Willy Monteiro Duarte Wasn’t Just an Immigrant: What happened to him is the most dangerous consequence of a Single Narrative
In a year in which the media has finally shone some light on the tragic and real saga of hate crimes in the United States, bringing to the surface critically overdue conversations, the scope of this issue’s coverage has now shifted to include Italy. Racism and discrimination, just as deadly and widespread as our current pandemic, currently stand in a stark spotlight, showcasing all of the problematic dynamics around the definition of being Italian. The victim of these forces was a young man named Willy Monteiro Duarte.
Say His Name: Willy Monteiro Duarte
As the news about the violent killing of this young black man in Italy has spread almost worldwide, most of the details seem to have been literally lost in translation, starting even with his name.
Willy Monteiro Duarte was 21 years old. He was born and raised in a small town about 60 km southeast of Rome, where he was a promising football player. He worked in the kitchen of a nearby hotel, and everyone who knew him remembers only positive things. Duarte was what in Italy is portrayed as a model youth, but his upstanding citizenship was not enough to protect him from bigotry. On the evening of Saturday the 5th of September, Duarte was brutally beaten to death by a group of violent and aggressive white supremacists.
That night, while Duarte was out with friends, a fight broke out that involved one of his friends, and he tried to intervene. Minutes later, an SUV came rushing up, and the three men that came out began to beat Duarte. These aggressors were trained in martial arts, and, according to the witnesses, Willy fell to the ground immediately after the second blow. However, this did not satisfy the assailants, who continued to beat Duarte until he eventually lost his life. His murderers then returned to their car and headed to a nearby bar, arriving with bloodstained shirts, reporting Duarte’s passing to no one and acting as if nothing had happened.
Willy wasn’t just an immigrant
If you’re not familiar with the Italian ecosystem and Italian media as a whole, what happened next might blow your mind. In the wake of the tragedy, Italian media and the family of the killers laid bare the sad fact that many Italians find it difficult to accept that Italy has changed significantly in the past 35 years.
The media had the opportunity to set the record straight by pointing out the dangerous nature and consequences of racism; or, more pointedly, by avoiding the common, misguided tendency of ignoring a national culture of racism by excusing the murderers prejudice as justified due to the sheer frequency of their aggression – they beat many, and often, and therefore Duarte’s murder could not be classified as a ‘hate crime”.
But the truth eventually comes out – in this case, in only a matter of hours.
It was found in the statement of the mother of two of the killers – whose family name, Bianchi, translates in English to “whites” – when she declared to the press that “Willy was just an immigrant”, as if immigration status and the worth of a life are somehow related. This of course plays to the trope that his “otherness” deems him a potential criminal, as many popular racist right-wing politicians often claim. Not coincidentally, posts by these very same politicians pop up on the Facebook timelines of Willy’s killers.
But such is Italy at the moment. When your name, skin color, or even religion differ from that of the majority, you are immediately classified as a foreigner. And no, most of the time they don’t even take into consideration that you may have been born here. This has affected politics – where it would seem that immigration is the only problem Italy has to face — but also job opportunities, journalism, and overall human relations.
Willy was Italian… and a role model
If you read this far you will understand that Italy too is a country where minorities are regularly marginalized by nativists, which helps explain why, as a country and a culture, we fail time and time again to have serious and necessary conversations about anti-racism. When the vast majority of the media – talk show hosts, their guests, most journalists, reporters – have never experienced oppression, of course, they will not be inclined to recognize that it represents a massive threat to such a huge part of our population.
The same vile stereotypes that existed everywhere 70 years ago… they’re still here. Recently, foreign affairs minister Luigi Di Maio made international headlines because he posted photos of himself in blackface, not realizing that by doing so, he was partaking in the narrative that dark skin is the butt of a joke.
And, when the press fails to label an episode like this properly, or when they call someone like Willy, who was born and raised in Italy, “well-integrated”, it demonstrates the assumption and position that every Italian born without white skin and stereotypical Italian features is thereby not Italian. This atheism perpetuates racism, nativism, and potentially violent interactions.
A whole population of second-generation immigrants has been raised to be felt like guests in our own country, constantly insinuating that their heritage and family history deems them second-class citizens. However, this narrative made us realize that we had to be twice as better as our Italian peers to stand a chance at the same opportunities, turning us into some of the best examples of Italian youth, the youth that works hard to realize their dreams, just like Willy. They turned us into excellence.
Say His Name: Willy Monteiro Duarte.
This is the first piece of a three part series focusing on themes of race and diversity in Italy. There’s little to no understanding of what it’s like to grow up here as a minority and nowhere near enough conversation about diversity and inclusion occuring. Many people are surprised to learn about diversity in Italy.
Thus, my next piece will focus on how diversity is perceived in Italy and why it seems so difficult to initiate change. My third installment will revolve around my personal experience as a child of the African diaspora and how I managed to build the armor that made me resilient.
Please stay tuned, Pretty Birds, and feel free to continue the conversation in comments below.