Episode 8: The Black Mediterranean

This idea contains some truth (thanks to restrictive migration policies). But it renders the experiences of African migrants and their offspring in Italy and neighboring countries invisible, perpetuating the racial myth of Europe as a white continent in which the presence of Black populations is disavowed.

In this episode, Professor Camilla Hawthorne discusses her research into the lives of second-generation Italian-born immigrants of African descent, barred from citizenship by exclusionary laws demarcating them as foreign. Drawing inspiration from the vibrant mobilization of these communities, Hawthorne chronicles their struggle for inclusion and citizenship in the face of racism and xenophobia. In the process, the racial exclusivity of Italian citizenship laws are exposed – laws underpinned by absolutist notions of belonging that drive Italy’s increasingly militarised project of border fortification, and the externalisation of immigration control to the African continent itself.

Surveying political discourse on European ‘civilization’ and its African Others since the 19th century, Professor Hawthorne contextualises today’s evolution of the EU into a racialised continental fortress in history. Italy’s formation as a perceived border between Europe and Africa, she explains, dates back millennia to antiquity, but also includes little-known histories of colonial expansion into the Horn of Africa - a history of connections that provides much-needed perspective on the resurgence of the contemporary Far Right under PM Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy Party in October 2022, around the time this podcast was recorded.  

Speaker Bio

Camilla Hawthorne is Associate Professor of Sociology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work focuses on Black geographies and the racial politics of migration and citizenship. She is a co-editor of The Black Mediterranean: Bodies, Borders, and Citizenship, published by Palgrave Macmillan 2021 and author of Contesting Race and Citizenship: Youth Politics in the Black Mediterranean, published by Cornell University Press in 2022.

Further Reading

Camilla Hawthorne (2022) “Black Mediterranean geographies: translation and the mattering of Black Life in Italy” ORCID Icon Pages 484-507

Contesting Race and Citizenship: Youth Politics in the Black Mediterranean (Cornell University Press, 2022)

The Black Mediterranean Collective (2021) “The Black Mediterranean: Bodies, Borders and Citizenship” Palgrave, Macmillan

Paul Gilroy (1993) The Black Atlantic, Harvard University Press 

This episode is part of the series:

Exploring the Politics of Migration through Ideas is a podcast series that examines the past, present, and possible futures of migration within and from the African continent. It seeks to forge a new discussion around African migration in Europe and the West, but also within Africa itself: one that foregrounds African knowledge, lived experience, and political thought towards a humane and socially just order of mobility. Hosted by African Arguments and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub.