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Is Your Organization Displaying Performative Allyship? 5 Ways to Tell – Amref Italia Case Study

Diversity and Inclusion Panel Discussion
By: Kururama Masomere | Image: “Re-narrating history. The value of diversity and inclusion in front and behind the camera.”

Promoted as an event showcasing ‘Daily Champions in The Fight Against Racism’, the screening of the award-winning Il Moro short film took place on May 24th, 2023 in Rome, Italy at Troisi Cinema. Il Moro is based on the life of Alessandro de’ Medici, the first Duke of Florence, Italy who also happened to be mixed-race. He was son of a woman of African descent and of Pope Clement VII. The screening was followed by a lively debate with esteemed panelists that was intended to foster dialogue on the issues of racism and Afrophobia on the eve of Africa Day (May 25th, 2023). Hosted by Amref Italia, as part of their European Champs project to uplift Afro-descendants, the event was entitled "Re-narrating history. The value of diversity

and inclusion in front and behind the camera." The Amref Italia organization had noble intentions that would soon be challenged by the events end. Journalist Sabika Sha Povia led the discussion that included AFAR (Afrodescendants Fighting Against Racism) representative, the educator Cinzia Adanna Ebonine, Daphne Di Cinto (director of Il Moro), activist and actress Gaja Aurora Ebere Ikeagwuana, Balkissa Maiga, who plays Alessandro de Medic’s mother, Edafe, the songwriter who wrote and sang the film’s main song, and film director/producers Pif and Luca Lucini. The panel discussed diversity in the Italian film industry using the Il Moro film by Di Cinto as a catalyst for the discussion. However, the discussion soon caused non-white panelists great distress. Note some excerpts below.

Writer/director/showman Pif opened his speech stating that:

“…the current question is if I am to tell Italy of the 1950s can I also cast black actors, although in the 1950s there were none!“ And adding: “Well guys, I must have lived in another country. In the 1950s, there were no black people. But apparently, I am wrong. “

…Pif continued to stand his ground even after director Daphne Di Cinto, the moderator, audience, and other panelists tried to correct him and assure him that there were black people in Italy, beyond the short film they just saw. In fact, shortly thereafter, when talking about Black Resistance Fighters during WWII in Italy, the conversation went as follows:

"Re-narrating history. The value of diversity and inclusion in front and behind the camera”
English Translation– Excerpt from Panel Discussion on Diversity in Front & Behind the Camera

Luca Lucini’s position seemed to settle on a wish for sincerity in filmmaking and a suggestion to include diversity in contemporary films, so they may reflect today’s society:

Luca Lucini: “What I don’t find right often, is the algorithm that tells you that you must place inclusion here, so you have to hire the colored person because that way it adds up. That in my opinion is a strong difference, but I do think this very thing is changing and we all have to help it a little bit. Who knows how to tell it, can tell it like Daphne, with sincerity, because she experiences it, because she know all the dynamics and can convey to the audience what it needs. If you place the coloured person just to say you did, in my opinion, it doesn’t work, if instead, you tell with sincerity…”

When encouraged by the moderator to use the term Black, as customary, Lucini was unfazed and continues using the ‘coloured’ term.

Lucini subsequently, uses the N-word.

Luca Lucini: Like the friend, the friend of my son, when he goes to the phone: I’m

your "n*gger" friend who…

(and he laughs)

He is a very nice coloured boy.

Director Daphne Di Cinto noted that “The situation escalated from denial of our presence all the way to the N-word. In Italian, we only have one word for the N-word, and in Italian ‘negro’ (which listeners will hear in the recorded audio below) is translated to ‘n*gger’. It is (or supposed to be) common knowledge that in Italian ‘negro’ is derogatory”, noted Di Cinto.

These are just a few of the instances that led Di Cinto to call out Amref for allowing their own spokespeople to use such language. The original Italian audio and the English transcript of the discussion, for those who missed it, can be found here:

AUDIO (ENGLISH SUBTITLES): RE-NARRATING HISTORY: THE VALUE OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN FRONT AND BEHIND THE CAMERA ⚠️ Warning: Racially offensive material is contained in the attached audio recording. We have decided to include the audio recording so that people can hear panelists in their own words and form their own opinions.

Note: A transcript of the discussion is available in English upon request. Please contact us for a written copy.

The Amref organization issued an initial statement, with no apology that was later retracted. Subsequently, they offered a private email apology to director Daphne di Cinto, but not the other Afro-Italian panelists, nor to the audience that attended the event. Like other organizations, Amref’s “apology” only came after public pressure, which is disappointing for an organization with 21 offices located on the African continent alone.

Should the public and donors not expect more from such an organization claiming to support those from the African diaspora? Ultimately, the organization issued a subsequent statement apologizing for the use of the N-word, cited by one of their panelists.

“We want to be clear that the tolerance for using the N-word is absolutely zero. We are deeply sorry for what happened and for the damage caused. We do not condone any form of discrimination or offensive language. We want to assure that we are already working hard to ensure that similar situations never happen again.”

It seems that Amref’s initial response unwittingly aided the diminishment of the contributions of Black Italians in its history and film. Rightfully so, the topic of performative allyship has risen to the forefront of discussion in

relation to Amref.

In moments like this, it is critical for organizations to consider how their altruistic mission and diversity statements may be in question due to what is perceived as performative allyship toward communities of color.

Re-narrating history. The value of diversity and inclusion in front and behind the camera.” on May 24th, 2023, in Rome, Italy.
"Re-narrating history. The value of diversity and inclusion in front and behind the camera” panel | Rome, Italy.

Performative Allyship: Lessons for Organizations

Here are 5 important ways your organization, like Amref, may be falling short in practicing allyship and ways that institutions like them can do better.

1. Conflating racism with differences in opinions

The common misstep organizations take is viewing political ideologies and racist beliefs as simply differences in opinion. While it is possible to have political and ideological beliefs that are racist in nature, racism is not a political debate to be discussed. It is simply racism and warrants disruption each instance it reveals itself. Investments into diversity and inclusion are key steps organizations take to learn more about these differences, name them and disrupt when possible. 2. Failure to explicitly denounce white supremacy narratives in media responses

Neutrality in moments where active racism is displayed and harm is caused is parallel to supporting and validating the racist belief that is demonstrated. Too often, organizations choose to use vague language to protect their organization’s image and identity rather than take a bold stance to ensure that victims of the harm (often people of color and those who hold other marginalized identities) feel heard, seen and validated in their feelings toward the harm. 3. Narrative and emotional policing of how people of color respond to racism

The third mistake organizations make (and one in which Amref particularly received backlash from some) is the concern for how people of color respond rather than focusing on the harm that was caused and determining ways to minimize it moving forward. Organization’s must shift the narrative from phrases such as “We are sorry that ____ (insert Black/person of color’s name) had to endure uncomfortable moments during an event, in which, we were responsible for being inclusive”. Our words are powerful. Organizations that can practice inclusive narrative change are actively disrupting old patterns of resistance during crisis.

Narrative change and storytelling are potent forces for inclusive, just societies. These methods are essential for combating injustice, safeguarding rights, eradicating damaging stereotypes, and ensuring that all facets of society are represented.

4. Prioritizing white comfort over your organization’s named values and mission

Amref’s response to the racism is a prime example of how the backlash white people face when racism is called out makes white institutional leaders more uncomfortable than the racism did. There is no gray area in racism, particularly when it is called out by people of color who were placed in harm's way. Much of this acknowledgement requires the understanding that spaces hosted and facilitated by white institutions are likely to reflect the white dominant culture within the organization. Recognizing this is one of the first steps to ensuring that all voices are heard and giving extra caution and attention to historically harmful words, ideas, and phrases.

5. Failure to name shortcomings and next steps for accountability

Lastly, the only way organizations and companies can do better is determining ways they will do better in the future. This step is critical and requires honesty and accountability both to the mission of the organization and the communities your organization is determined to support.

Allyship is not an easy practice, however it is a necessary one. It requires bold leadership and critical reflections on times we have fallen short in our allyship toward communities we say we care about. Individuals, organizations, and companies will continue to perpetuate racism through neutrality, outdated narratives, and silence unless their allyship becomes a verb and a true practice. Prioritizing inclusion and diversity within organizations is a long journey and there’s always room to do better. The bottom line is in moments like this, when authentic allyship is put to the test, is that your organization’s actions will always speak louder than its words.


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