Skin colour and my phototype 3 are part of my life. I don’t want to go around it, pretend nothing, use politically correct terms.
In recent weeks the problem of racism based on skin colour, particularly racism towards dark-skinned people, has swirled to the attention of the media and the public. And this is good, I would say, at last. And as always in our contemporary age, the problem is in danger of breaking on the rocks of the emotional and populist wave.
“God’s dream”, Desmond Tutu
Discrimination on the basis of skin colour is a tragedy that has very deep roots and has spread over the centuries. There are countless very serious studies and there have been people of great stature who have dedicated their lives to it. I got to know the Reverend Desmond Tutu (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-10725711), who in South Africa with Nelson Mandela traced a non-violent way forward in justice. In the preface of a book that we published Messaggi di Pace, Effatà Editrice, 1999 wrote to us:
“It was Paradise. There was no bloodshed. In the garden every creature fed only on what the earth produced. The lion lay together with the lamb and Adam loved his work which did not cause him fatigue. What distinguished this paradise was harmony, solidarity and peace. The situation plummeted… Disharmony, disunity, enmity… (God says that one day) the lion will lie down with the lamb, that the honest ruler will administer justice especially on behalf of the poor… This is God’s dream and he invites all of us to be his companions in his work to help him realise his dream, where there will be no more wars, where people will turn spears into scythes and swords into ploughshares”.
Skin colour and my phototype 3
My skin colour is phototype 3, my daughters and my husband phototype 2. This is what a dermatologist friend told us. And this numbering serves only and exclusively to choose the sunscreen’s protection factor. My parents, great travellers, took me to Africa for the first time when I was 6 years old, and there I felt for the first time the immense beauty of the different shades of skin.
In my perennial curiosity I was already then attracted by the differences. For my First Communion, my nonconformist mother had published the little picture of me next to a dark peer of my age, with the same ponytails (it was the seventies). And it was Nanu, my mother, who raised me with the love for the place of our origins, “Everyone was born there”, reading me the poems of Sengor, and telling me the stories of the griots. It was she who brought the first cassettes with the music of Youssou N’Dour to Italy in the early eighties.
Nostalgia of Africa
During my trip to Ethiopia in 1993, my love for Africa and Africans grew out of all proportion. My “African nostalgia” was not linked to landscapes and nature – at least not only – but to the deep, living glances of the people who have marked my life. Back in Italy with difficulty, I clashed with the walls of incomprehension and division, of racism (I call it by its name). I cried for a few weeks, then I chose to move on to constructive and positive action: with Alby, Nanu (mother) and the Capuchin father Contardo, we founded BiancoNero association, to promote the cultural and artistic values of every region of the world.
This was our answer to the question: what gift do I discover in you? We started with exhibitions and film festivals, bringing films from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Kenya and Burkina Faso to the screen. The first few times the cinema was almost empty: 2 or 3 spectators… After a couple of years we were “sold out”.
During one of the exhibitions, I had taken a few minutes to drop by the Thursday market when I was drawn to the rhythm of African drums. My ear always looking for that sound led me to a bunch of African guys sitting on the ground beating the time on tin cans. Little Trento at the time was not used to either colour or rhythmic music, so they all kept well away. While I met my first brother “night in the skin, day in the smile”, Mamadù. You can read his story in the book I wrote “On the ways of hope”. (Pauline Editions, 2012).
I’m going to take the plunge and invite him to play at the cinema in the evening. He is scared, he sleeps in a cave near the city because no one has rented a house to him, “too dark, you’re scary”… He overcomes the fear and faces the madmen of BiancoNero and the public, creating an unforgettable atmosphere. I convince him to return to his home country to study percussions better and return as a professional. He does this. He’s great, Mamadù.
Skin colour: episodes of racism
On his return he has to deal with numerous aggressive episodes, the most painful being a racist article in a Verona newspaper about the death of his cousin, who jumped out of the van running because of the scare of smoke from the radiator. Mamadù answers with a smile and makes Trento more beautiful, warmer, with his dance and percussion shows. How can we not remember the legendary concert together with the Alpini choir in the Auditorium in front of a thousand people? And recently at the funeral of the immense Carlo Spagnolli his music accompanied the coffin. I will speak at length about Carlo in other articles, he (surgeon and son of a minister) who was among the first mixed marriages in Italy…
Welcoming each other simply, with the gifts that each of us can bring, makes everything brighter, makes life richer and more beautiful.
Our life is much richer when we walk together with Isabel, Josephine, whose story has touched the world (I will write about her soon), and all the nuances of the world. To Alganesh, Anita, Charles.
The conviviality of differences
Artistically, we have always asked ourselves the question of what we can do in our own small way to overcome racism. If our political response has been “The conviviality of differences” (the motto that accompanies my life), the artistic one has been a commitment to the promotion of values through cinema. In 29 years of activity, our documentaries with phototype 5 as their protagonists are 17.
In the public imaginary, the African woman is too often the one who walks with the basket on her head, while the boy is the clandestine or the seller. With deep respect for all those who are forced by life to make such sacrifices, I have chosen to tell the stories of African women leaders, women who change the world, to fill the screens with other images, where colour only enhances the strength of these great women.
Skin colour and my phototype 3: Wonderful Tapestry of Life
“The Wonderful Tapestry of Life” (documentario – 2017 https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B07CNPMDHY/ref=atv_dp_share_cu_r) follows Anita Evelyn Stokes Heyford, former Ambassador of Ghana to Italy, Greece, Croatia, Malta.
50 years ago, Anita was on the front line to claim Ghana’s true independence. A journalist, human rights activist, she defended her colour and that of all victims of discrimination. The young activist succumbed to love and married a phototype 1, an Englishman with a noble step, and created a beautiful family. The documentary accompanies her to her family’s home village, to the Fanti tribe, neighbours of the Ashanti (like her, Kofi Annan and Cardinal Turkson). Anita fights for the right to health for all and to curb the traffickers of today’s men.
She also speaks to us from Elmina Castle, from where millions of slaves left for 300 years to America. We’re talking about 25 million (and as many seem to have died in the infernal crossings). In the lower part of the castle there is a door that once gave directly onto the port: the “door of no return”. Essentially, the European jailers used to make the big boys from the hinterland thin until they were almost skeletal, and when they were thin enough to pass through that damn door, they were piled up in the ships. So, without strength, they would not mutiny. Anita warns young people about new types of slavery, and teaches them never to be ashamed of the colour of their skin and their own culture: “Never think that the culture of others is superior to yours”.
Skin colour: the doctor who saves the refugees, Alganesh
“Alganesh” is another African woman, an Eritrean doctor, who lives to help in the most dramatic situations. She has freed thousands of slaves. She assists a refugee camp on the Eritrean border, supports schools and orphanages in Benin, and who knows how many more. She exposes herself in first person, was beaten several times, until she lost consciousness. Alganesh is the essence of love, the true love, without fiction. I am so blessed to have met her, and to be her sister. In a few years we have made all sorts of things, and this is only the beginning… You can read about her in https://liabeltrami.it/wp-admin/post.php?post=203&action=edit.
The next steps related to skin colour are important. For two years we have been working on COMPLEXion, the idea of 4 women: myself, Marianna, Nina Davuluri www.ninadavuliri.com – formerly Miss America – and Deana. Another super-woman, editor Simona Paggi, has become the pivot of the project. 5 brave women, supported by many men in the team.
COMPLEXion is a platform: a documentary, a web series, a social campaign www.auroravision.it/complexion to say “Enough is enough!” … No more discrimination on skin colour, no more racism, no more beauty industries that want everyone to be “fair and lovely”. We’ll talk about it soon, the documentary will be out soon and “droplet episodes” are coming out on social media.
Differences, even in skin colour, make the world richer and more beautiful.