Being a black woman in Italy is I think the most challenging experience I had. In 2015, I had the opportunity to do Erasmus. Germany came up first in my mind but I decided to go to Italy. I wanted to experience the dolce vita and I lived in southern Italy for 1 year, as an Erasmus student. I will explain the reasons why I consider this experience as the most striking and eye-opening in my life.
As a black woman in Italy, you may face fetishization and hypersexualization
By being a black woman in Naples you will be often fetishized and hypersexualized. It is something I wasn’t ready for and least expected. I constantly felt humiliated and dehumanized. My Erasmus experience quickly reminded me that I was a dark black woman, a woman at the bottom of the ladder. Fetishization and sexualization are deep-rooted and not questioned. I was often approached by men as I was embodying the sexual exotic beauty or the prostitute.
Hypersexualization and fetishization of black women: The main reasons
Hypersexualized and fetishized depictions of black women in Italy are normalized. Black women are promiscuous, sexy, vulgar, with no respect for themselves, with whom it is easy to sleep. Those prejudices result from the hypersexualization and fetishization of black women. What do influence those both social issues?
First of all, due to prostitution. Unfortunately, many African women, mostly from Nigeria, find themselves sexually exploited. They are promised studies or a job in Europe. And they find hell again. This video from France24 talks about this issue.
How did it affect my everyday life? Many men asked me to get in their cars. One day, a guy was really insistent, he went around and said: “let me take you home, you don’t live far”. Another day, I was at an international event where a lot racial fetishist Neapolitan guys were also. I was speaking with a group of people. When I said goodbye, one of the guys touch one of my boobs. I could not realize it he did it, that he had the audacity to do it. I did not react, I did not do anything and I still regret today. What constantly irritated me is to not to be respected at all, to be constantly dehumanized. I had the impression to travel back in the time.
The other times often ended up in insulting in French and it was enough to make Neapolitan men run away. I embraced the angry black woman stereotype as it was a way to protect myself. Representation in the media plays also a role in the fetishization and hypersexualization of black women in Italy.
Representation in media of black women in Italy
Fetishization and hypersexualization of black women in Italy are also common in Italian films and tv shows. The few Italian films or tv shows in which Afro-descendent actresses play, they have sexualized position. They are someone’s lovers, girlfriends or prostitutes. They have visibility through their white men and not by their character’s story. In the film “Black and white“, Carlo and Nadine, played by Aissa Maiga, fall in love and decide to leave their respective partner. In Gomorra’s second season, Azmera, a black woman, is the girlfriend of Gabriele O’ Principe, a Camorrist. Finally, for the most recent tv show, Suburra, Isabelle, is the prostitute and lover of an Ostia gang member.
Little consideration is given to these women. An example, in the film Black and White, when Carlo’s ex-wife tells her mother that he has left her. The father tries to reassure his daughter by explaining that Carlo left her for sex and that the relationship with Nadine is not serious. And then, a former romance the father had had during a trip to Africa, is mentioned. A member of the family asked the father what her romance was like? The mother replied that it was a black, insignificant thing. The roles of these films and series reflect the way black women are perceived. This hypersexualized and fetishized depiction may have also consequences on mental health.
Consequences of fetishization and hypersexualization on mental health
Fetishization and hypersexualization can affect your self-esteem. I ended up questioning my behavior, the way I dressed. I was disgusted because I attracted all these sexual fantasies. Being aggressive was my protection but also the fact of dressing as much as possible in a masculine way. I was more or less left alone, even if there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t harassed. The fetishization and hypersexualization of black women definitely changed my experience in Naples. Few people understood me, only those who were in the same situation and it was so relieving to talk to them. But I’m afraid this situation will not change. Despite a daily life that is not always pleasant, as a black woman in Italy, there is something I particularly enjoyed: the dolce vita.
Dolce vita in Naples
Life was pretty quiet. I was supposed to go to college every day. But I wanted to enjoy the landscapes, the beaches, and Neapolitan cuisine.
What to visit in Naples?
Naples is located in the south of Italy and has many assets. It is located just one hour from the Amalfi coast. I had never seen such a beautiful place before. You can discover Amalfi, Positano, Praiano or Sorrento. It’s the latter that I prefer, I think it has more charm. If you are in Naples and want to visit Amalfi, you can take the train (Circumvesiana) from the station to Vietri sul mare and then take the bus. Personally, I used to drive there because I knew someone who had one. If you’d prefer to avoid the Amalfi Coast, you can still go to Vico Equense with the Circumvesiana.
For those who wish to stay in Naples, you can visit the districts which are as different as each other. We have the Historic Centre, in which you can taste very good Neapolitan pizzas, the famous Gino e Toto Sorbillo, the Starita. Be aware that if you go Friday or Saturday evening, you will have to wait a few hours. If you want to visit more chic neighborhoods, you will have to go to Vomero, Chaia or Posillippo. You have so many things to do in Naples, I could endless listing the places to visit. Here’s the video, which gives you some ideas of what to visit in this beautiful city.
Surrounded by these wonderful landscapes, you will be certainly amazed. If you are Naples to settle for a couple of months or years, you certainly wonder yourself, how to find a place to live in Naples?
How to find a place to live in Naples?
As an Erasmus student, I first contacted the Erasmus organization. I found the room prices to pricey and I did not really like the room. I moved three times during my stay. The first room I found was by meeting a girl at a hostel but I really did not like the neighborhood. I was at Forcella and it was a very working-class area. I never lived in this kind of area, I was not used of it and it was too much for me. So I decided then to live far away from the Historic Centre, but it is not very convenient when you do not have a car. Plus, I was living with a flatmate who was in love with me. The other flatmate had a racist girlfriend but was super nice to me. Then I looked for a room on Roomgo and I found one in Materdei.
If you search for a room and flat, here are some tips I wish I knew :
- Do the search with a local: if you are lucky to know someone. A lot of Neapolitans tend to higher the prices or to rip foreigners off, as we are considerate to have money, especially people from Western countries.
- Make it clear, you’re not naive, you’re not someone to take advantage on.
- If you’re an Erasmus student, you can find a place on your own. You do not need an Erasmus organization. Even if for me the search was pretty chaotic, I did not regret to rely on the Erasmus organization.
- If you do not have a car during your long-term stay, search for a flat or room in the Historic Centre.
- And last but not the least one, do never pay in advance. I personally did and I have been stolen.
As I told you about street harassment and the eventual swindle, you may wonder if Naples is really dangerous or even more concerned if you are a woman of color.
Is Naples dangerous?
Many people tried to discourage me from going to Naples by saying it was dangerous. I tried to find out by searching on Google but I did not find any relevant pieces of information. Naples can be at the beginning very intimidating. It’s chaotic, a lot of people come to you on the street. The highway code is not really respected. Then Naples was known for the mafia. As a black woman and despite my terrible experiences with street harassment, I didn’t feel relatively unsafe. But I have taken the good habits by observing the locals.
I usually wore a bum-bag or a shoulder bag. If I had a jacket, I would put on my bum-bag or my shoulder bag first and then my jacket. I never talked to strangers on the street, even if it was to ask for help. It is best not to walk into the Rione la Sanità district at night if you are near the center. It is not unusual to hear its name mostly associated with theft, robbery, shootings, which have increased over the years its bad reputation. I went there one time during the day and I did feel safe at all. I have got very hostile stares and I was scared that someone attacks me. I have never been assaulted, but that doesn’t mean that there is no danger. We have to be careful, like everywhere else.
Is Naples racist?
Answering by yes or no might to straightforward and simplistic. I went several times in Italy, from the North to the South. As a black woman in Italy, I never experienced racism (which is quite unbelievable or I did not notice it). But it does mean, it does not exist. The journalist, Luigi Mastrodonato, created on a map where everyone can report racist attacks.
If you are a person of colour and you have planned a trip to Italy, I think you should be careful but also not get paranoid. Personally, while in Naples, I saw a lot of black tourists who were quite well received. But by staying for a long-term stay, we could experience racism.
Do I hate Naples?
Between me and Naples, it is a love-hate relationship. I was outside of my comfort zone and it was very challenging for me. As a black woman in Italy, it can be really disconcerting if you come from more diverse places. We find ourselves in situations where we say to ourselves, we travel back in time.
I do not regret having made that choice. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and I learned a lot about myself and others. Naples will always be in my heart.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment or share your experiences.