Italy’s Luigi Di Maio under fire over racist memes

edited August 2020 in Other Political Debate

ROME — Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio is embroiled in a racism row after reposting offensive memes, including an image featuring blackface, on social media.

Di Maio, a former deputy prime minister, posted images in which his face was superimposed onto Black people, including basketball legend Michael Jordan and one of Bill Cosby’s children in the American sitcom “The Cosby Show.” Di Maio also posted a doctored photo in which he is shown standing next to famous Italian comic Toto, who is in blackface.

The 5Star Movement politician was responding to online comments about his appearance after being photographed with a suntan. Offensive memes were posted on social media mocking Di Maio for being tanned, including one featuring him on a boat carrying migrants.

Di Maio reposted some of the images on Facebook and Instagram with the comment, “Sorry kids, next year I’ll wear factor 50 [suntan cream]. Thanks for making my day lighter.”

The row is reminiscent of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s comments in 2009, when he described Barack and Michelle Obama as “suntanned.”

The gaffe makes Di Maio appear out-of-touch with the global focus on tackling racism. Italian cities have seen numerous Black Lives Matter protests and there is fierce debate over statues of colonial figures, although the country lags behind some other European countries when it comes to racial sensitivity and diverse representation in politics.

Di Maio’s posts were sharply criticized on social media.

Somali-Italian writer Igiaba Scego wrote on Twitter: “The memes on the tan of minister Di Maio are racist, period. Disgusting, period. Joking with blackface is racist. The minister should point out the racism of the practice. Instead, he has given this response.” She added: “In Italy, people think that blackface is funny. I will tell you as a Black Italian, it is not funny — it is very offensive.”

Italian Black Lives Matter activist Oiza Q. Obasuyi wrote: “What’s funny about saying that Di Maio looks black? Does this stuff really make people laugh today? I thought we had evolved.”

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