Racial and religious profiling in Italy, the ugly truth about the world’s most beautiful country

From the department of “I hate to be a bummer the week before Christmas but”…

italy racisimThe photo above was published yesterday on social media by one of Italy’s leading wine professionals in a post that generated scores of comments, mostly authored by high-profile wine tradespeople who condemned and repudiated its sentiment.

Brown-colored signs like this one are part of Italy’s officially sanctioned cultural heritage system. They are used for historically significant sites like churches or works of art — the so-called segnaletica monumentale.

In this sign, posted to mark the township of Pontoglio (in Brescia province, in the region of Lombardy, not far from Milan, roughly 7,000 inhabitants according to its Wiki), the panel at the bottom reads as follows (translation mine):

“A Western-culture village with deep-rooted Christian traditions. Anyone who does not intend to respect local culture and traditions is invited to leave.”

I’ll let the reader infer whatever meaning she/her likes from this text.

But it’s abundantly clear that non-Westerners and non-Christians are not welcome in Pontoglio.

It’s an expression of life in Italy that many Americans don’t notice when they visit wine country there. But sadly, however extreme the sentiment that inspired this particular sign, cultural insensitivity like this is not uncommon there, especially in the north.

Pontoglio literally means bridge on the river Oglio. The Oglio river is one of the boundaries of the Franciacorta DOCG. The Franciacorta consortium has been one of my clients in 2015 and I travel there often.

I wonder how the residents of Pontoglio would feel about a Jewish-American wine blogger visiting their town…

I plan to find out next year when I return to Franciacorta and will report back.

But in the meantime, I wanted to write a note about the Facebook post because I applaud the Italian wine community for its repudiation of the racial and religious profiling that is becoming increasingly common and bold in Italy today.

It’s one of the ways that the wine community can and does make the world a better place.

I stand in absolute solidarity with the two wine professionals who posted this on their Facebooks.

Sorry to be a bummer the week before Christmas (which I will be celebrating in southeast Texas with my family). But I felt it was important to share this here today.

6 thoughts on “Racial and religious profiling in Italy, the ugly truth about the world’s most beautiful country

  1. It IS important and I am grateful for your post above. I wish I had your gift of writing sedately and positively after witnessing yet another low point in current Italian life.
    After seeing that image yesterday, my blood really started boiling and some of the things I wanted to shout and write would not have sounded much better than Pontoglio’s mayor and his giunta comunale. Luckily I was able to control myself using the (lame) excuse of “not giving importance and helping attract attention to them”. More and more often, I question whether swallowing these bitter pills over and over again, without complaining too much or too loud is the right thing to do.
    Certainly it’s not helping to reduce the popularity of people like Matteo Salvini and the Le Pen sisters in Europe, that of the current top Republican presidential candidate (and his only slightly less insane competitors).
    Throughout my youth and academic career, I have always been the smallest nerd in town/class; I started working abroad (in Anglo-Saxon Countries and some of the ones behind the then so-called Iron Curtain) when still in my very early twenties. Heck! I was “Meathead” to my prospective “Archie Bunker” father-in-law. Trust me: I know a lot about bullies, being bullied and being discriminated against.
    As for bullies, very early in life, I learned that only one of them can ruin your day, your school year, a three month trip abroad, even prevent you from pursuing a dream (singing, a pretty girl, flying…whatever). If you let them.
    Only one of them can distort or even ruin your opinion of a whole region, Country, society, culture, religion. If you let them.
    I also learned that most bullies are brainless cowards, who need a lot of constant support and encouragement from peers and victims alike, and who will retreat whimpering in their holes when confronted, exposed and apprehended for their behavior.
    Alas! It seems that, more and more, the world is either tolerating, accepting or even endorsing and idolizing bullies in all their ugly manifestations. Be they desperately fanatic desert rodents, selfish queue jumpers or people parking in handicapped spaces, ghetto gangsters, presidential candidates, clueless political yokels, rogue cops, greedy Wall Street traders or gun manufacturers, they are all getting away with murder. Much too often literally.
    Is it perhaps because the victims are often not completely guilt-free?
    Is it perhaps because (as it is possibly in my case) the victims detest the very label, afraid that it might become too easily a way to pass the buck onto someone else?
    Is it perhaps because the bullies have accumulated so much power, money and influence that its becoming utterly useless to resist the “new normal? (welcome Weimar 2, but where will people run this time?).
    As for myself, all I can do is still like the Swiss, the Germans, the Brits, I might even learn to like the Bosnians (then Yugoslavians) and – no joke – some of my best friends are US Southerners. Although I can no longer call myself a Christian, I still like that wise fellow who walked around the Middle East 2,000 years ago (he too tried, only to be screwed). So, when you go to Pontoglio, next year, will you let me know? I too would like to ask the Mayor if he would care to have a cup of coffee or a glass of Mosnel with an atheist.

    Gianni Lovato (a.k.a. gianpadano)

    PS: BTW: Shalom, Buon Natale and a very healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year to you and your wonderful Family, with a special “ciao” to the two little princesses.

    • Gianni, thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings here. That’s what my blog is for: a place for community to share experiences and views. I will definitely let you know when I plan to visit Pontoglio and have a glass of Franciacorta with the mayor (for real). Happy holidays to you and yours, brother Gianni!

  2. Jeremy, I have a different point of view.
    The sign in the photo says clearly in italian that people not respecting their culture and their tradition are invited to leave the village.
    It not clear at all that in the italian language the meaning is “non-Westerners and non-Christians are not welcome in Pontoglio”. Not only it is not clear but there is even nothing that allows to think that.
    What we can say is, may be, the sign can be inopportune (looking from one point of view) or a sign of proudness (from the opposite point of view)
    Let me say that if a jewish american blogger visit Pontoglio nothing will happen.
    I apologize for my fragile english.
    Ciao, ciao,

    • Francesco, thanks for sharing your insights here. I agree with you: at face value, the mayor’s addendum to the tourism sign simply underlines the residents’ alignment with Western and Christian culture. But you and I both know that there is a much more sinister subtext to the manifest content of the sign.

      The frightening thing about the sign is that it “invites” people to leave if they don’t align culturally.

      I, for example, do not believe that Christ is my savior. But my father-in-law, Reverend Randy Branch, a Methodist pastor, doesn’t “invite” me to leave Orange, Texas when I visit there. He’s not offended by my beliefs even though his beliefs don’t align with them.

      If I were to don the black hat and suit of my orthodox brethren and to stroll down the streets of Pontoglio, do you think I would be greeted with open arms? I doubt it…

      But I agree with your point: my assessment of the attitude expressed in the sign’s text is based on my experiences and knowledge of general cultural attitudes in that part of Italy.

      I might very well be wrong. And that’s why I intend to visit Pontoglio and find out for myself.

      Happy holidays to you and yours, friend. :)

  3. Thank you, Jeremy.
    I think that you have written a perfect example. Perfect on my side:)
    Reverend Randy Branch would probably invite you to leave Orange, Tx if you would not respect methodist Church and the tradition and the culture of the people living in Orange, Tx.
    Or may be he would ask to stay and talk to you and offer a meal because it is proper of people with great moral heights to be friendly with “strangers”. But the point is No respect, no stay.

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