As It Happens

Italian mother blames far-right leader's rhetoric for string of racist verbal attacks on her son

Gabriella Nobile's 12-year-old son was told he would have to go back to Africa if Matteo Salvini wins the general election on Sunday.
Gabriella Nobile says her two adopted children are afraid because of the anti-immigration rhetoric that they're hearing from a far-right party leader. (Submitted by Gabriella Nobile )

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An Italian mother says her two black children are living through a "period of terror" — and she blames the anti-immigration rhetoric of far-right party leader Matteo Salvini.

Gabriella Nobile says her 12-year-old son, who was adopted from Congo, was the victim of racists slurs. Her daughter, who was adopted from Ethiopia, asked her if she would be sent back to Africa if Salvini wins the Italian general election on Sunday.

Salvini is the leader of the far-right party Lega, or League Party. He, along with other right-leaning parties, have pushed the issue of immigration to the forefront of the election debate in Italy.

Accusations that immigrants are stealing jobs in Italy has been a repeated claim of The League's "Italian First" slogan.

 'Racist Tone'

"I really didn't want to make a political war against him and againt his party I just wanted to put the attention on the bad tone, on the racist tone that they used during this electoral campaign," Nobile told As It Happens host Carol Off.

In a now-viral Facebook post, Nobile ironically thanks Salvini for scaring her two children, and wrote about two verbal attacks on her son in the past three months. 

Nobile wrote an open letter to The League leader Matteo Salvini on Facebook to share how his comments about immigrants impact her two adopted children. (Submitted by Gabriella Nobile )

"I wrote this letter to him after that experience that my oldest son had in the bus, because he's adopted, he's from Congo and he's black and he lives in a white society in Italy," she said.

Her son, who was adopted when he was two, was taking a bus to soccer practice when Nobile says his backpack must have bumped someone.

"This person started to scream at him and to say, 'Oh you black. You n--ger. You are here to [steal] our jobs. But if Matteo Salvini will win you will go back to Africa,'" she said.

In another instance, Nobile says an older woman told her son that he was not allowed to sit on the bus, but had to go stand at the back because he is black. This is what shocked her son the most, because it was the first verbal attack from an adult.

She said her children never encountered this kind of racism from adults before Salvini started his anti-immigration campaign.

As her Facebook post became more popular, Nobile said she has thousands of people write to her to share their own stories of similar incidents.

Not the first case 

This is not the first case of racial tensions during the Italian general election.

In early February, a fascist-sympathizing gunman targeted African immigrants during a drive-by shooting rampage in the city of Macerata.

He wounded six people, out of revenge for the killing of an 18-year-old Italian woman for which a Nigerian was arrested.

After the shooting, Salvini went on national television to blame both crimes on "Italy's out-of-control immigration policy."

League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome ahead of the March 4 general elections. (Domenico Stinellis/Associated Press)

The focus on immigrants by Italian politicians is part of the problem, Nobile said.

"All the Italian problems didn't come from immigration. I mean we have problems because we have problems. Immigration is one of the problems. But that part of politics push people to hate black people, people that come from abroad," she said.

Facebook initially took Nobile's post down, because she used a racial slur when describing what was said to her son. Nobile reposted the letter without the slur and Facebook allowed it to stay up.

Salvini's response 

Then on Tuesday, Salvini responded with his own Facebook post. He said it was wrong for the children to fear him, and invited her to meet him for coffee in a park where their children can play together.

The League has increased its support from 4 per cent to 13 per cent in a recent poll, and could end up in a coalition with former president Silio Berlusconi's right-wing party.

They will be up against the ruling centre-left Democratic Party and the populist Five Star Movement — which has vowed never to enter in a coalition.   

Nobile said she will be voting on Sunday, and won't be taking Salvini up on his invitation for coffee until after the election.

"I really didn't want him to use this story for his electoral campaign," she said.

— With files from CBC News