The African Migrant story: Milan

African Migrant Story

What an interesting week we’ve had in South Africa. The #Spur incident really blew up the race card and got emotions raging and got me thinking of my post Bayas’Sukela about racial prejudice in Thailand. As promised, I will be back with a full part two of why I knew I should have stayed in Milan but for now I felt that I had to tackle my reason number 6 all on its own so here it goes. I wish I stayed in Milan a little longer to…

Speak to the African migrants and understand their story

I came across this this video on Facebook too this week (ai social media was working overtime). It’s a recording of a young African girl walking through the streets of China and getting approached by locals from all angles who seem “fascinated” with her appearance. As a person who frequently gets these looks even in SA, I use the term fascinated very loosely. In fact, the locals are treating her like some kind of attraction which just bothered me. Not as much as the #Spur incident by I was annoyed.

Can us brownies just get a break in this world… seriously.

Then the cherry on this broth was seeing this title pop up in my timeline “Are African-Americans treated better than Africans abroad” by Oneika the Traveller. I’m a big fan of Oneika the Traveller so I know her stance on tackling politics and travel so it was more the comments that I was interested in:

“ I’m in Berlin and until I speak or do something very American, I get the cold shoulder. It’s awful.”

– African Female

“First, my tour guide told me I was lucky to have an American passport. If I didn’t, people would think I was a citizen of an African country and I might not get treated so good.”

– American Female

“[In Italy] My daughter and I were ignored in two shops- completely ignored. So when I began to seek out my own sizes to try on the lady snatched the shoes out of my hands and shooed me away.”

–  African Female

These comments went on and on in the same way. The general theme is that we Africans are basically treated like dirt in certain parts of the world but if you have an American accent or passport from anywhere but Africa – you are automatically upgraded to the manners-deserving group. I can’t really comment on whether it is true or not for Italy because I didn’t encounter any racial discrimination while I was in Milan. This is what I did notice though (coupled with some research on the topic before I left):

The discrimination of African people in Milan stems from the fact that many Africans living there are migrants who are there as a result of civil wars and other inequalities in their own countries. Basically, Italians perceive these Africans to have arrived in Italy by sea with no plan or only a rough idea of how they will go back home which frustrates them.

Sounds a lot like South Africa doesn’t it?

I met some hawkers from Senegal and Tunisia outside the Palazzo dell’Arte. Most of these hawkers (you can see two of them behind me in the image below) have been socialised into the society.

This is my I’m done with Hawkers face lol

I mean to a point where they speak Italian fluently and only adjusted to English for my benefit. I could hear them immediately murmur “she’s South African” when they heard me speak (the guy with the white top just said Ah Bafana Bafana lol). They spoke to me in a friendly-familiar and yet distant-she’s-not-one-of-us tone at the same time. It was a bit intimidating but I guess I get where they are coming from. We briefly spoke about Milan and my life in SA before they started trying to push their products on me in which case I walked away very swiftly.

The Palazzo dell’Arte is the design building near Fontana di Piazza Castello (the fountain below) invaded by tourists from all around the world. Africans, African-Americans, Asians, Eurpean all of us really, hence its just the spot to see the interaction between races and nationalities clear as day. I sat here for a while just observing everything I could.

Fontana di Piazza Castello
Kisses from Fontana di Piazza Castello

This is tough to write but what I saw was that Italians have less of a problem with people being African but rather the problem with us lies with the belief that as Africans, we are all poor people coming to be refugees in their country *sigh*. They have a problem with Africans being less fortunate than the locals… poor if you will. So this is why they treat us differently.

Frankly speaking – its not racism, its classism.

It was clear to me that both African and African-American tourists (who obviously stick out like a sore thumb with our oversized cameras, inquisitive behaviour and non-Italian speaking tendencies) are not discriminated against. In fact as a tourist in Italy, I had a great time, people were very patient with me even though I didn’t understand the language. They showed me around and treated me very well from the moment that they established that I was tourist and not a migrant.

So do African people get treated worse than African-Americans?

Mostly likely yes, the comments on Oneika’s blog were pretty accurate except it is not because they don’t like African people -its because they think that we have nothing to offer as collectively we aren’t as wealthy as African-Americans.

I hope I haven’t put you off Italy because it is absolutely beautiful and I would return in a heartbeat. I’m just alerting you to the perception that people have of Africans in those parts. Nonetheless I really wish I stayed in Milan a little bit longer to understand the African migrants story a little better.

How they came to live in Milan? How they are building a life for themselves?

We are Africans and so by our nature hard workers. For this reason, I know that we don’t travel (whether leisurely or for a better life) to cause havoc but rather to find opportunities and to find ourselves (if I’m Oprah). Perhaps people should consider that before they discriminate against us. That goes for all of the people who think less of African people – whether in SA or abroad.




Look out for the last 4 reasons why I should have stayed in Milan – coming soon…

Sindi Gal



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