Oro Rosso, Sangue Nero

Invitation to the the first episode of a series of sessions on the Black Mediterranean – a topic amply discussed on these pages.

location: the MET – Bologna,

time: March 25, at 16.30-23.00,

During the meeting we will discuss the working conditions of Black African labourers in South Italy’s tomato fields (particularly Puglia and Basilicata). The workshop will revolve around several tables, each of which will produce a different map of this agricultural frontier.

More info on facebook and on the MET info site (in Italian)

Meticciato

 

On the Problematic Nature of a Word

by Camilla Hawthorne and Pina Piccolo

I am happy to act as a host for this joint article by Camilla Hawthorne and Pina Piccolo on the politics of ‘mesticcatio’, or cultural hybridity, in Italy. Since their essay Anti-racism without race in the journal Africa is a Country, a number of developments spurred them to deepen this initial discussion, which was prompted by the racially motivated killing of Nigerian refugee seeker on Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi in Fermo, Italy, in July 2016.

In their current contribution, which appeared originally in Italian on the la macchina sognante blog, they expand on some of the issues currently facing the anti-racism movement in Italy. Their joint joint contribution seeks to draw both from their professional research and personal experiences in the anti-racism and immigrant movements in Italy and the US.

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Boreano: chronicles of ordinary racism

On the night of 7-8 May, a destructive fire once again hit the African ‘ghetto’ of Boreano, situated near the town of Venosa, in the province of Potenza, on the border between Puglia and Basilicata. It’s the third time in short period that an African labour settlement ends up in flames in this border region, which is also the heart of industrial tomato production in the South of Italy. The triangle of land between Puglia’s touristy coastline and Basilicata’s mountainous hinterland hosts dozens of ‘ghettos’ like this, but which usually escape the eye of visitors and the media.

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte (2015)

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte

But while national media reports on these “invisible cities” remain extremely rare even during the high harvesting season, local organisations speculate highly about the causes of this damaging fire. Daniele Troia, intendant of the Methodist Church, reports the cause might have been an incident: during a short moment of distraction, a gas bottle might have ignited and caused a rapidly spreading fire. Such fires do happen regularly in these haphazardly constructed bidonvilles made of cardboard and plastic sheetings. But others suspect a more criminal cause. Aboubakar Soumahoro, of the labour union Unione Sindacati di Base, says it is no coincidence the fire happened less than a week after a meeting, which brought together about fifty labourers who had decided to effectively claim their rights for fair pay and better housing conditions. Together with the Methodist Church, USB had started to accompany some of the African farm labourers who live inside the ghetto of Boreano, according to regional authorities under the strict control of the local mafia.

On May 5, about fifty African labourers met the mayor of Venosa in the city council accompanied by USB delegates, threatening to declare a general strike. As Gervasio Ungolo and Paola Andrisani, activists of the Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, speculate, this experiment could have a potentially disruptive effect when spreading to other ghettos and threatening to break the power of the gangmasters. But they are quick to add that the latter are unlikely to be the instigators of this fire, because of the huge profits the ghetto generates for them.

In contrast to labour organisations, regional authorities continue to criminalise the place as hotbed of local mafia and gangmasters. Pietro Simonetti, coordinator of the regional task force on migration, who has repeatedly refused to meet Boreano’s inhabitants, commented that probably, the latter had received information of the imminent demolition of the labour camp. And so in concomitance with this decision someone decided to set the camp on fire. Without further ado, the coordinator also promised -unlike last year- to demolish the remaining habitats and host “those workers who are not illegal or working for a gangmaster” in the official host centres regional authorities have started to set up in cooperation with private organisations. Ironically, Simonetti used the term bonificare (disinfest, reclaim), which raises the impression he wants to rid the area of undesired habitants as if they were plants or animals.

In the meantime, the inhabitants of Boreano have decided to carry their struggle onwards. On Thursday about 50 labourers are meeting in Potenza in front of the Regional Palace to protest and bring their demands to the governor Marcello Pitella.

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte (2015)

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte (2015)

 

Ghetto Out

MIC 4

GHETTO OUT

ALTERNATIVES TO SOUTH ITALY’S AGRO-CRIME

Thursday, February 4, 2016, 7 p.m.

Filmscreening and Discussion

Around 300’000 immigrant day workers are employed in Italy’s agro-business each year, 30 percent of which without a proper contract. While picking our tomatoes, olives and oranges, they are subject to violent exploitation: underpaid and overworked, they are frequently forced to live in improvised settlements, or so-called ‘ghettoes’. As Hervé (Papa Latyr Faye) said: “behind your tomatoes lies our slavery.” Yvan Sagnet and Leo Palmisano write in their recent book Ghetto Italia (Fandango 2015) that the caporalato system of illegal hiring corresponds to an internal logic of the labor market that permeates the entire Italian peninsula.

What keeps this criminal market running, and – above all – what are its alternatives? A team of specialists from different European Universities, the film protagonists of “La Belleville” and activists from Italy will discuss South Italy’s ghetto economy – focusing on the cases of La Capitanata (Puglia) and Vulture (Basilicata). The debate will be preceded by a screening of the documentary ‘La Belleville’ by Francesco Belizzi.

The evening opens a research project financed by SNIS (Swiss Network for International Studies)

Programme

19.00: Opening & introduction by Katharina Morawek (Shedhalle Zürich) and Sarah Schilliger (University of Basel)

19.15 Screening of ‘La Belleville’ (Francesco Belizzi)

20.15: Roundtable with Papa Latyr Faye & Mbaye Ndiaye (Casa Sankara), Yvan Sagnet (former CGIL, author of Ghetto Italia), Mimmo Perrotta (University of Bergamo, Funky Tomato), Elettra Griesi (University of Kassel), moderated by Timothy Raeymaekers (University of Zürich)

Shedhalle Bar afterwards!

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The colour line

Further to my earlier comment a few weeks ago, which critically assessed Matteo Renzi‘s personification of people smugglers in Libya as the slave drivers of the twenty-first century, I to add two fresh posts that further explore the reasoning behind Europe’s bordering business. On Africa is Country, Enrique Martino interestingly writes how representing people on the move as easy prey for unspecified bands of ruthless traffickers is also a colonial script, because it portrays migrants as ignorant and passive. But their itineraries are also driven by an imperialist history of white people moving deep into the African continent.

And yesterday, opendemocracy.net published a letter signed by 300 slavery  and migration scholars, which criticises the EU’s unfolding naval campaign against ‘human traffickers’ in the Mediterranean along the same lines:

[Comparing human traffickers to the slave traders of the 21st century] is patently false and entirely self-serving. (…) [W]hat is happening in the Mediterranean today does not even remotely resemble the transatlantic slave trade. Enslaved Africans did not want to move. They were held in dungeons before being shackled and loaded onto ships. They had to be prevented from choosing suicide over forcible transportation. That transportation led to a single and utterly appalling outcome—slavery.

As I also wrote in the same post, human rights abuses rather occur in the many outsourced host and detention centres, where migrants risk to wither away in oblivion, or worse, are subjected to violence and torture (as has been the case in Libya, but also in Germany and Italy, as of lately).

In two additional posts, Nick De Genova and Harald Bauder reiterate that there is fact nothing natural about migrant’s illegality, but that their illegalization entails an active process of denied protection, involving often intensified efforts to increase migrant’s vulnerability. In other words, governments are complicit in the strategy to deny rights to migrants, resulting in a self-fulfilling spectacle of the border that excludes them from participating in the economies they sustain with their very lives.

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children of sharecroppers, US (around 1900)

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day labourers, Europe (around 2015)

As if by accident, Sandro Mezzadra’s public lecture on W.E.B. Du Bois‘ concept of the colour line -a lecture he gave at the annual KritNet conference on Borders, Migration -and Race, was just published online on Voice Republic along with the interventions from Juliane Karakayali and Vassilis Tsianos, Patrizia Putschert and Klen Nghi Ha.

There is a need to broaden the geographical, conceptual debate on the migratory regimes ‘in the crisis’…

Interesting terms that turn up in Mezzadra’s speech are the verticality and the temporality of the border (picking up on the work of Vicki SquireRobert Latham and others), and the colour line…

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Ghetto

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I signal a publication by Pietro Floridia, Alicja BorkowskaRachel ShapiroLouise Glassier and others, which just came out one Europe’s new ‘ghettos’. The collection is the outcome of an artistic project I participated in during 2013-2015 in seven European cities, and which explored the meaning of ethnic and political closure in Europe’s multicultural urban societies.

At the heart of the project was a desire to redefine the concept ‘ghetto’ in Europe today -a hazardous but also a necessary exercise, as the term continues to occupy a central place in the construction of European, and migrant, identities.

What meaning do we ascribe to the ‘ghetto’? What role does the term play in delineating inclusion and exclusion in Europe’s urban spaces? And how can one narrate people’s intricate -and often contradicting- daily experiences of living in the ghetto in valuable ways?

By using ‘dramatic traces‘ and artistic installations as the method of choice, the project took some distance from the classic sociological studies on the subject. Instead it tried to create an ethnographic & theatrical counterpoint to the often stigmatising and dehumanizing representations that commonly populate public (and academic) discourse. It did so by emphasising the polysemic, subjective and embodied experience of b/ordering processes that characterise citizenship practices in Europe today. To find spaces of freedom, and windows of creativity -despite being enclosed in a seemingly locked space, provided an interesting reflection that emerged from this consciously ‘marginal’ perspective we adopted throughout the project.

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Using a series of black pipes of various measures and lengths as props in our workshop, participants could experiment, within a kind of ‘human-sized’ ghetto, the dialectical relationship between enclosure and windows, the art of finding ways out where all seems blocked.

The publication as well as additional material are available here.

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The paradox of territory

In Italy, quite a number of occupied buildings I previously indicated – inspired by Heather Merrill – as ‘black spaces’ (the shelters, detention centres, condemned urban buildings, and other locations representing those who, by virtue of their asylum status and association with African territories, are rendered non-citizens, even though they are an integral part of modern Western societies and the economies that sustain them) are currently threatened with eviction.

In Turin, the occupants of exMOI, 750 refugees from 26 different African countries (apparently including 15% are women and 30 children) have been ordered to pack and leave. During their March last Saturday, they carried huge banners depicting their Black mediterranean presence.

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protests against evictions from exMOI

 

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In Rome, the occupants of Palazzo Salaam (an estimated 1.200 refugees and beneficiaries of humanitarian protection, mostly from the African Horn) loose their residence permit as a result of the new housing legislation proposed by the Matteo Renzi government.

In Bologna, 200 families occupying exTELECOM, a building opposite the new city council, are threatened with eviction.

Given the chronic shortage of places to host refugees and asylum seekers across the country, UNHCR and Medici per i Diritti Umani, a medical charity, estimate, thousands of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection are living in precarious housing conditions. For example in Turin, a local migrant association estimates that around 600 refugees and people benefiting from a humanitarian protection status live across 7 occupied buildings in the city. Considering other such ‘black places’ in Bologna, Rome, and Florence in this calculation, the numbers easily add up. This number does not even include the homeless refugees whom, as one Malian who fled to Germany explained, are sleeping under the bridges of Italy’s metropoles.

The paradox lies precisely in the new housing legislation (or ‘piano casa’) that was voted in 2014 but is being put into practice only recently. Article 5 of this plan says: “Whoever occupies a property illegally without title cannot apply for a residence nor for a connection to public services in relation to this property, and [by consequence] all acts in violation of this prohibition shall be declared null in front of the law.” The converted law (voted in March 2014) is even more severe: “Those who illegally occupy residential public housing cannot participate in the procedures fro obtaining housing for five years following the ascertained date of the illegal occupation.”

Besides the curious liaison between residential property and public space in this legislative measure (residential public housing), the concrete application of it means that whomever occupies a building of black of better alternatives, can be denied official residency. This poses a source of anxiety particularly for the refugees and asylum seekers whom since the Nord Africa Emergency of 2012-2013 have been thrown out in the streets for a lack of assistance by the (theoretically) protecting state.

The comment by Antonio Mugolo, president of Avvocati di Strada, an association that takes up the defence of homeless people in Italy, is telling in this respect: “Without residence,” reminds Mumolo, “you cannot vote, you cannot cure yourself, you cannot receive a pension nor benefit from local welfare, you cannot obtain formal employment, you are not entitled to legal assistance … [In short] taking away the residence permit from people who occupy a building literally means placing those people outside of society, making them invisible, erasing in one single shot the possibility to confront their difficulties… It is remarkable that a plan, which should help families to confront the crisis, precisely bears these consequences,” he concludes.

Somehow this situation reminded me of the inherent violence expressed in the term state territory. So whereas, on the one hand, as Stuart Elden would say, territory is a political technology to measure land and control terrain, territory is also the effect, the product of spatially fixing relational networks into this bounded space. Close to Michael Watts‘ and David Delaney‘s reading, the legislative measures I briefly illustrated above indeed illustrate the consciously violent (or ‘terrorising’?) work of territory, which, besides its calculative techniques, of marking, bordering and categorizing political space, also involves the material imposition of sovereign political power through such fixed spatial units. Citizens and non-citizens alike thus find themselves frequently caught in the deadlock of territory as it provides no alternative space for making a life and developing a livelihood outside of its constraining perimeters. With sometimes paradoxical results.

African immigrants

courtesy Nick Hannes

 

 

Working the Black Mediterranean

This somewhat longer post involves a reflection on a number of meetings I’ve had over the last months with African refugees in the city of Bologna, while preparing research on migrant labour and urban marginality. Though these meetings took shape in the context of a travelling theatre project (called City ghettos of today), I am thinking of enlarging my questions into a broader comparative agenda on what some people have started to call, first hesitantly, but ever more publicly and consistently, the Black Mediterranean.

I would like to contribute to this discussion by adding a few, loosely related, ideas around material labour conditions (for more on this dimension see here) as well as emerging hybrid identities in the arena of migrant mobilisations on the Afro-European border (primarily in Italy but also in other places). All of this may result in a research paper later this year.

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The Racial Geography of the Black Mediterranean

The Black Mediterranean has recently started to surface as a terminology to describe the cultural crossroads between Africa and Europe. It indicates the emergence of a vibrant cultural borderland characterized by growing proximity between African and European cultures in the area of film, music and literary expression. This post is an attempt to situate this borderland in the geography of racial subordination black Africans in Europe, specifically in Italy, continue to be subjected to (for more on the cultural dimension of the story see here).

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