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Monkey business, warts and all

By Martins Agbonlahor
13 January 2020   |   3:09 am
Italy is in the news again for all the wrong reasons: A monkey artwork designed by Serie A clubs to allegedly combat racism in the game is treated to a torrent of vitriolic attacks

AS Roma fans cheer prior to the Italian Serie A football match AS Roma vs Juventus on January 12, 2020 at the Olympic stadium in Rome. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Italy is in the news again for all the wrong reasons: A monkey artwork designed by Serie A clubs to allegedly combat racism in the game is treated to a torrent of vitriolic attacks, and deservedly so, as racism against black footballers in the country has assumed a frightening dimension.

The artist, Simone Fugazzotto, who in his artwork, depicted a blue-eyed, slant-eyed and black-eyed monkey – to represent the Caucasian, Asian and Black people – said his artwork was only a ‘defence tool to silence racists.’ But that’s where he goofed because if his thoughts were not already cluttered, he could have driven home his point by using a less dramatic symbol or even a simple banner saying ‘Enough with Racism.’ Curiously too, the mere stratification of people by their colour is in itself, discriminatory, it is labelling, it is arrant racism. The situation was even aggravated further when this artist shot himself in the feet by claiming to be an ‘ardent’ football supporter who had frequently seen people making monkey noises and gestures at black-skinned footballers. If his assertion is to be believed, then one could infer that his annoying monkey depiction was done with intent: a disingenuous individual who had seen it all and simply wanted to add fuel to an already-burning furnace with the hope of claiming cheap relevance therefrom. The artist has apologised in his own word, ‘profusely’ for the vexatious artwork, but whether that apology stems from a contrite spirit is another matter.

In any case, many people reacting to this artwork seem to be doing so because it relates to football, ‘the beautiful game,’ as the great Pele has it. I mean, who would not appreciate or savour the artistic display of Mario Balotelli or the lightning speed of Romelu Lukaku, as he meanders through opposing defence to score goals? But let’s take this further: Racism is endemic in Italian football and there are virtually no Italian black footballers who have not been an object of racial abuse: Alex Sandro and Blaise Matuidi of Juventus, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Sulley Muntari formerly of Inter Milan, Brescia’s Balotelli, El Shaarawy of Milan, Kevin Prince-Boateng also of Milan and so on and so forth. Even just recently, Moise Kean, also of Juventus who was racially targeted by the fans of Cagliari Football Club was himself, blamed for ‘influencing’ the monkey chants because he celebrated his goal with armed stretched sideways at the fans, a subtle gesture of saying ‘I don’t care.’ More so, when Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku reacted against being taunted racially in a certain match, a team of football supporters wrote a signed letter to him saying that ‘Monkey Chants are not Racism in Italy.’ This sums up moral cancer that has eaten into the soul of that country, where citizens, themselves, tend to worsen the issue by guiding in a somewhat jealous manner, what they consider their ‘Italianess.’ These are related in preposterous refrains like ‘Siamo Italiani o ci accetti cosi come siamo o non accetti’ (‘We are Italians. Accept us as we are or leave us’). This is to me, a veiled form of jingoism which translates into a cowardly act of muzzling genuine criticisms and freedom of expression, especially when it comes from foreigners.

Even in other areas of social life, Italy has not fared better. Rational individuals understand when leaders like the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whines about the failure of multiculturalism in her country in that the teeming immigrants are not conversant with the language or not embracing the German culture. The same cannot be said of Italy, where a legion of African migrants armed with Italian university degrees and can speak impeccable Italiano, keep perambulating the streets in search of jobs that they never get, not because they are not qualified, but because of this problematic word: racism, which tyrannises the recipients and makes them shudder. Put succinctly, these African-Italians do not get the jobs that suit their field of specialisation because of the texture of their hair, the shape of their noses and the packets of melanin contained in their skins. It is a moot point, therefore, when Italian politicians pollute the airwaves with self-defeating statements of immigrants not wanting to ‘settle in’ when the society to which they belong is closed to itself and not in a hurry to open up to multiculturalism.    

Talking again about racism in football, the United Kingdom suffers no fools gladly; in that, they adopt a zero-tolerance against hooliganism and racism in football. Just a few weeks ago, a fan was caught making monkey sounds and gestures at Federico Rodrigues de Paula Santos popularly known as Fred in a match between his team, Manchester United and their local rival, Manchester City. The culprit was soon arrested and is today being dragged through the courts for his racist behaviour. There are occasions too when racists and hooligans are heavily fined and banned from entering the stadium.

If the game of football in Italy is to remain ‘beautiful,’ then the country’s Football Association, the Federcalcio, should set aside disciplinary procedures against these racists who continue their ignoble acts knowing that the Italian state is silent on this. Italy must wake up from its deep slumber and adopt draconian or stringent measures against these people in the mode of the United Kingdom; else the state will just be going round in circles while these unscrupulous elements win the day.
Agbonlahor, an Italian of Nigerian extraction, a lawyer and author of Killing Them Softly: The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Nigeria, wrote from Manchester, United Kingdom.