November 29, 2021
In Italy, there has been a lack of representation of black people and this has left traumas
The voice of Ronke Oluwadare, interviewed by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective
Blackn[è]ss fest is the first festival in Italy that proposes a re-elaboration of the Afro-descendant universe in Italy. Events and round tables to reflect on the concept of blackness, according to a process of language decolonization and topics discussion such as the effects on mental health of racial profiling, discrimination, racism but also music, cinema, media and representation.
Voice Over Foundation has chosen to accompany the festival along this path and to tell its story throughout the year, through the voices of those who are the protagonists.
Interview with Ronke Oluwadere, psychologist and psychotherapist.
Q: Can you introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
A: My name is Ronke Oluwadare, I'm 34 years-old, I'm a psychologist and psychotherapist, graduated between Milan and Padua, with some experience abroad. At the moment I do clinic work with two types of patients; those who are called 'second generations', who are Italians of foreign origin and foreign citizens who live in Italy and those who choose me for a linguistic issue because I do therapy in English and even if it is not their language, it is the one they feel closest to. Many of my patients choose me for a question related to my blackness, there are not many racialised therapists in Italy and the theme of 'multiculturalism' is not dealt with so well, on the contrary. Often psychologists and psychotherapists make blunders with their patients.
Q: Why? What is missing?
A: There is a lack of preparation, a lack of attention to contemporary issues in disciplines such as psychology, which are still linked to outdated notions. The issue of Italians of foreign origin or foreigners is left to the sensitivity of the individual, but it is time for a comprehensive training. Today there are a lot of foreign citizens or people of foreign origin, not necessarily the so-called second generation, even my mother's generation is approaching the topic of mental health but they do not always find professionals with maps of different cultures, able to understand the experience and history of a person. This is lacking in all minorities, i.e. there is a lack of preparation by professionals on issues such as gender, identity, being of different origins.
Q: Talking about identity, preparation and representation, what has been missing in these 20, 30, 40 years?
A: If we talk about health professionals, both preparation and representation have been lacking, but preparation is much more important when we talk about health professions. Regarding Italian society, on the other hand, there is a lack of representation. We have to think that Italy is full of people who have never had a conversation with a black person. I mean, if I consider that I was born in 1987 in Rome and for a long time I was the only black person in the class, in the school, in the gym, in the voluntary association, in the palace, you understand well what the situation is. Representation is also fundamental in order to make you imagine things that you don't have experience of, and if we don't give it and wait for people to have this experience, it's science fiction because, beyond the propaganda, there are many fewer of us than people think, and therefore we can't wait for all Italians to experience that thing. In the meantime, however, what is happening is that there are Italian citizens who do not feel at home. And the first thing they do when they get their citizenship is to leave. There's this chilling meme going around in the black community that says 'Italians haven't understood that the quickest way to get rid of Italians of foreign origin is to give them citizenship so they leave'. And of course they leave because they don't want to stay and be mistreated or not see themselves reflected anywhere.
Q: What is the risk of this situation?
A: On one hand, the risk is that the people who are born and grow up in Italy develop resentment towards their own home. On the other hand, and I say this as a pragmatist, Italy trains, invests in these people who study, graduate, speak two, three or four languages - and this means having an immense cultural wealth - and then lets them go. It seems to me not very functional for the future of the country. In any case, the problem of representation is central, both for those who are part of the majority of the population and have no idea how to address the other, and for those who experience the lack of representation because they feel they never have a space, i.e. no place is home, which in identity terms, to call it trauma is reductive.
Q: Why is it reductive?
A: Because the need to belong is fundamental. People who are born in a country other than that of their parents bring with them a multiple belonging, but at the same time everyone around you asks "do you feel more Italian or...?", when in reality this question is meaningless for us. Why does it become problematic? Because the world around you speaks of a single belonging, of a single possible world. If only we had a Nutella ad with a black family, that would have done a lot of good for those who are black and have Nutella at home.
Q: What are the most frequent disorders and symptoms you encounter in your work?
A: One is definitely this, the construction of identity. It's a trauma you find in adolescents and young adults. Another symptom is anxiety, which, as well as being a symptom of our age, is linked to a whole series of expectations linked to this double belonging. There is the theme of sacrifice and therefore your parents sacrificed themselves, they went to a place, they were treated badly... you cannot be a DJ at parties or choose to do something else but you have to be a doctor. And in the end you become a doctor too, only once you reach that goal, the malaise and anxiety related to a profession that you don't want to do or that you're doing to meet someone else's expectations comes out. Recently I am also experiencing a number of issues in what we psychologists call the new phase of the life cycle. So people who have made peace with their own identity, are working, maybe doing what they want to do but they have to find a partner or bring a child into the world and, by bringing a black child into the world, wounds or traumas are reopened. And then, there is all the work I do with the girls, on the early sexualisation of the black body and how to live in a body that is not conveyed as a body worthy of love and affection. And this is also related to representation, that is, on how the bodies of black women have been portrayed in recent years. Finally, another symptom of the malaise I find among the very young is social withdrawal, that is, dropping out of school and not only because the world outside "sucks" and so I take refuge in social media, in my bubble where I have a sort of comfort zone, since social media is based on confirmation bias.
Q: What are the souls of the Blackn[è]ss fest and why do some people want to open up more and others less?
A: On one hand, there is a sort of desire to protect the community, where people feel safe, they feel calm in this 'air time' created by the community. On the other hand, there are those who push for this 'free time' to be transformative with respect to what is happening outside, i.e. to bring about change. I think it's a normal dynamic within the black community between those who push for ghettoisation and those who want to be change-makers. I think both are necessary. The safe space needs to be a place to recharge but it can't become your everything. These different souls, however, are part of a black community that is forming in Italy and that is made up of different people, with different paths, with different families and different stories. What I think is that we in Italy should do a zero experiment compared to the United States, France, or Great Britain, that is, go and see what didn't work there and avoid replicating it. For example, to avoid ghettoisation or, on the contrary, to make representation a resource that serves the community but also, and above all, society as a whole. And this does not mean putting the black person in an advertisement, this means planning, training, and thinking that diversity is a resource for everyone.
Photo credits: Michael Yohanes