Inside the Italian Empire: Colonial Africa, Race Wars, and the ‘Southern Question’

In: Shades of Whiteness

This chapter addresses what Pasquale Verdicchio has observed as the inextricable connections of racialization between southern Italians, whom he alleges were initially colonized during the Risorgimento (the Unification of Italy in the nineteenth century), and other colonized peoples of the Italian Empire, which extended to Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, among others. The characterization of southern Italians as being the subaltern subjects of internal colonialism builds on Antonio Gramsci’s work, ‘Some Aspects of the Southern Question’, which notes that southern Italians were understood by northern Italians as being biologically inferior. Giuesppe Ganduscio likewise comments on how northern Italians viewed southern Italians as being racially fixed and degenerate. Anne Finger, moreover, adds that anti-southern racism in Italy drew upon the criminal anthropology of Cesare Lombroso, linking southern Italians with the socalled criminal darker races who possessed, according to Lombroso, African and Oriental features. At the same time, as Alfredo Niceforo’s Italiani del nord e del sud asserts, northern Italians frequently characterized themselves as ‘Aryans’ and ‘Causasians’ who distinguished themselves from the so-called ‘Negroid’ race of the South. With Fascist Italy’s growing alliance with Nazi Germany, the purification of Aryan whiteness in Italy would be virulently applied to the persecution of the Jews under the Manifesto della razza in 1938. The issues of Italy’s north-south division and the targeting of Italian Jews represented deeply fractious and overlapping conflicts inside the geographical borders of the nationstate, coinciding with Italy’s colonial expansion in Africa and the emergence of the Italian Empire. This work is part of a larger project that proposes a postcolonial history of the Second World War in terms of internecine conflicts of race or what Michel Foucault has called ‘race wars.’