Perhaps life is like a box of chocolates.
Perhaps it is a string of coincidences. When following the news, often it is both.
Last week, at the Wind Music Awards in Verona, after performing his summer hitsingle ‘Cheerleader’, the last lines of which he translated in Italian, the Jamaican pop singer Omi received a double platina award from the hands of Carlo Conti and Vanessa Incontrada.
“Ti amo, Verona!”
Thank you/Kiss kiss/Bye bye/exit Omi.
And that should be that. But Conti lingers, watching Omi’s background dancers leave the stage. Vanessa, his side kick, follows Conti’s gaze and pulls him along. Wink wink nudge nudge. Humor for the masses.
Ever the show host, Conti pretends to protest. Girls? Me? Oh no! Au contraire! You misunderstand! See? It’s just….
“Finalmente c’era qualcuno più bronzato di me.” Freely translated, finally somebody more tanned than me.
Omi is Jamaican. He is black. Conti is Italian. He is an idiot. Simple.
Was it a Berlusconi moment, recalling the PM’s description of Barack Obama as ‘giovane, bello e abbronzato’, young, handsome and tanned? Or was it an ill-judged retort to the mockery made of Conti’s ever more fake-baked complexion?
Whatever it was, it was an insult to Omi.
Most non-Italians do not know Carlo Conti and in the bigger scheme of things, he is a nobody. And yet …
Since 1930, it has been a crime in Italy to insult the president of the nation and only now has the Senate agreed to, at least partially, scrap the jail term of up to five years for anybody convicted of lèse majesté. Hefty fines ranging from 5000 to 20000 Euros will however remain.
A tide of desperate migrants daily crosses the Mediterranean into Europe. People from Syria, from Africa, from Bangladesh even. Economic refugees, victims of war, people in search of a better future are entering Europe mostly via Italy and do so at an unprecedented rate. Italians meanwhile are divided, trying to find a balance between sympathy and compassion versus future economic and social uncertainties with political leaders often complicating rather than simplifying the debate.
When discussing the lack of racial diversity in the British film industry, Benedict Cumberbatch last January apologised after referring to black actors as colored.
In 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr was shot, Jane Elliott, a third-grade schoolteacher in Riceville, Iowa first conducted her diversity training exercise “Blue eyes-Brown eyes” in her class. She is now an anti-racism activist and educator. Elliott’s idea was that if racism and prejudice are thought we can un-teach them.
A classroom in Antwerp, Belgium has recently emulated her exercise. Spread over two days, the students are divided into two groups; blue eyes and brown eyes. Each group will consecutively hold the position of superior and inferior group. It is an intense exercise, interchanging oppressed and oppressor, unraveling talking about racism, understanding racism, practicing racism and experiencing racism. The results of Elliott’s exercise in 1968 were momentous. Anno 2015 they still are. Elliott’s original exercise has been adapted yet remains controversial. Some reproach Elliott for her blind, puritanical zeal. “Racism is racism and white ignorance is the problem,”she says. Be that as it may, societies change and as new challenges present themselves, new solutions and tactics need to be found. Slavery was not colonialism is not mass immigration.
Elliott’s exercise approaches racism as an overt form of prejudice.
But what about the unconscious, sublimated form of racism?
What when black is più bronzato, more tanned?
Ah, Carlo Conti. It was a gaffe and you got away with it. No mention of you or your misplaced joke in the newspapers. No public outrage. No demand for an apology. And perhaps that is the worst of all.
As for now, no cheerleader for you.
And that’s a wrap.