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But I was so caught up in my excitement that I neglected a crucial difference between me, my roommates and the majority of the other students I was studying with abroad. I, on the other hand, am an African-American woman with skin the color of dark chocolate and full lips.In the United States, I was aware of racism in a broad sense, but perhaps because of my age my eyes weren’t fully open to it.As my group walked away, one of the women made an observation I’ll never forget. He just called you ‘disgusting black women.’”When I returned to the apartment where I was staying with a fair-skinned Italian woman and her biracial teenage daughter named Ami, I told her, with great emotion, what had happened.She shrugged and said in a mixture of Italian and English, “It happens to Ami,” whose father is black. Several weeks later, as the weather cooled enough for me to wear one of my favorite oversized sweaters and a beanie hat, I was walking along a street lined with cafes and shops in Florence, making my way down one of those impossibly narrow sidewalks, head bent over my phone.I looked around and saw the sea of white faces staring on the packed beach — not a single one had made a move to help. He appeared to be an African migrant because he was selling beach gear draped from his body, much like other migrants I had seen who usually sold knickknacks or knockoff purses on the street.We stared at each other for what felt like a full minute and his eyes seemed full of sympathy.Then I decided to spend the fall semester of my junior year abroad in Florence, Italy.My roommates during my sophomore year had both studied in Italy and raved about their time.
I took a trip to Cinque Terre, the five scenic villages on the rugged Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy, with about six friends.I assumed he was just going to continue bantering, but before I knew it, the rejected suitor started aggressively telling my white friends in Italian-accented English to pick up their trash.He ignored me and the only other black woman in the group as if we were invisible, but I wasn’t struck by this at the time.My mother seemed to know better, saying things to me like “take off that hoodie” when we walked into stores.When she muttered, “you don’t see how they’re looking at you,” I assumed she was bothered by my fashion choices.