Italy's first black senator tainted by anti-migrant stance


Italy’s much anticipated elections took place earlier this week with the results causing mixed reactions across the country. While some celebrated the success of the rising anti-establishment groups, migrants and refugees have expressed deep fear.

However, most surprising was not the victory of the Five Star Movement, which had been widely predicted by polls and national data, but rather it was the controversial election of Italy’s first black Senator.

Toni Iwobi, an immigrant from Nigeria, secured the position as the first ever black Senator in Italian political history, and he did so representing the League. Iwobi’s historical achievement does not come without criticism, with many expressing anger over the migrant’s decision to support a party whose leader once called for a “mass cleaning” of Italy.

The League, a conservative right party, credits much of their success to their anti-immigrant platform. Their party slogan “stop the invasion” speaks to Italian’s deep rooted fear of immigration in several regions which remain key to the League’s success.

Iwobi has said, “It’s an incredible honour for me to be Italy’s first black senator,” and insists his election proves his party is not against legal immigration. Others are not convinced.

Italian footballer, Mario Balotelli, took to Instagram to express his discontent with Iwobi writing, “Maybe I’m blind or maybe they haven’t told him he’s black yet.” Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents, has suffered as a target for racial abuse throughout his career and called Iwobi’s election a “disgrace.”

The nomination of Iwobi also meets opposition from those who recall how the party formally treated Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister in the lower house of Parliament. The minister, who suffered high profile racial attacks during her service, was likened to an orangutan by a League senator.

The anti-immigration policies adopted and supported by Iwobi and his party most notably target those seeking refugee or asylum status from North Africa. The highest number of requests seeking asylum in Italy come from Nigeria. But the narrative promoted by the League has painted these migrants as criminal and these messages have had real consequences. Just last month, a man with ties to the League opened fire on African migrants in the city of Macerata, wounding six before he was captured.

Italy’s first black senator being supported by the League results in a complicated realization for Italian politics. Iwobi made history, but his election presents a hallmark of contradiction, as his success comes at the stake of many Africans living within Italian borders. Even more importantly, the League will use Iwobi as a veil to disguise their prejudice by insisting his leadership means that their anti-immigrant stance does not make them racially biased, when in reality the two are often synonymous.

Cameron de Matteis