In February, Luca Traini, a 28-year old Italian, decided to grab his gun, get into his car and shoot at all Nigerian-looking people he could see in the streets of his city, Macerata. Six people became his victims. Luckily, none of them died.
When arrested by the police, Mr. Traini declared that he wanted to vindicate the death of an Italian girl whose body was found in Macerata a few days prior to the shooting rampage. A man from Nigeria was named the main murder suspect.
The incident has been widely-discussed in Italy. The leader of Partito Democratico, Matteo Renzi, condemned what he defined as an act of a fool, a “pistolero,” who wanted to take justice into his own hands. The Minister of the Interior, Marco Minniti, said that he foresaw the possibility of terrorist attacks of this sort, and because of this he decided to stop the arrivals of migrants by boat. The far-right leader Matteo Salvini showed comprehension towards Mr. Traini, stating that uncontrolled migration was the problem.
What is going on in Italy? Have Italians returned to racism? Or is this a migration problem, as politicians seem to suggest?
Disentangling Racism and Migration
Many commentators link the Macerata episode with issues of migration and security. These are topics that dominate public debate. A recent survey revealed that 46 percent of the Italian population perceives migration as a threat. Political parties capitalize on these perceptions to gain electoral support, mimicking a strategy that has yielded positive results in other European countries.
However, there is disagreement regarding whether parties embracing an anti-migration stance are also fomenting racism. While anybody can assert his or her anti-migration stance, racism is still a taboo. Indeed, those who openly profess their hostility towards migration do not consider themselves racists. And they do not necessarily identify with Fascism or Nazism.
Yet, it is important to understand whether we are facing a problem of racism or that one of migration because the cures are different.
If our society has the racism problem, we need to invest in education, to build a culture of equality, regardless of ethnic origin, religion or color. We should recall that racism is not innate in human beings and is largely instigated by racist campaigns.
We need to underline that race is a social construct. That is why during the post-war period, after many years of Nazi and Fascist regimes, people were more racists than ever. Racism is not easy to eradicate, and indeed its legacy is still present both in Italy and Germany.
If Italy, however, has a migration problem, the antidote is different. If migrants are perceived as a threat to security, we need to tackle this.
Available data are not good enough to provide clear-cut evidence on the relationship between immigration and crime. But we can see that, while the migrant population in Italy has increased, the general crime rate has decreased. There is also partial evidence suggesting that documented migrants commit fewer crimes than Italians, while it is the opposite for the undocumented ones.
Without documents, these people cannot access to regulars job, so they have to find their ways in the black market, sometimes getting involved in drug trade, prostitution or mafia-related criminal activities.
Looking at things in this light, regularization, and integration would be the best answers. Language courses and job training give migrants the opportunity to find alternatives to the black market. This will reduce crimes and increase security.
Moreover, through work individuals can contribute to the material and spiritual progress of society, as the Italian Constitution states. By working, non-Italian men and women find their place in the society and eventually transform Italians’ perceptions.
Even if a race is a social construct, it has real consequences. Mr. Traini shot his six victims thinking that since one Nigerian man is (allegedly) a murder, all Nigerian-looking people are murderers.
The Macerata shooting could have been a good occasion to bring clarity to the instrumentalized Italian migration debate. Politicians have the duty to highlight the racist motive behind Mr. Traini’s act, radically refusing fundamentally wrong ideas, like “one migrant is a murder, therefore all migrants are murders.” Instead, some Italian politicians contributed to the ongoing racist rhetoric, masking it a problem of migration.
While complaints about mismanagement of migration should receive the right consideration and deserve to be a part of the public debate, racist arguments should not. They should not be given legitimacy or hidden behind anti-migration talk.
The political élite, regardless of its affiliation, should unmask and condemn racism. Because racism, once instigated, is difficult to eradicate.