Is Rome Racist?

I honestly don’t know how to answer this question, but during our recent trip, the signs were there. A lot of my friends have visited Italy and had a great time, a few of my friends are Italian and I have been welcomed into their homes like a long lost family member at mealtimes. I am also an English speaker, the UK hasn’t left the EU and I’m a single mother travelling with young children. I therefore naively assumed that these few details afforded me some privileges.

The first sign something was amiss took place when our early morning train from Naples stopped momentarily before reaching Rome. In the grey of the morning, straight out of a WW2 film, armed police officers boarded the train. Their purpose? To carry out identity checks for every person of colour (POC) on board.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Italy is having a bit of an issue with migrants at the moment, and I had nothing to hide so complying to their ‘random’ checks should have been water off a duck’s back. But there’s something unsettling about being treated with suspicion because of the way that you look, rather than regarded with the possibility that you may actually be the tourist you know you are.

I attempted to shake it off as we walked to the Colosseum but the impression that I wasn’t welcome didn’t shift. From rude waiters in restaurants (and I’m not talking the famed Parisian level of rudeness), to being followed and shouted at by a police officer on a motorbike. It was clear by the end of the day that people that look like me, aren’t welcome in Rome.

I’m ashamed to admit that I was also forced to recognise my own bias while there, my attempts to use my privilege as a British, English-speaking tourist to offset the racism I encountered, made me realise that not everybody has a ‘Get Out Of Jail’ free card in their back pocket that they can pull out just by opening their mouths.

It has definitely knocked my confidence when it comes to travelling, but I can also recognise what I’ve learned from the experience:

  • We NEED to talk more about racism when travelling – to raise awareness, to protect ourselves, to make informed travelling decisions.
  • I need to be prepared in how to deal with any experiences I may have while simultaneously protecting my children.
  • I will personally never return to Rome. The people of Naples were extremely friendly, I would go back and will probably revisit Italy one day. But it won’t be anytime soon.

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