After a nine-month (not to give birth in secret) hiatus from Rome, an opportunity arose that was convincing enough for me to return to a city that I do not love. Many of my friends and former colleagues said it was only a matter of time before I returned, to which I say I suppose it was only a matter of time before receiving a contract that would more than make up for Rome’s lackluster post-work life.
When I tell people that I live in Rome, their “OMG, you live in Rome!!!” response, with a slight glow in their eye at the idealized thought of the opportunity to live in the eternal city, is met by my simple and lackluster response of “Yup” which is usually accompanied with a forced half smile as to not completely ruin their fantasy. After living in the city on and off since April 2011, Rome has failed to make me fall in love with her. Aside from a lack of places that I enjoy hanging out in, living in Rome as a black person can be a very unpleasant experience, an unpleasantness that smacked me in my face upon my return to this fine city.
When I first arrived back in Rome, I was staying at a friend’s place in Garbatella, a nice neighborhood not far from the city center. What I did not immediately remember was that seeing a black woman walking down the street, for many Italians, seemingly, is similar to a unicorn citing. During my ten-minute walk to the train I would notice many people staring at me, old women looking uncomfortable and sleazy Italian men giving me hyper-sexualized stares often accompanied by an undesired “Ciao bella”. While you do find some black people in Rome, many of them are immigrants without professional jobs and most are not integrated into Roman society, leaving them in the city’s periphery or near Termini, the main train station. So I suppose, me, dressed for my job at the UN, may seem very strange to people who conceptualize black women as sex workers.
My feeling of being a unicorn is further colored by stares of children on densely packed trains, similar to my experience in Japan, and groups of people turning and staring at me when I run past them during my weekend runs in the city. The feeling of being consider a sex worker is heightened by a taxi driver trying to kiss me in my mouth, or being approached and bluntly asked, “facciamo sesso?” For all the black women of the world who have been told, “Italian men LOVE black women”, please know that it is purely based on sexual fantasies, as far as I can tell, though I suppose I could be wrong. To be fair, my ex-boyfriend is Italian, but he is the least Italian, Italian that I know.
Perhaps this treatment is Rome’s way of fighting back at my dislike of her. Perhaps she is making me feel uncomfortable because I do not often have pleasant things to say about her. Whatever it is I can tell you this, living in Rome as a professional black woman is not something to be desired. While I love Italy for its food, wine and beautiful countryside, I think it is safe to say, and most black women in a similar position would agree with me, Rome is a great place to visit, but no place to live.
Now that I have got that out, all future posts on Rome will be positive! 🙂
I would love to hear other black women living in Rome or Italy chime in.