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January 20, 2022

Policy-making means fight for justice

The voice of Rahel Sereke, interviewd by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective

Blackn[è]ss fest is the first festival in Italy which presents a re-elaborated version of the African lineage universe. Events and roundtables are organized both to think about the concept of being black, following a path of decolonization of the language, and to discuss topics such as mental health issues linked to racial profiling, discrimination, racism, and also music, cinema, media and representation of black people.

Voice Over Foundation chose to accompany the festival in this path and it decided to tell stories about it through the protagonist's voices during the whole year.

Interview with Rahel Sereke, urbanist, social and political activist.

Q: Could you introduce yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

A: My name is Rahel Sereke, I am a woman of Eritrean roots, I am Italian and I was born in Rome in 1978, despite having been adopted by the city Milan. I finished my academic studies in Milan as an urbanist and I decided to remain here because I became interested in some socio-political dynamics and processes typical of this place. Milan is a challenging city for several reasons, especially because here you need to contrast inequality. In the last few years I found in the anti-racist fight a particular purpose. At the end of 2013, with a large group of people of origins (Eritreans and Ethiopian), we built a desk of mutual support and solidarity towards people who crossed the Mediterranean sea and the Italian peninsula, in order to reach the north of Europe. This experience had an informal origin and later it was institutionalized. We set up Cambio Passo, an association which, in fact, helped to build Milan's reputation as a welcoming city.

Q: Why at a certain point of your life did you decide to commit yourself to politics?

A: I love politics and it has fascinated me since I was very young. Probably, this passion is linked also to my personal experience and to the necessity of owning a sense of justice which was never recognized to me. I was born as a foreigner and like most immigrant teenagers I acquired the citizenship when I was between 18 and 19 years old. I heavily suffered from my condition of not being considered Italian, not only due to the common prejudice but also due to the relationship with the police forces. The first time I was detained I was at the airport and I was coming back from a school trip. They treated me as if I was a criminal. Of course, these experiences signed me. And then the tragedy of 2013 was agonizing, an event which needed a public response. I consider it one of the communities I belong to. And therefore, Cambio Passo was born in that moment, when the migration policies turned firmer and an imaginary enemy, a scapegoat, was created: the foreigner, the one on who people started to steer a certain type of social disadvantage.

Q: During the Blackn[è]ss fest, among the various themes, the topic of QTIBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Inter, Black, Indigenous and other Person of Colour) was discussed also. Why, in your opinion, it is important to bring this topic to the festival?

A: The first activity I dealt with as a political activist in Milan was the building of a help desk for the multiple discriminations within the project immigration and homosexuality of CIG Arcigay. I did it because I am a woman who loves women and I know about many prejudices which the non-European communities have towards homosexuality. And this issue is a limit for the people who immigrate and don't know the country they are arriving in. It is a limit because, if a tabu exists in your community, the community of origin cannot be the first support, unless you do not hide your orientation, but this is very difficult. This topic needs to be faced transversally and that's why it is good to talk about it both within the community of origin and in the community where you are growing. It helps to build up ones own identity, or at least, it helps to stabilize it. Talking about QTIBIPOC is useful to let the barriers of the community you live in to appear. The Blackn[è]ss fest is a safe space and therefore it was a place which allowed us to share specific issues like these.

Q: Talking in general about the festival, what do you think about the Blackn[è]ss fest and do you think it is important to have such a space in Italy?

A: I have been really happy about the festival and about the fact that Ariam and Jermay accepted the risk to talk about a minorance. The risk to appear as an excluding person exists for the minorances because the space of separation is not welcomed as a necessary path by non-minorance groups. I am really sorry about this, because it means you have no memory of some previous social and political projects. For instance, the feminism project, which today entered a new season: previously it was in a separatist phase. This phase consisted of the necessity to create spaces which allowed you to face new issues. Instead, we can say that in Italy there are no places in which you can talk about racism. There is always someone who's not part of a minority and who's ready to say that we should talk about racism without anger. They say we should talk about racism with the police, that we should ally with a party that is sensitive to our matters. Naturally, all of these discourses do not question which are our priorities nor how we live this situation. Therefore, for me the Blackn[è]ss fest was an act of courage and I was honoured to have received the invite to join it.

Q: Who are the souls of the Blackn[è]ss fest and why are there some who want to open up more and others less?

A: This festival was born within a much wider process, where there are many souls living together. The festival welcomes at the same time issues which are not only related to being black. I read it as a necessity, a demand to have a space where it is possible to express our needs. And exactly because the festival concerns processes, the spaces should always be negotiable.

Q: How do you see the Blackn[è]ss fest in the future?

A: We met many activists and artists and I'd like the second festival to welcome many more experiences. I'd like the second festival to look also towards other territories, since Milan is very different compared to other contexts and for me talking, knowing each other and understanding what's happening elsewhere is important. I imagine that the horizon is not the one of the festival per se. The horizon concerns the creation of a critical mass which could lead the change. In order to do so, meeting with others is fundamental, because beyond the potential of the social media and the internet, the experiences of racialized subjects are embodied, for many they pass through bodies and it is therefore necessary to meet and be there in person.

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