An honest conversation from an afroitalian woman standpoint.
Wednesday 1st July 2020. I had the opportunity to meet Fao Compaore, a 24 years old black Italian living in Bergamo, and working at a famous coffee chain. Fao may not be an activist but she has at heart her people and their growth. We decided to meet at the Brera Pinacoteca with the Italo-Nigerian Art Direct and photographer Naty and have a very honest conversation on all that went through in these days in the afro-community.
Are you ready? Let just pretend is a normal conversation and that I’m note-taking notes. You told me you didn’t go to the BLM Milan Parade. Why?
Ok, I was on duty that’s why but I made sure I was making a statement as well. I worked without my work clothes. I wore a black t-shirt.
George Floyd. Why do you think the BLM movement had such attention now?
I believe the pandemic worked in favor of the movement. Everyone had a forced break so we felt almost obliged to listen to what was going on around us.
Do you think the BLM movement happens to be a trend?
I wouldn’t like to generalize but it felt that way. It seems like a subcultural movement. Do you know Punk’s fashion moment in England? I felt it had a “be part of something” mood rather than let’s be vocal on a serious social issue. I still wonder why all the Italian black community decided to go the Milan even rather than staying in their respective city and adopt a position there. It would have been more impactful.
How do you feel about this movement?
I believe is going to cause a lot of division. As if the black community doesn’t already have enough inter issues. Moreover, I don’t even get what we are protesting for. Is it for the diaspora in general? Is it togetherness for the Afroamerican? I don’t know
How did you feel when Repubblica chose to speak on the BLM in Milan by putting two white characters as a cover page?
I understood the provocation. White people were more than blacks. Maybe we are so numb that we just face the issue lightly. But c’mon, is about us. Shouldn’t we represent ourselves at least in a moment of outrage? I appreciate the support from all people outside the race but there is always a fine line between appreciation and appropriation.
There are a lot of divided thoughts on the BLM movement within the community, why do you think we are so divided?
Too little information and we like to call ourselves one but we have different issues and we just share a skin color. Some of us were there to save Africa, others were there to save their identity as Africa’s Diaspora, others were there for the problematic police system.
Fao gets distracted by the view of 5 police walking on the street and couldn’t hold herself from commenting “Take a look at them. Now they move in a group. Who are they looking for? There are no spottable drug dealers in this road except the rich kids.”
Have you seen the video of the guy killed in Loreto (Milan)?
Uh, I don’t want to talk about it. It felt like an act of revenge and I’m so angry. That’s what you have. Anger.
What do you think about the whole movement in Italy? Afroitalians and the pro blackness but yet Italian claimed?
I feel is just hypocritical. We are just too good at claiming our origins when in the reality we know just little about it. In Europe the situation is a bit different, I feel blacks here have the privilege to put on and off our African culture and it has become a very fancy accessory.
Today many of us are seeing blackness as a fashion then?
Well yes, it has been this way for a while now. You can see it for the number of mixed couples. We have lots of black women dating out their race and that wasn’t so common some time ago.
What changed then?
We have fewer taboos. The black women in our generation are emancipated, which makes it easier for us to step out of our race.
Do you think is because we feel more appreciated as women from men outside our race?
I believe that could be a reason. Italian men celebrate us more than their African counterparts. We are not taking for granted. Let me tell you about my boyfriend. Back when I was dating my ex, that happens to be a black guy, I met my current boyfriend. He was dating an Ivorian girl. I remember coming across them and seeing her holding a bouquet of roses with a big smile. I remember thinking ‘oh, that’s sweet. This is something I won’t ever get from my boyfriend.’ I don’t even want flowers I’m allergic to them. But is about the act.
You are right, but is the attention that a black man gives to a woman outside his race. Why so?
Yes, I’ve noticed that but I feel is because we black women we don’t ask for black men accountability. We just don’t expect them to do anything. Most of our African backgrounds come with an education that says that a woman is meant to be considered so for her endurance. We do keep in a lot of pains and doubt and boost out looking crazy. Or angry. We are incapable to handle emotions with our men in particular. I feel is a cultural thing. If I think of my father, he comes across as a reluctant-to-speak type of person. You talk if there is something meaningful to talk about, and it has to be practical. So there is little space left to talk about feelings but meanwhile, you are asked a certain maturity and a caregiver mentality. We are natural saviors.
This culture mirrors the whole black experience which is based on resilience where the man sees the woman as the pilar and he almost feels entitled to act, however. Is the same in the BLM: black women in the frontline fighting for most-likely black men problems. How should we set this movement to make it make sense?
I feel we lost the BLM movement for how it meant to be and that’s bad. I never thought it could in a way represent me, for the simple fact that is about America’s police system and systematic racism. We are talking about a history based on slavery and political and social inequalities. Afroamericans have problems that are exactly opposite to the Afro-Europeans. Is about their identity, the agenda and all of this has to be discussed but I don’t feel we should rob them the wrong way and make it our battle. I believe we can have mutual discriminations, we share a collective memory that brings us to unconscious symbiotic suffering, yet we have different stories and different battles. European afro descendent struggle with the fact that is not being acknowledged their double identity or mixed identity. We fight with institutions that won’t accept the fact that we are 100% European as we are culturally trained that way, while the African community doesn’t recognize our being African as well. We are neither fish nor meat and we get discriminated on all fronts. We deal with out of place comments such as “you are too beautiful to be black” or “damn, you speak the Italian language just as an Italian”. We are still not the norm for Europeans and is quite frustrating having to justify. We are getting to the point where we are the ones having a bias on preconceptions that people may have of us. We constantly double-check ourselves and most of the time we doubt actions.
I’m guessing from your argument that you don’t believe that there is something such as black culture. Am I wrong?
What’s even to be considered black culture? Is it about African culture? By the way, Africa is such an immense continent made of heterogeneous cultures that the only things that put African people together are the traits absorbed by colonization and slavery. To me talking about black culture is derogatory. It feels to me like a bunch of black stereotypes. Black culture assumes you listen to hip-hop and rap, you are quite ghetto and you use the N-word. You having an accent. Maybe you wear dreads or you braid your hair, you might be loud and live in a very extended family with lots of siblings and a problematic parent.
I never heard about white culture. A black person claiming black culture is a death-dunk. That’s you accepting all the assumptions about you based on your skin color.
Black people have cultures, they may come from their African village or some ancestors, they can be common or unique but what is certain is that they evolve. And that’s a positive thing. My parents have their own culture that my brother and I naturally reinterpreted and made them ours. He mixed is burkinabé side with his girlfriend Apulian traditions and Lombardy habits. I did the same with the cuisine. My African dishes taste so different from what I can recall of my moms’ but to my future children, my food will be their African version.
Afrodiscendent culture is a diluted culture. And we live in Dante’s purgatory. Are we going to Hell or Paradise?
I truly believe that you need to feed your root somewhere before hoping to get to the sun. That’s what I told my friend that lives in London: he is afraid that he will never find a place to call home. I don’t think you should let someone choose where’s your home.
Do you think black people can be racist if they have no power to systematically oppress an ethnic group?
Sure, blacks can be racist, we all have some type of prejudice is a coping mechanism but I strongly believe that European thought us how to be racist. Let’s remember that racism wasn’t a thing before the nineteenth century. You just need to read History to know about it.
The school doesn’t teach all of this. How do you learn it?
School is not meant to teach you all. Life is going to teach you through experience and the latter can give you the zeal to learn more. However, I think History survives thanks to a natural cycle. We keep on saying ‘History repeats itself’. Greeks and Romans have dominated for decades. Then America saved Italy from the War. Empires are built, empires are destroyed. We don’t have to do anything new. We should read what to avoid.
How is the world going to be in 2050?
Is going to be an unpredictable scenario. Surely, is going to be very different from now. The sense of difference that we are currently feeling is not going to affect kids that are now 5 or 10. To them, schooling with different cultures and ethnicities will be just fine and is going to enrich their cultural heritage. Let’s give time to time. In 30 years from now, we are going to be the elders reclaiming the importance of distinguishing cultures. By then we will forget that borders are just imaginative lines made by society. In nature, there is nowhere to be found a line that separates ‘the beginning of’ to ‘the end of’. That’s why I don’t like placing myself to extremes, or categorically vindicate rights. Anger doesn’t fight hate. We need a conversation that is quite different from a debate. The aim shouldn’t be finding wrongs or rights, it should be finding a safe space where you are free to think and oblige to listen and learn.