‘Good’ Foreigners

Sometimes I think that I am surrounded by racists living here in Italy.  I don’t think anyone has ever been racist towards me, but I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’re glad I’m not black, from Africa or Romania, or a Muslim.  I’m getting ready to move out of my house, and my landlady told me that she denied my apartment to a Moroccan because she only wants ‘normal people, like me and you’.  My boss, at the gardening company I work for, said he didn’t want to hire a foreigner because he was worried that his clients would rebel against him, but said that Americans are considered ‘good’ foreigners and so he thought it would be okay.  He also said that the worst thing would have been if I had been black.  It’s almost a kind of reverse racism towards me, in a way, but these conversations always make me feel awkward.

The odd thing about the racism I have experienced here is that Italy is actually a pretty diverse place.  I live in a rural, agricultural area, which is an industry full of foreigners, especially Romanians, Africans, and also Indians.  There is also an odd phenomenon here, which is that almost every town, including small villages, has a bar run by Chinese people.  The coffee in those bars is usually pretty good, too.

People always seem to get along too, and I can’t say that I have seen any overt racism in public, but the number of times I have heard people make racist remarks to me in private, to the point of making me feel uncomfortable, is damning.

I could be wrong, but despite its faults I just don’t think I have experienced the same level of racism in the US.  Perhaps it’s because I always lived in relatively diverse places, and went to well-integrated schools, but I hardly remember any situations at all at home in which something bad was said about a person from another race.  On the other hand, as a white person who was born in the USA, I was always in the majority there so never experienced life from the viewpoint of someone in the minority.  I also remember all kinds of other forms of discrimination, such as discrimination against people of different sexual orientation or religion, but I think that the US is a much more inclusive place in general.

A further example of this inclusive ideology, which I truly believe is still an American ideal despite the current political landscape, is our legislation against discrimination when it comes to jobs.  I’m sure that there is some discrimination, even if it is unintentional when someone is judged based on their name, but in general we have a culture which idealizes equal opportunity for all.  In Italy, on the other hand, you are always required to submit a picture with a job application, and many jobs specifically request people of a certain gender or age.

Italy is not a bad country but I think that there are some areas where they are a little behind the times.  I think that diversity is beautiful and that interacting with people of different backgrounds makes us all better people, and in this era of nationalism and protectionism more countries/governments/people should step up to say that they value immigration and diversity and to promote cultural exchange rather than promoting isolationism and an ‘us vs. them’ ideology.

Time to get off my high horse now-if you have ever lived in another country, or traveled, or even just interacted with foreigners or grew up as a minority, what were your experiences like?  How do you think we can address issues of inequality and discrimination?

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