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Cecile Kyenge, the first Black cabinet member in Italian history, has endured a barrage of racist insults since being appointed as the integration minister last Saturday by Prime Minister Enrico Letta. While her historic position should be celebrated, racist and far-Right websites have been aiming vicious barbs in her direction.

According to a report from the International Business Times, Italy’s National Anti-Discrimination Office will step in to investigate the hateful attacks after an order from equal opportunities minister Josefa Idem. “I am doing this in my capacity as new minister for equal opportunities but above all as a woman,” said Idem based on a report from Reuters.  The nameless offenders called the minister names such as “Congolese monkey” and “the Black anti-Italian.”

Kyenge, who is also a noted eye surgeon, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but moved to Italy thirty years ago to study medicine. Kyenge’s appointment by Premier Letta was seen as a hopeful first step in mending the growing racial divide and intolerance of immigrants in the country.

Many of Kyenge’s critics, including the powerful Northern League, oppose a proposed policy of allowing children of immigrants to receive automatic citizenship instead of waiting until the age of 18 to apply. Kyenge responded to the insults Tuesday (April 30) via Twitter, saying in a loose translation, “Thank you for your attention. I believe even criticism can teach if we use it with respect.”

Italy’s racist history has come to light in recent news, most especially in the sport of soccer. Mario Balotelli, AC Milan’s star striker, was born to Ghanaian parents and raised by an Italian family. Balotelli has been called several names on the field despite being regarded as the team’s best known player.

Photo: Gregorio Borgia/AP