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I Am Not A Racist, But ...

(by Jean-Pol Grandmont via Wikimedia Commons

"I am not a racist, but ..." - this is the sentence many racists say whenever they attempt to appear less racist than they actually are. However, now I have found myself in a situation in which I had to say the same thing.

As everyone knows, Italy has been at the centre of a recent wave of migration. According to statistics, in 2016 Italy received 91,000 requests for asylum, the majority of applicants being from Africa (55,000) and Asia (21,000).

In 2017, there were 81,000 asylum requests, again mostly by people from Africa and Asia.

Although the number of people arriving without a proper travel permit is small compared to the number of citizens, one can see many migrants in the big cities as well as increasingly in small towns.

The problem with that is how to maintain law and order.

Yesterday I was walking near the Roman forum, when a black guy came to me and greeted me: "Hey, my friend, how are you?"

Lots of African migrants in Italy make a living selling products on the street, and they usually talk to passers-by like that.

I seldom talk to anyone on the street, especially to those who want to sell me something I don't need. "No, sorry," I said. But he kept following me.

Then he started complaining about how Europeans treat Africans:

"Why don't you want to say hi to me?" he asked. "Why don't European people like people from Africa?"

I stopped and said: "Listen, this has nothing to do with your skin colour. I can guarantee you that whenever someone stops me and wants to sell me something, no matter the colour of their skin, I just don't talk to them. If you saw how I behave when white people stop me to sell me something, you'd understand that I treat you and them all the same. It's nothing personal, I just don't want to buy anything."

We started talking about racism. I admitted that in Europe there is racism, but I told him that skin colour doesn't matter to me. We had a nice short conversation. 

"Over there is my brother," he said, pointing at a black man who was leaning against a metal fence and looking at us.

Then he took a small African-style bracelet and quickly tied it around my right wrist, so fast and tight that I could neither prevent it, nor unfasten it to give it back to him.

"This is for you," he said. "You're a nice person. Keep it."

I tried to reject, but he insisted. And I couldn't get it off my wrist. So, I had no choice but to accept it.

He wished me good luck, said that he would soon leave Italy to see his newborn baby. He showed a picture of his baby. All of a sudden he put a little wooden turtle on the palm of my hand. "This is for you, my friend, good luck."

Again I tried to give it back, but he wouldn't have it. I thanked him a few times, turned around and was about to walk away when he said:

"Hey, my friend, don't you have one euro? Two euros? Just if you want to give me."

I knew I had fallen into a trap.

"Sorry, really, I told you I didn't want to buy anything," I said.

"So, you don't want to give me anything?" he asked in an upset voice.

I tried to give everything back to him. He got angry and looked at me with fiery eyes.

"Hey, don't do that to me," he said menacingly. "I gave it to you, you don't give it back. Why do you wanna give it back?"

"Well, because I think this is too much," I said. "You're giving me a gift, but there is no reason for it. I didn't do anything to deserve it. I just talked to you."

"You don't do that to me," he said angrily. "You're not respecting me."

He glanced at his "brother", who was staring at us. I thought I had got myself into trouble. But I'd had enough of being nice.

"You see?" I said. "That is why people don't talk to you."

He gave me a furious look. I handed back the turtle. This time he accepted it. I tried to unfasten the bracelet.

"You keep it," he said peremptorily. "It's a gift."

I shrugged my shoulders and walked away, hoping that he and his friend would not follow me.

So, I find myself saying that I am not a racist, but ... 

I like to live in a multicultural setting. I grew up in a small town, where one truly could say that everyone had the same "heritage", that is, that everyone's family had been there for generations. And I didn't like it. My favourite cities - Hong Kong, Berlin and London - are places where one can meet people from all over the world.   

However, migration needs to be controlled, and integration through job and education programmes needs to be promoted. It is not acceptable that migrants go to a country and harass people, engage in illegal businesses, and do not pay taxes. 

If we are to defeat racism in the West, we must pursue progressive economic policies, we must advance education, and crack down on crime by strengthening our institutions.


  1. Imagine how women feel when they are treated this way on the street.


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