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Diasporian News of Sunday, 1 July 2012

Source: nytime

Can Balotelli Make Italy Less Racist?

“After two goals Thursday that catapulted Italy to the Euro 2012 final, Italians immediately anointed a new national hero,” writes Elisabetta Povoledo, “Mario Balotelli, whose biography neatly encapsulates the changes that have swept Italian society in the past 20 years —as well as its contradictions.”

Those contradictions?

For one, Mr. Balotelli — who was born in Palermo, Italy to immigrant parents from Ghana — wouldn’t be Italian if he had not been adopted by an Italian family when he was 18.

Citizenship laws in Italy confer birthright citizenship only to the children of Italian citizens and not to children born in Italy of foreign parents.

A broader contradiction: “Even as fans and commentators have cited Balotelli as a symbol of Italy’s new multiethnic society, there are some Italians who still believe that nationality is a question of color,” Elisabetta reports.

While he was still playing in Italy, Mr. Balotelli, like other black athletes who play here, was subject to racist episodes. When newspapers reported that he had revealed in June after a visit to Auschwitz that one of his adoptive parents was of Jewish heritage, an Italian extreme right group posted unprintable slurs on its Web site.

“This past year there were 59 racial incidents during the Italian soccer championship, almost all of them linked to color,’’ said Mauro Valeri, a sociologist and expert in racism in sport. Fines of more than €400,000 were issued, he said. ‘‘Even though measures have been implemented to halt the violence, the fact racism persists should make you think.’’ Of course, you don’t have to be a soccer star to experience Italy’s racism. Just about any black person who has been to Italy can tell you stories. I remember one where, as a university student, I had spent the long train ride from Paris to Venice telling my mother — a black woman born in segregated Georgia in the American south — how much less burdened I felt by racism as a young black man living in Europe.

As we left the train station in Venice, my mother’s first vision of Italy was two Italian policemen mercilessly beating an African immigrant man selling his wares on the sidewalk. A tear rolled down her face.

I remember another incident where Italian schoolchildren — they could not have been more than eight years old — at a Paris Metro station yelled their word for eggplant at me, an Italian slur for black people.

Ironically, and in a very Italian way (read: amazingly, simplistically based solely on color), even Italian compliments can come off as ignorant and racist.

As Elisabetta reported of Mario Balotelli after the defeat of Germany: “Commentators gushed over his statuesque physique, comparing him to one of the Riace bronzes — the full-size bronzes from the fifth-century B.C. housed in an Italian museum, reputed to be among the epitomes of male beauty (though they are actually Greek, not Roman).”

So, do you think Mario Balotelli can help make Italy less racist? (Maybe only if Italy wins on Sunday?)

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