in their hearts, that's what they think. I have heard these insults my whole life and I still do (it recently happened again) - and, yet, although dark skinned, I am white. I can only imagine what people of real color must endure. I am sure that when it's not blatant, it is nuanced. But, it is almost always THERE.

Because we have a mixed-race President, people are saying that there is little, if any, racism left in this Country. Well, having experienced it personally, even on the most subtle level, I can tell you that racism is indeed alive and well. If I can feel it as a Sicilian (yes, my skin is dark), I'm sure that our President has encountered it on many occasions in the past. I think that he still does and that it is the single greatest obstacle to his presidency.

Have race relations improved in the last fifty years? Why, yes, they have. Are we now living in a diverse society where race plays NO role? Hardly. We experience it every day, each of us in our own way. Racism is not always loud and obvious. Sometimes, we are the objects of a racism so subtle that it is hardly noticed. Others are the purveyors of such "quiet"racism that they hardly even notice that they are practicing it (like the comments of Sicily being close to Africa). It's an insidious force that creeps into our everyday lives and becomes entrenched in our psyches.

I believe that the current protests around the Country, inspired by the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of white police officers, are a result of an awakening to the sting of racism. The police maintain that the killings were not racially motivated and were justified. Obviously, not everyone believes that. Certainly, on a daily basis, the police do a difficult and dangerous job. The great majority of them do it well. However, their current actions have drawn enough attention to the issue of race and the police, and policing in general, as to dominate our national conversation. There are just too many people involved for this to be an anomaly. But, this should not be looked as an indictment of the police. It is as an opportunity to heal, deal with the issues, and move one, leaving racism behind us. Subtlety.

* The patron saint of my mother's village is San Cologero, a Moor.

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