The Rhetoric of Racism: Paolo Berlusconi, Balotelli and a Disturbing Tolerance for Intolerance

While newspaper reports around the world have called Paolo Berlusconi’s (Silvio Berlusconi’s brother) comments about  soccer player, Mario Balotelli, “gross racial insensitivity,” why don’t we just say what it really is:  racism.

AC Milan v Udinese Calcio  - Serie A

Here is how things went down.

The crowd, gathered at an event held by Silvio Berlusconi, his brother, a real dolt if there ever was one,  referred to  the fact that AC Milan signed Balotelli, the “negretto.”  Wow.  That word  literally means  “little nigger” or “little negro”.   It is better understood as as “little black boy.”  Here is the comment he actually made, igniting laughter from the audience :

“And now, let’s go and watch the little black boy of the family, the hot head.”

What?  Seriously?  I waited for the outrage, the raw , hot anger.  And I waited.  I spoke to a friend in Sicily who said , “. . . no one has really reacted.”

News reports noted that the comment went largely “unnoticed” in Italy.   Not until the video  of the remark went viral, when the world was witness to the rhetoric of racism, NOT “insensitivity”, did  people react.



This is not the first verbal assault lobbed at Balotelli, who was born to Ghanian parents but raised by an Italian couple, and , sadly, given the nearly imperceptible rate at which Italians seem capable of changing their attitudes toward the growing and changing demographic of their country, it won’t be the last. He has had bananas thrown at him as well as the verbal assault of racist chants.  But this is not something that Balotelli should have to get used to.  Call me crazy.

Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli

The immigrant as scapegoat, the immigrant as an easy target, the immigrant forever as “other.”  

I would pity Berlusconi and his brother and others like them , for being so far gone , idiotic in a myriad of ways, but really, their actions and their remarks are like well-sharpened knives, filed to a point and aiming to hit their target.

When will things change?  Piara Powar,  the executive director  of  Footbal Against Racism in Europe (FARE)recognizes that Italian society is changing, but attitudes are not keeping pace.  What an understatement.  That he called the comment and “outrage” was a first step.  But he seems to be in the minority.  Maybe Italians, having lived so long with Berlusconi (while castigating Americans who would deign to elect Bush not once but twice) have a high tolerance for intolerance.


Paolo Berlusconi now says, in the face of a bit of a tarnished image , that he was being “affectionate” with Balotelli.  But who would believe or trust a word he says?

I don’t.  I really don’t.




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3 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of Racism: Paolo Berlusconi, Balotelli and a Disturbing Tolerance for Intolerance

  1. Thanks for shedding light on this. What a disappointment to hear that the Italian people have not stood up against such racist slurs. I really thought things were changing there, but I see that I was way off base.

  2. I do know lots of people who were disgusted at this, like when Silvio Berlusconi himself referred to Obama as “That new president with a really impressive suntan.” That time, everyone talked about it in the streets and reacted with outrage. Obama is greatly respected in Italy, and everyone alreday knows the Berlusconis are hardcore racists.

    And yet….
    This is a country where many people are seriously intending to vote for Silvio Berlusconi again, even though he has been fully convicted in court of being a pedophile. The only reason he isn’t in prison is because he himself changed the law in the nick of time.
    He’s been convicted of being in the Mafia as well, and he changed the law on that one to avoid a penal sentence. He was summonsed to court in the face of overwhelming evidence he had embezzled billions of state money, and he changed the law on that as well, so that a head of state could not be brought to court in such cases.

    Considering there was NO PUBLIC REACTION AT ALL to the fact that the president was a pedophile, and perish the thought he might actually have the dignitiy to withdraw from public life once convicted, well, I’m not remotely surprised that nobody seems to care about some blatant racism.

    I’ve lived in Milan and was repeatedly gobsmacked about how racist everyone around me seemed to be. Now I live in Sicly, where the italian northerners claim people are backward and narrow minded and never trust outsiders, and so far in 9 years I have never met a racist person. Not one.

    Well, there is a serious possibility that the Italians will re-elect Berlusconi despite all I have recounted above. After many dinner table conversations I have realised many people in Italy are not really educated to the same level that they are in, say, America or the UK, and are not able to make as insightful an analysis of politicians. That’s the only way I can rationalise this.
    I just throw my hands up and conclude that people do usually end up with the governments they deserve.

  3. And I forgot to mention, sometimes I think these public racist comments are not “slips” but actually carefully calculated.
    Like I said, the Italians in the north really are very racist. And these people are berlusconi’s hardcore supporters. By letting them know he is anti-African, he’s probably making himself more popular among them.

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