Tuesday, 27 August 2013

I am sorry Cécile

Dear Cécile,

I am sorry that you were insulted once again at work today. I am sorry that you were called a prostitute by a deputy mayor of this country, and that a local wine producer made insulting comments I'd rather not repeat.

I'm sorry that bananas were thrown at you while you were speaking at an assembly - I'm glad you told them it was a pity to be wasting good food. And I'm still unable to believe that the Northern League politician who also said unrepeatable things about you - slimy Roberto Calderoli - is still in office.

In Italy it's hard to be taken seriously as a female. And you are a black woman. The first black politician in this country. Okay, the USA has Obama, but there is no comparison there. Cécile Kyenge in Rome is almost like putting a black lady politician in Ku Klux Klan territory way down south. No KKK here, but take a look at the awfulness of the comments directed at Kyenge, and I promise you will feel queasy.

So Cécile, like me you have been hanging around Italy for over twenty years. I've just read that you're a doctor, trained in Italy, founder of an intercultural association, so that makes you much more of a useful citizen than this lowly writer. Somehow, I imagine you must be a pretty normal lady, raising mixed-race children, getting things done, seeing to everybody else. A strong, dedicated woman. Work, school homework and meetings, sports in the afternoon, exams passed and failed, bills.

From the outside it seems that you are weathering this storm well. Your comments are minimal, and measured, and you have a lot of support. In this way what you are doing is breathtaking - not only are these oafs being shown up for what they really have inside, but their opponents, the people with good hearts, the people who made a human chain along the Sicilian beaches where so many immigrants have paid hard-earned cash to traffickers and died - the existence of these people is now thrown into relief.

Before you, Cécile, we didn't know there were so many of them. We didn't know that it was possible to throw off hatred, to make these people recant and feel shame, (as a couple of them have done so despicably, citing stress or taxes for their horrible comments). Possibly this shame is superficial - as I find it hard to believe that beliefs change - but what is becoming clear is that the new, mixed generation that will comprise the Italy of decades to come, will hear different voices, will hopefully choose what is good and just.

I wonder, did you realise these horrible words would come? Did you think it would be this bad?

Do you sit at the kitchen table at night, thinking back over the hating faces, the nauseous insults, and wonder whether - looking at your kids' faces or the hands of the clock - it is worth it?

Madame Cécile, Italy needs you. My children need your strength and your representation. Migrants do, open-minded people do, African factory workers do, sex workers (who goes to them, huh?).

Believe me Cécile, we are with you, and it is worth it. 

*  *  *
'Pelt and Other Stories' is out!


  1. Bananas?! What the fuck is WRONG with people? I'm infuriated from afar.


    1. Makes my blood boil. Makes me so ashamed. And yet, I know that goodness will prevail. Won't it?

  2. Catherine just had to share with you these posts by my friend Trisha which I know you'll appreciate. sending love lisa x

    1. Great blog ! And the interview with Kyenge's daughter reminds me of my youngest - who is half-Ghanaian and speaks Vicentino dialect! Hopefully Italy will move ahead slowly. Take care X

  3. It's not just a question of black & white skins,is it? It's also about the awful grey souls of these mis-educated people who seem to rise like scum to the top of western societies.I think Italy is singularly,emotionally, badly-placed for enlightened thinking...historically,religiously,politically etc....but I'm sure there are a few Italians who can lead the way.And the world knows how Italians like to follow a leader! Let's hope it's someone as 'civilised'-- what does that really mean?-- as Cecile, who has shown remarkable tolerance & amazing grace! Dio c*ne,guarda xe stesi!(visentino diale'to?!)

    1. And the 'awful grey souls' have started the hunting season today - so no more walks in the vineyards, and mustn't let the dog (called Mud!) escape. And hope the cats don't go wandering. Tim Parks wrote a very sensible article in The New York Times (www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/aug/holding-italy-hostage/) the other week about Italian acceptance of corruption at a very basic level, enabling someone like Berlusconi to harness the country to his needs.. good reading. Complimenti per il dialetto visentin!

    2. Sometimes I'd love to see hunters get Mud in their eyes! Xe bela'? I love Tim Parks's books...I've recently bought...it's in my hand now!..."Italian Ways: On & Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo" publ. by Harvill Secker@£16.99..& imagine he has a lot of pertinent things to say about Italian railway habits! (The trains,thank goodness,don't always run on time!!).Forza Vicenza!? Ciao tose!?

  4. Wow, I thought this was only an issue in the U.S., or maybe South Africa. I need to get out of my own provincial little head more often... Thanks for sharing, Cat.

  5. I agree with everyone else, I wasn't quite sure what it was when i first saw it. But after reading this I'm willing to try it! It sounds interesting....