Heather Merrill

Professor of Africana Studies Heather Merrill recently gave a talk about anti-blackness in Italy and our global moment of racial reckoning as part of the University of Southern California lecture series on “Black Lives Matter Beyond Borders.” Sponsored by USC’s French and Italian Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies Departments, the series was spearheaded by Associate Professor Edwin C. Hill.

In her talk, Merrill discussed Italian colonialism and the Italy-Africa connections that live on in the lives of people of African descent in Italy today, as well as the myths of innocence, the “repetition of surprise,” the silences, and denials around racism in Italy — which she said “are, thank goodness, beginning to be faced.”

She said that throughout Europe there are calls for the decolonization of curricula and methodologies in higher education. Merrill explored her concept of B/black spaces, the rise of African Diasporic unity and Black consciousness across differences, and the recent demonstrations in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

Merrill discussed the lived experiences of Black Italians, and their expressions of hope that attention is finally being turned to the racism they have been facing alone in Italy, every day. She pointed out that throughout Italy there are many statues, symbols, and monuments of Italian fascism and fascist collaborators in Mussolini’s bloody invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, reminders of an unfinished history that Italy has not faced.

She said that “people of African descent are not just objects of curiosity (as they are habitually seen in Italy), they are subjects in Italian and European society.” She noted that “Black Italy is becoming a fluid force for social introspection and positive change.”

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