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Aren’t Orangutans Orange?

By Josef-Israel

Josef-Israel is a U. K. based Voice Actor, Broadcaster and Journalist working with West London's BBC Newsgathering. An 11 year sojourn in Ghana, West-Africa, decidedly weathered a passion and love for all things from "éyè-fie" (back-home), a regular in Accra, it is impossible to take the African out of this son of Africa.

Posted on Monday, 22 July 2013 09:31

But Italian Senator Roberto Calderoli must have had a new specie in mind when he suggested that Italy’s celebrated first and only black Government Minister, Cecile Kyenge, resembled an Orangutan.

The headlined statement of Italian Senator Roberto Calderoli indicating that Kyenge paralleled an Orangutan was not only deeply shocking, it was wrong, damaging and offensive.

The wide range of racial slurs, insults and levels of discrimination handed down to people of African descent, especially in Europe, has taken yet another nasty turn on the dusty road called racism.

it’s all very well giving a darkie that secretary general job but (laughter)… but I can only take so much

That statement brought a few questions to the fore: Is this really true? Did Kyenge really look like a Orangutan? Was she Orange? Or was this a Mussolinist throwback?

Obviously the latter hits the nail right on the head. Calderoli, is the leader of Lega Nord (the Northern League), an Italian right wing anti-immigration, federalist, regionalist political party and a leader that does not shirk from controversy.

Calderoli was forced to resign as a minister in Silvio Berlusconis’ government after his widely perceived negative comments and behaviour in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon scandal of 2006 that sparked riots and demonstrations in several Islamic countries.

It would be and is unfair to attach the beliefs and attitudes of this leader of Lega Nord to all Italians and European politicians. Indeed, Kyenge has received vociferous support from sections of Italy’s polity both in this present scandal and in her campaign and election to office. There is even talk of a defamation suit, although whether or not Calderoni will face charges even after his personal apologies to Kyenge remains to be seen.

Such European attitudes and thought about Africa and Africans in 2013 are startling, and the present case in question may have been purposely but un-tastefully done for purpose of debate on issues of Italian immigration, but the sentiment is not uncommon with some European statesmen.

The three-time Russian President Vladimir Putin once dogged the question of Russia’s Humans Rights record by unabashedly remarking at a Blair – Putin Press Conference addressing aid and debt relief in Africa, saying: “…we all know that African countries used to have a tradition of eating their own adversaries… we don’t have such a tradition or process or culture”.

As dumbfounding as these pronouncements are, they are indeed just the sentiments of some prominent Europhiles, the fear is what rests in the foundations of their minds eye.

In 2003, the late, heralded Kiwi broadcaster, Sir Paul Holmes, referring to the then UN Secretary General on New Zealand talk radio – NewstalkZB said: “…that Kofi Annan… has been a very cheeky darkie… it’s all very well giving a darkie that secretary general job but (laughter)… but I can only take so much … we’re are not going to be told how to live our lives by a Ghanaian…”.

A decade later, in January 2013, shortly before his passing, Holmes was awarded a Knighthood for services to broadcasting.

It is hard to fathom what resides deep in the recesses of a man’s mind.

Food for thought

Back to Orange monkeys and Calderoni. My research tells me Orangutans are large primates unique to Asia and found mainly in Borneo and Sumatra. They are either a hue of Brownish-Red or a bright Orange and the name ‘Orang-utan’ surprisingly has little to do with the colour Orange and is Malay for ‘Forest Person’.

But Calderoni is not the only culprit in what concerns questionable intelligence. Silvio Berlusconi the suave dark-haired and recently convicted 76-year-old former Italian prime minister, once described U.S. President Barak Obama as “sun-tanned”.

While trying to gage why Calderoni chose to use the Orangutan as his best monkey example, one cannot help but wonder if it was not just an attempt at sensationalism, born out of a healthy dose of racism and perhaps a measure of insecurity?

The Italian Minister for Integration, Cecile Kyenge (a qualified Opthalmology Specialist) is Italy’s most heavily guarded minister. She receives threats to her person every day. Leaving her native Democratic Republic of Congo to live as an ethnic minority in Italy of 1986 is no ordinary feat.

Among her many achievements, her history reveals extensive, consistent work in bridging the divide of understanding and knowledge between the larger Italian community and ethnic minorities.

Shocking as Roberto Calderoli’s not-so-clever slur was, Kyenge’s response gives subdued food for thought: “I address not the individual but the post he occupies and invite him to search his conscience. From these benches, we represent Italy. We speak in the name of Italian citizens. And words carry weight”.

“I do not take Calderoli’s words as a personal insult, but they sadden me because of the image they give of Italy,” she was quoted as saying by Ansa news agency.

I’m inclined to agree with Minister Kyenge, for any person over thirty of African descent living in Europe, has had their fair share.

Her answer is a wonderful exercise of patience as a virtue, another achievement.

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