“L’Italia non è un paese meticcio”. Citizenship, Racism And Belonging in Contemporary Italian Political Discourse

A Dialogue with Prof. Angelica Pesarini, NYU Florence

Feb 26, 2018 at NYU Florence as part of La Pietra Dialogues

Pesarini will discuss the connections between contemporary Italian political discourse on race, citizenship and belonging; the history of Italian colonialism in East Africa; and the complications of using the category ´mixed race´. She will look at how ideas of “blood” and biological “race” are still located at the core of national identity and why Italy today can be defined as a “racial nation” (Nandi and Spickard, 2014). She will also look at how everyday negotiations made by Black “mixed race” Italians can be used to respond to the negative positioning of their bodies as “dissonant” and “out of place” (Puwar, 2004) within the realm of the Nation. To do so, Pesarini will illustrate the continuity between a series of political actions articulated around an idea of racialized citizenship, going from the colonial fascist period in the former Italian colonies in East Africa (1890-1941), to contemporary times. She will begin by analyzing a series of laws, including the law 999 of 1933 introduced in order to regulate the identity and citizenship of unrecognised “mixed race” children born in Italy’s former colonies. She will then discuss the Race Manifesto (1938) and the racial laws enacted by Italy’s fascist regime (1937-1941) against interracial unions and “mixed race” subjects. Lastly, an examination of the current law for Italian citizenship (law 91/1992) will show the continuity between past and present, through a renewed idea of blood. Pesarini’s work, based on an analysis of original qualitative data, reveals how dynamics of race and migration in Italy cannot be fully understood without reference to the historical nexus of citizenship/race/belonging and how, today, ideas of citizenship based on blood lineage show disturbing references to fascist ideologies of race. An analysis of the negotiations enacted by racialized subjects in order to respond to the negative positioning of their bodies, show how monolithic constructions of national identity may be challenged, contested and subverted. This can trigger alternative forms of belonging which may be used as a tool of resistance capable of challenging hegemonic structures of power. Professor Pesarini was awarded a Ph.D. in Sociology in 2015 from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Leeds. Pesarini’s work investigates the visual racializing practices located at the intersection of ‘race’, gender and identity in colonial and postcolonial times, with a specific focus on Italy. In her current research, Pesarini examines phenomenological experiences of Black ‘mixed race’ embodiment lived by two generations of women born from a White Italian and a Black East-African parent in the former Italian colonies in East Africa (Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia). Using Black feminist epistemology and qualitative research methods, Pesarini interrogates the limits of Franz Fanon’s idea of the ‘white look’ and focuses on the gendered connotations neglected by Fanon and useful to understand the intersectional construction of racialized and gendered bodies in colonial and postcolonial Italy.