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By Annalisa Frisina, Wissal Houbabi
This article is part of the UNPOP series – Unpacking Populism, published on a monthly basis and edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes.

Disgust is an everyday and pervasive experience, like racism in Italy.

It is visceral, strong and aversive. It is an emotion which shows our embodied concern over contamination. It reminds us of our animal bodies but it is clearly political. Who are the groups of people marked out as bearers of contamination? The answer is political, because disgust can be a powerful ideological tool to reinforce social order and reproduce racial inequalities.

Actually, the expression of disgust is a claim of superiority against the inferior (not so human) Other who is supposed to be the bearer of contamination. Disgust is a barrier erected against the feeling of being equally human, it is the denial of mutual respect among citizens.
According to Saresmo and Tulonen populist rhetoric utilizes disgust to produce a division between the us belonging to the (white) nation and the racialized Others. Disgust is important in the dissemination of nationalist radical-right discourse, which creates a political climate where gendered and racialized boundaries are more and more violent. Disgust is used to mobilize against racialized Others, promoting and legitimizing racist and fascist politics. Such affect is consciously aroused for political reasons.

In her book Cultural Politics of Emotion, Sara Ahmed argues that disgust is a performative affect, it arouses reactions and produces actions when our bodies are in the proximity of the bodies of racialized Others. Those bodies become loathsome, despicable and are made abject. Thus, disgust turns into a driving force in the “defence” of the white nation, legitimizing white suprematist violence and terror directed to bodies who are socially and culturally constructed as the bearers of contamination and imagined as the animalized danger which puts the very survival of (white) people at risk.

For example, the disgust of racism can be the interpretative key for the deadly violence of Massimo Adriatici against Youns El Boussettaoui. And for his impunity.

Massimo Adriatici, the former Lega councillor for Security in Voghera (Pavia, in Northern Italys) shot and killed Youns El Boussettaoui on 20 July 2021. For the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the crime charged is that of “excess in self-defence”. Self-defence in the face of an unarmed man?

Adriatici was disgusted by El Boussettaoui’s presence, a man of Moroccan origin with mental health problems. The cameras showed thatAdriatici followed him for ten minutes. And after El Boussettaoui dared to annoy the customers of a bar, Adriatici had an argument with him and killed him.

After all, Adriatici acted as a white avenger should act. In his political party (of the populist extreme right), mayors have long been encouraged to feel and to act like ‘sheriffs‘. Former councillor Adriatici was nicknamed the ‘sheriff’, because he always went around with a gun and had ‘rough manners’ against ‘the weak‘.

Disgust is hence something that racism uses to dehumanize racialized people (in this case ‘a Moroccan’, with mental health problems, who lived in socially marginalised conditions) and to legitimize racist violence. On the other hand, disgust is something felt by people racialized as non-white in the face of the racial injustice experienced in Italian society. What about racial justice in Italy from the perspective of Bahijia El Boussetaoui, Youns’ sister?

The performance of Wissal Houbabi called “A great stench of shit in the air” gives words to the disgust felt at the impunity of Adriatici.

Still frame from the video of the performance ‘A great stench of shit in the air’ by Wissal Houbabi at the Milan Re-Mapped Summer Festival on 12 July, 2022 

Below we have selected some pieces from the show, introduced by short comments from the author. Wissal Houbabi speaks about her ‘physical’ need to work with words, to free herself from the disgust felt at racial injustice through poetry and political activism. Furthermore, she adds that racism is psychologically destabilizing. For example, the Italian media reproduce a racial order in which Moroccans appear as a criminal class, making those with this origin feel loathsome and despicable.

Narrative is based on physical and subtle perceptions, difficult to shake off with purely rational work. I often doubt words like freedom, equality: for me they do not exist except in theoretical form. It becomes necessary to obsess myself with every specific meaning the words have. Writing poetry, doing politics, it seems that my effort redoubles whenever I try to give meaning to what I see and hear.

Ch. 5
(…) According to the Treccani dictionary, when the term ‘merda’ (‘shit’) is used, seriously, it means: Despicable person or thing of no account or value.
Despicable, despicable means ‘Morally vile, abject; worthy of utter contempt.
So at this point we have new words: ‘worthy of absolute contempt‘.
Contempt: feeling of resolute, passionate or commiserating devaluation of people or things that are too inferior
Inferior indicates something or someone
: that is in a position below.
(…) To say, in short, ‘you are the colour of shit’ according to this very brief analysis means: having no artistic or medical competence, unconscious nutrition and a bad relationship with one’s digestion. It means the use of language, vulgar language, by those who place themselves on a higher plane (…); it means the assumption of a self-determined and self-stabilised position, de facto caging, which recognises the next person as inferior and despicable, de facto caging, because of the mere colour of one’s skin, which has no logical relevance (…).
before I am reflected in the utterance ‘you are the colour of shit’ which comes in a second moment of decomposition, it is the locutor in front of me who, by explicating this linguistic act brings out the shit he has inside, which has passed not through the digestive system, no, but through the nervous system, which leads us to new scientific discoveries, i.e., it is possible to shit from the mouth.

What I try to reconstruct sounds absurd. Just because our view is minoritized does not mean that it is not the bearer of truth. The problem is that the truth is very often simply the point of view of those who oppress us. This compromises the mental health of people who are racialized as non-white, who have to fight ‘against rationality’, a rationality that is corrupted by the same racist system that generated it.

Ch. 8
• Yet another attack against law enforcement officers in Milan, where a Moroccan hit a policeman with an iron pole
• An 84-year-old elderly man died after being attacked and beaten by a Moroccan robber who broke into his home
• A 51-year-old non-EU man of Moroccan origin, with no fixed abode, attempted to rape a woman in broad daylight in Naples
• Last night, in Via Picentia, along the SS18, a 33-year-old man of Moroccan origin was arrested for injuries and resisting a public official
• The State Police arrested a 44-year-old Moroccan citizen for robbery
• Moroccan with seven wives receives seven citizenship incomes
• Naples: he steals a smartphone from a boy, Moroccan blocked by passers-by
• Irregular Moroccan dealing heroin at Umbertino: arrested
• 19-year-old Moroccan had cocaine and money in the rented car
• Boscoreale. Aggravated theft, one year in prison for 40-year-old Moroccan man
• Sesto SG, Cc arrest Moroccan pusher with 25 grams of cocaine
• Knife robbery, 20-year-old Moroccan convicted

Some communities are stigmatized more than others, mine in particular. To say ‘Moroccan’ is synonymous with many things, here I report what are truly dangerous clichés. What does it mean to be born and raised with the thought that one’s nature is possessed by an innate instinct to do evil?  The media representation appears very consistent. Racism is indeed not random and the murder in Voghera is certainly not an isolated case.

Ch. 10
Can a councillor go to jail for a Moroccan? A Delinquent? To find so many other Moroccan delinquents in prison and not even have a gun on him? What precedent can this set?  Do we legitimize shootings and lynchings, or do we recognize that it is a fascist and unconstitutional policy? Shit overflows, how do we disguise this stench? (…)
Dialogue of a grieving woman in the city that killed her brother, testimony of a cold autumn day, 31 October 2021:
– ‘If the councillor is free, then my brother is alive’, sister Bahija repeated this sentence endlessly in an attempt to make sense to herself, in keeping herself lucidly aware. (…)
Adriatici did well…”. A citizen entering the garrison and chuckling, the police return the amused chuckle. (…). It looked so much like a provocation that we had to send down reaction impulses because the police were watching the scene amused and hoping to jump on us.
But the real, simple and only question is: #Sheriff killed Youns Boussettaoui for what?

Disgust is socially, culturally and historically produced. It is experienced in relation to Others and today in Italy it is oriented intentionally by right wing populist parties toward people like El Bousettaoui. Matteo Salvini (and his party) has continued to argue (even with ad hoc legal instruments) that ‘defence is always legitimate‘ when it comes to abject persons undermining private property. Boussettaoui’s story and Salvini’s political response are part of a long global history of racial violence that legitimises white (do-it-yourself) violence by acquitting it very often through white justice.

Disgust produces its subjects and its objects, but the objects of disgust are subjects and feel other disgust. This disgust is felt by people racialized as non-white in Italy because their lives are contaminated and endangered by the violence of racism in Italian politics and media.

Paraphrasing Du Bois who asked “how does it feel to be a problem?” as a Black North American, we can answer that in Italy today to be racialized as non-white is to feel disgusting and disgusted.

Annalisa Frisina is a sociologist working at the University of Padova, Italy. Her main research interests are in sociology of racism and migrations, from a post and decolonial perspective. For fifteen years she has been teaching qualitative and visual methods for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students at the University of Padova, Italy. The participatory video “Decolonising the City. Visual Dialogues in Padova” (made with students and Afrodescendant Italian citizens) received two Visual Research Awards in 2021, by the International Visual Sociology Association (AntiColonial & AntiRacist Award for Visual Activism) and by the Festival DocuCity/MetiCittà, University of Milan in cooperation with the Museum of cultures. It is available here: (trailer)

Wissal Houbabi, born in 1994 in Morocco (Khouribga), is an artist, performer and independent writer. Through her work, Houbabi explores various fields: from researching hip-hop feminism to writing short stories that explore the condition of diasporic culture. Poetry for her is a field for experimentation – she tries to break the meshes of linguistics and poetic language and interrogate the relationship between languages and dialects, sounds and meanings by using words as clay. Among her performances is La Muta with Vittorio Zollo. She created workshops, paths, and poetry projects with various cultural and artistic institutions, including IUAV, Mudec, and ERT. Houbabi is the author of the installation phonomuseum_rome at Museo delle Civiltà (Rome) and part of the exhibition L’Offesa on Lucia Marcucci at Arge/Kunst (Bolzano).

Annalisa Frisina and Wissal Houbabi wrote together “Che cosa significa essere una figlia di un Vu’ Cumpra’? L’intersezionalità come pratica politica e poetica antirazzista“.

Source: Alice News