Italian Politician Cecile Kyenge Responds with Class to ‘Orangutan’ Slur

by Laurel Walsh


Cecile Kyenge seems to live on the high road, accepting apologies and handing out anti-racist wisdom to the dickheads who keep trying to knock her down. As Italy’s first ever black member of cabinet, Kyenge has been fielding racist remarks left and right since breaking onto Italy’s political scene. This time she’s accepted an apology from Roberto Calderoli, the dude who compared her to an orangutan earlier this month.

Calderoli is a member of the notoriously anti-immigration Northern League party. He said that photographs of Kyenge made him think of “the features of an orangutan” while speaking at a political rally. Even if this wasn’t gross and racist, when is it okay to speak about a female politician’s “features” at a rally about politics anyway? Uh, never. Sounds like one of those times when racism and sexism go hand in hand.

He also claimed that Kyenge’s success in Italy encouraged illegal immigration (?) and that she should be a minister “in her own country.” Kyenge immigrated to Italy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1983. She became Italy’s immigration minister this past April. 


Here’s Roberto Calderoli, offering the world a whistle to blow on his bullshit behavior. Or something.


Unfortunately, this may be one of the milder racial slurs hurled at Kyenge to date. Two of Kyenge’s colleagues have been forced to resign after saying she had a political agenda full of “tribal traditions,” calling her a “great housekeeper,” and – shockingly – claiming that Kyenge should be raped.

When Calderoli called Kyenge to apologize for his orangutan comment earlier this week, he said that he “meant no offense.” Insert eyeroll here.

Kyenge responded with respect and professionalism, telling Italian media that she accepts Calderoli’s apology, but that she wants him to “reflect deeply” on his comments, reminding the country that “words have weight,” especially when they come from someone in a position of political power.


Kyenge is known for promoting policies that protect children of immigrants, similar in principle to Obama’s Dream Act.


Calderoli is a member of the Northern League, an anti-immigration party from Italy’s upper house. The government has launched an investigation into the orangutan incident that may find him guilty of defamation. BBC News reports that he is under increasing pressure to step down – even Italy’s Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, said Calderoli’s remarks were “beyond all limits.” 

And in the most elegant/eloquent burn I’ve heard lately, Kyenge added that if Calderoli can’t express himself using appropriate language, he should step aside and make room for people who can. Yes please.


Sources: BBC News, Huffington Post, Yahoo News, and TIME.

Photos via ABC News, International Business Times, EurWeb.

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