During Black History Month, at Temple University Rome we had the wonderful opportunity to sit in on a panel of Black Italian Women sharing their individual experiences of being Black in Italy, while also educating us on how Italy views communities they are a part of, and prominent history of the treatment and expectations of the Black community in this country. Due to my inherent privilege as a white cis person coming from a middle class family, I found that I have been so completely ignorant and unintentionally self absorbed to even consider what daily life may look like for someone in a country that wont always accept them directly as they are. Living in the United States my whole life, attending primarily white middle class schools, and then moving to Philadelphia for four years (as the most diverse place I have ever lived), Italy’s lack of diversity shocked me. As a complete foreigner, of course I was scared, uncomfortable, confused, and constantly worrying everyone could tell I was American. However, these are such minute feelings in comparison to what Black people may feel even in their own country. I was shocked to find out that only within the past few years, and the universal reaction to George Floyd and the United States movement of “Black Lives Matter” did European countries attempt to really make a change. Up until recently, racist skits, and the usage of slurs on television were accepted on Italian Television. Therefore, not only is there a lack of representation in the media for younger kids to feel seen in their country, but they are also being exposed to direct disrespect or even hatred from a place they call home.
While I will never fully understand what it is like to be in the shoes of anyone else in this world, especially someone who has experienced a completely different country and the histories it carries, I can constantly listen to others’ experiences attentively, and educate myself even beyond those parameters. . There was something mentioned that really stuck with me personally, and I think raised an even larger issue with the world’s view on their expectations of some of us as individuals, that isn’t put on everyone else. One of the speakers, Ada Ugo Abara, shared her personal experience with creating a podcast and using that as a medium to talk about things she was passionate about, things she enjoyed, and topics that were genuinely corresponding to what she was proud to create. However, she told us about a comment someone made in passing. They mentioned they loved her podcast, but they think she should really talk about racism and activism in her next episodesThey may have thought they were making a polite suggestion, but to Ada Ugo Abara, this is a reminder that people expect her to be a constant advocate or spokesperson for racism simply because she is Black. It is not the duty of persons of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the disabled community, or anyone to educate others of their experience. People live life to be scientists, artists, teachers, doctors, or inventors. People live life to experience their passion at their pace at the will of their own choice. To choose a life of activism is one thing, to push the title on someone depending on your perception of what they should do is another. The last person expected to educate should be those within their community, and the first person who should be teaching you is yourself. It takes going out of your way to constantly learn about the way the world grows and changes and evolves around us. We all share a community on the planet, and it’s our duty to make it home to one another just as much as the next person.
This concept is something that instantly made the wheels in my head catch on fire and almost combust with frustration and simultaneously, amazement. I couldn’t stop thinking about the constant daily expectations and boxes that we keep everyone in all of the time. Humans are creatures of habit, our brains work best in patterns, and we love to organize even the tiny things in life. However, when it comes to being presumptuous towards people it creeps towards a line of inherent prejudice this becomes a bigger issue. We have these boxes like feminine, masculine, gay, straight, Black, Hispanic, white, and so on. We even love to define people by their occupations. The doctor must be smarter than the teacher, smarter than the garbage man or the freelance artist. This is an idea that, although completely normalized and sometimes not second guessed, can be extremely damaging to our creativity and overall happiness in life. We are instantly confused by anything that we think doesn’t match “a box” or tick the expectations in our head. This is an outdated concept and leaves us feeling guilty for the art we create as people. Whether we’re creating fine art, creating a professional presentation, or even just getting dressed for the day.Expression is a huge part of an individual’s happiness and central view of self. While I am exploring the inside of my own identity in this way, I think a constant reminder to myself that every other being on the planet has that same daily societal expectation of themselves, would make us all a whole lot easier on each other and just enjoy life a little more. I’m looking forward to listening to others and seeing what that teaches me about myself. I hope my time in Rome, especially as an envoy, is something that will continue to let me see into more than just myself.