Professor of Africana Studies Heather Merrill gave a lecture titled “Being Italian: The Peculiar Journey of Blackness” to an international audience of students and faculty connected with the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, Florence on Sept. 9.
Hers was the first in lecture series on the theme of “La Bonifiche,” a territorial as well as ideological device the studio is using to engage inclusive narratives of the built environment, and what Homi Bhabha in the Location of Culture described as “locally generated spaces representing the intersection of multiple places, histories and subjects.”
In her lecture, Merrill discussed the presence of people of African descent in Italy in the context of rapid social transformation, anti-immigrant and anti-black hostility, and a hesitancy to include them as full members of European societies. She examined ongoing contestations over spatial rights and meanings, or struggles among people of the African diaspora for place and belonging in Italy, since at least the early 1990s. Merrill discussed several local spaces generated by African-origin Italians and local Italian collaborators that represent creative inter-cultural movements, intersecting histories, and subjectivities.
In May, Merrill participated in a roundtable discussion series on Diversity and Decolonization in Italian Studies, organized by Simone Brioni, Marie Orton, Graziella Parati, and Gaoheng Zhang. She presented a paper, “Silence and Reckoning: Italian Africans in Popular Culture,” exploring the matter of ‘reckoning with racism” following widespread Black Lives Matter protests in Italy in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd, which seemed to suggest growing awareness of problems in Italy itself. Merrill discussed struggles among African-Italians for acceptance as legitimate members of Italian society, focusing on representations in popular media, in particular two Rai and Netflix series, “Nero a Meta,” and “Zero.”