The urgency of the moment is undoubtedly how to stop or at least slow down this epidemic and certainly not the time to dwell on obnoxious controversies or secondary issues. But it is impossible to stop the tumult of thoughts and observations that emerge in this situation.
I live in the Czech Republic and travel a lot and it is not pleasant at all to be seen as a virus. It is not at all pleasant to take the plane with the worry of being rejected at the airport of arrival or quarantined, only for being an Italian. It is not nice to walk past a school and read a big sign asking anyone who has been in Italy to contact the authorities. In short, they treat me, a civilized and cultured Italian, like a Chinese or an African! Things never seen before! There’s no respect anymore!
I told myself that out of 60 million Italians, only 2.000 are infected. How can they see me as a virus? I am Gerardo and not one of many Italians! But then I understand that they are afraid and must identify the possible plague-spreader, the external enemy to defend themselves against. In the same way we Italians are treating the Chinese and Asians in general. Not to mention, beyond the coronavirus, how we think about immigrants. The other, the Chinese or the immigrant, is no longer a concrete person with a name, but the anonymous member of a dangerous group, and as an element of that group he is dangerous by himself. But now it is me, the Italian, an element of a dangerous whole! All this was clear to me even before, but experiencing it on one’s own skin is different.
It is true that as an Italian I am luckier than others. I can hope that I am not easily identified, especially when I cough in the tram. They can mistake me, certainly not for a Norwegian, but for a Spaniard or a Frenchman. But what chance does a black man living in Italy have that they won’t find out which dangerous group he belongs to?
How arrogant we Italians are, how conceited! Feeling that we are among the most civilized people in the world and judging from the top of our position other civilizations we don’t even know. But we are learning that things can change in a very short time and that being and feeling on one side of the barricade is only a point of view or a matter of time. Things change quickly and as the tarot card “Wheel of Fortune” teaches us, those who today feel like a winner tomorrow could find themselves in the sea of misfortune, within just a few days.
Before judging another person, maybe an Italian living in the apartment next door or a person with almond-shaped eyes or black skin, before isolating him or her and seeing him or her as an anonymous element of a whole, I should for a moment consider that that person could be me…
May this damn virus serve us to awaken intelligence, solidarity and other essential qualities, all useful to not feel so poor inside!
Translation from Italian by Thomas Schmid