Queering populism: far-right wing women leaders, non-normative heterosexual families, and (white) national belonging in Italy.
"(...) The fable of multiculturalism eventually became just humiliation and degradation and violence against women. But how is it possible that in Italy (...) one pretends not to see the exploitation of Roma children forced to go and report their mothers because they send them to beg (...) This is racism, dear friends of the left. This is racism." Giorgia Meloni, speech of campaign rally in Rome, September 18th, 2021.
Right-wing populism, or national populism, has recently become an established field of studies, where queer theory has been hardly applied to understand how sexuality intersects with race and gender in drawing boundaries of national belonging and exclusion (Dietze 2022, Roth 2022). Critical race scholars have nevertheless systematically applied a queer lens to the study of nationalism (see Puar 2007; and Ahmed 2006, 2014). The term homonationalism was, for instance, coined to encapsulate how queer people’s investment into whiteness as a mark of respectability enabled their inclusion in the nation (Hegarty et al., 2018). Similarly, the idea of non-normative heterosexuality (Cohen 1997) was devised to highlight how queer people aligned themselves with the hetero-patriarchal normative order of the nation at the expenses of ethnic minorities, whom they have casted as inherently resistant to adopt the democratic, tolerant, and progressive values of Western nations (Ahmed 2010; and Dreher 2017). These concepts, however, can barely account for the rise of far-right populist women leaders and why they have (re) casted the ‘traditional’ family as a primary engine of national cohesion, pride, and identity.
To address this gap, this paper employs the heuristic of sexuality to study how the Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni has strategically weaponized her status of single mother to cast the ideal national family as white. It draws from settler colonial studies and Black feminist scholars’ theorization of heteronormativity as the imperative to adopt white ‘conceptions of family, home, desire, and personal identity’ (Rifkin 2011), and as a characterisation of the Black family as incapable to conform to ‘civilization’ (Spillers 1987). Using these definitions, this paper pays examines Meloni’s speeches against left-wing anti-racist stances, especially to those claims which have framed multiculturalism as a threat to both the family unit and body politics. It concludes by arguing that, by equating heteronormativity with the imperative to reproduce the ‘traditional family,’ Meloni’s brand of far-right populism has succeeded in characterizing a variety of heterosexual families as either aberrant or pathological. Since whiteness became the touchstone through which Meloni has measured racialised minority groups capacity to live up to the national ideal of Italy as inherently civilized, caring, tolerant, and even feminist, Meloni has also succeeded in rendering non-white families as fundamentally enemies of the nation.
[Sub-theme of Sex and the Nation]