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Italy’s first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, has said the country is not particularly racist despite receiving a barrage of racist and sexist insults since becoming one of seven women in the new government.
The Italian citizen originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was named integration minister by Prime Minister Enrico Letta on April 27.
The 49-year-old eye doctor said she believes hostile attitudes stem mainly from ignorance:
“I am not ‘coloured’, I’m black, it is important to say that, I emphasise it proudly.”
“We need to break down these walls. If you don’t know someone, scepticism increases, discrimination increases. Immigration is a richness. Differences are a resource.”
The minister has received taunts from far-right websites which branded her; “Zulu”, “Congolese monkey” and “the black anti-Italian.”
She also received insults from Mario Borghezio, a European Parliament member for the Northern League.
He referred to the coalition as a “Bongo Bongo government” – a play on the Bunga Bunga parties of the Berlusconi era – and said “Kyenge would make a good housewife but not a minister”.
Kyenge plans to push for legislation opposed by the League that would allow children born in Italy to immigrant parents to be given automatic citizenship instead of having to apply when they turn 18.
Although millions of Italian emigrants left the country throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to find jobs and a new life overseas, the country has struggled to integrate those from other countries who have come to Italy seeking work.