Italians in racist slurs against first African-born Minister

Dr Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first African-born cabinet minister whose appointment at the weekend has met with racist slurs.
Dr Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first African-born cabinet minister whose appointment at the weekend has met with racist slurs.

The Italian government has ordered an investigation into slurs on right-wing websites against the country’s first black minister, a case that has put Italy’s racial problems back in the spotlight. Cecile Kyenge, an eye doctor and Congo-born Italian citizen, was named integration minister in the new government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta last Saturday. She is one of seven women in the government.

Since then, she has been the subject of taunts not only on neo-Fascist websites but was also the butt of race-tinged remarks by a politician of the Northern League, which has been allied in the past with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Equal opportunities minister Josefa Idem ordered an investigation by the National Anti-Discrimination Office into websites which called Kyenge a “Congolese monkey,” “Zulu,” “the black anti-Italian,” and other slurs. “I am doing this in my capacity as new minister for equal opportunities but above all as a woman,” said Idem, 49, who is German-born but, like Kyenge, married an Italian man and took Italian citizenship.

Idem, a former Olympics kayak champion, who, along with Kyenge is a member of Letta’s Democratic Party, condemned what she called “vile racist epithets” against her fellow female cabinet member. She said the slurs that appeared on some far-right websites violated laws prohibiting “instigation of racial hatred” and asked police to shut them down.

On Tuesday, Northern League European Parliamentarian Mario Borghezio caused a political stir when, in a reference to Kyenge, called Letta’s coalition a “bonga bonga government”. Speaking on a radio program, he said Kyenge wanted to “impose tribal traditions” in Italy, and that Africans had “not produced great genes”.

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