The threats against Kyenge are real. She arrived at the Foreign Press Association with a phalanx of bodyguards, two of whom flanked the dais where Kyenge spoke, talking into their shirt cuffs and sending signals to two other colleagues at the back of the room.

Asked about the unusually high security detail, Kyenge noted that all ministers have bodyguards. “But it’s clear that for me, because of the threats I have received, there’s a greater attention on protection.”

This weekend, Kyenge will give the opening address to a multicultural festival in the northern region of Veneto, the political home base of the Northern League. Far-right groups are planning a protest. Isabella Zuliani, vice mayor of the town hosting the event, told newspaper Il Gazzettino that police have already been informed about a new round of Internet death threats directed at Kyenge, including one that exhorted simply: “Kill her.”

“Racist episodes exist, but you can’t say that a country is racist because there are certain episodes in the territory,” Kyenge said.

That said, Kyenge appeared more ready to acknowledge such “racist episodes” than in her first meeting with the media, soon after she was nominated. Then, she said Italy’s problem wasn’t so much racism as ignorance of “the other.”

After two months of taunts directed against her, Kyenge said, “Maybe what is missing in Italy is a culture of immigration: We have to try to know, understand the ‘other,’ and that diversity is a richness.

“As soon as we understand that, we can evaluate whether Italy is racist,” she added.

Follow Nicole Winfield at

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