Released on March The only black person in the room This is the first the book By journalist and writer Nadisha Uyangoda. Mémoire, essay, reportage, is the story of an author, raised in Brianza, of what it means to be the only black person in school, in the workplace, “in the room”. But there is much more than that, in this short but dense book: in particular meeting and being with other immigrants and / or subjective minorities, the daily challenges of contributing to the development of new sensitivities and a series of open questions. Perhaps it is only in this period that I have become more realistic and discussed.
Dry, no-frills and super fun writing that’s almost didactic but without being too cliche or didactic. Perhaps the best thing about the book is precisely the sense of the work in progress through which it shines, not the intention to provide clear and absolute answers so much as the process that begins with the author to meet other people and try to share knowledge and experience.
The author is also coordinating with Natasha Fernando & Maria Katina Mancuso, podcast ”About raceThis is in a clear and simple way that translates, interprets, and problematizes a series of terms coming from the English-speaking debate. We met her on the phone to talk about her The only black person in the room.
It seems to me that your book came out in good time, and there is a renewed interest in ethnic issues, identity politics, and so forth.
The book was released in an entirely different period and released instead when these issues are on the agenda, in the media as well as within ethnic minority communities. I think they are also blocking the big multinational brands and companies, who are also trying to incorporate anti-racist themes in Italy.
About this I immediately ask you if these interests, let’s say commercial, do not risk promoting anti-racism?
There is definitely a risk that the symbolic strength of even the Black Lives Matter claims and other movements will weaken when it comes to corporations and multinationals. Sure, attention, especially for large companies, helps reach more people (they really have great communication power), but it’s not certain that it’s just a cosmetic procedure: diversity at the image level, without it being a real attempt at inclusion.
Instead, we need real change. It seems to me that this has actually happened in part in fact with these companies’ attempts to incorporate feminism, with modifications that don’t really change the system.
It is then the danger of managing diversity in general, which is very common in the English-speaking world but also prevalent in Italy.
Yes, recently I have had to deal with several people dealing with diversity and inclusion for companies in Italy. All of them are white. And this is for heaven’s sake, okay, but it’s also a symptom of something that’s still wrong, of opportunism rather than a true desire for structural change.
In your book, but also in the podcast “On Race”, it seems to me that you are looking for a balance between the issues that come from the English-speaking debate and other issues typical of the Italian debate …
It is definitely very complicated. Perhaps there is a difference between generations. For the elderly, it remains essential to go see past stories and read and study Italian and non-Italian colonialism, with the hope that this also reaches new generations. Young people, on the other hand, the generation formed on social networks, are more sensitive to what comes from the United States, and in particular to the lives of blacks are important.
Image from the DINAMOpress archive
Among other things, there is no doubt that thinking about these issues in the English-speaking world is much further than that. We need both, to accept and make our symbolic responsibility for what comes from outside without forgetting the peculiarities of Italian history and society. And that’s something we’re trying to do with the “About the Race” podcast.
Well, in Italy we have a tradition of racial intolerance that is definitely not recent, which includes, in addition to colonialism and its effects, racism towards immigrants, as well as anti-Roma and anti-Semitism.
Absolutely. It seems to me important then to point out that the split between whites and blacks that exists in Italy – in all its limits – in the United States cannot really work. On this point, it’s really ironic that there has been talk of anti-Asians racism in Italy yet Last Episodes in the United States and as if this type of racial intolerance did not spread in Italy for decades!
In fact, the very large Chinese, Indian and Roman societies in Italy find no space in this division that we import. This is certainly one of those cases where we cannot take what comes from outside and apply it uncritically in Italy.
In the book you talk about the importance of April 25, about the demonstrations and about that we are talking about the Italian history that was created for you thanks to the memory of liberation. How can this be transmitted to us? Is it possible to pass it?
My story is a special story that has to do with my experiences, with my encounters. Not knowing how important April 25 is to new generations, there is certainly a difficulty (and this applies to both ethnic and non-racial minorities) in explaining why anti-fascism persists, and how it relates to anti-racism.
For some people who struggle with racism, there is the issue of not feeling connected to the history of liberation because it is not the history of their ancestors and this is of course more complicated for those who have roots in the former Italian colonies, given that the history of Somali, Eritrean and Ethiopian revolutionaries is not mentioned in the branches.
Perhaps retrieving stories, such as that of the Panda Mario, a party group active in the Marche and made up of women and men of different nationalities and religions, would be helpful (the historian books Matteo Petracci And Ray Storia is preparing an episode about this to be released on April 23rd).
I ask you: Could you still be the only black person in a room in an increasingly multi-ethnic country?
Certainly in the province! A lot of people are still growing up the way I’ve seen, and I don’t see black people for years and years. It is different in big cities, where societies with a migrant background are more numerous, and away from the problems of marginalization or apartheid, children and youth have a better chance of finding themselves with like-minded peers, avoiding this feeling of isolation that only makes blacks. People in the room.
Yet this state, more than schools, is still detectable in sectors such as culture, entertainment, and politics: those are the rooms where black people never enter – yet we have been an “increasingly multi-ethnic” country for a long time. . Time.
Image from Nadeesha Uyangoda’s Facebook profile
In your book, you write that it is important “to share our experiences with as many an audience as possible, but doing so without organized thinking, and with much deeper criticism, can do more harm than good.” Here, how is this structured criticism structured? How are they built together?
There is certainly still a need, especially on the part of the younger generation of blacks in Italy, to tell themselves and tell their stories – which are often good stories. And that’s okay, it also has to do with the social networks and the ability that they have to convey these stories and bring people together.
However, this is not enough, we must take a later step, to avoid the excessive fragmentation of these prevailing experiences which, in my opinion, will not allow us to move to a more structured critique.
Would you like to comment on the translation question of Amanda Gorman’s poems?
I try even if I am not a translator. Obviously in this case it is more about marketing than anything else and the dominance of American publishing, or at any rate the English language, and I agree with what Martina Testa said in your interview. I also agree with the idea that anyone can translate anyone.
However, the question is not that white people have the skills and abilities to translate black authors. What is important is to understand who anyone can translate anyone: often the same dominant identities translate the marginalized.
Translation, in this sense, appears to be a power and privilege that have tangible effects on language and culture. So to stop duplicating the identities they are translating and to dismantle the effects of that power, I don’t think it’s wrong to find a way to translate more translators from ethnic minorities, and it’s okay to start with black women writers. .
Cover photo is from Nadeesha Uyangoda’s Facebook profile