There is a sentiment that racism in Malta is something very new, or that currently we are ‘only’ in the early stages of racism for people to actively take a stand against it. But racism isn’t a child going through different stages of development until it reaches maturity.
by Néhémie Bikin-kita
The events of the past few months—starting from George Floyd’s death to the growing support for Black Lives Matter and the protests which took place all over the world—have highlighted many of the injustices that Black people have been facing for years, and have sparked a global conversation on racism.
This recent spotlight on the topic has made it more socially acceptable to bring up the topic of racism in conversations and to attempt to have much needed in depth conversations about race, race relations, and racism, whose importance was downplayed and almost made a taboo subject in many contexts before. Although these conversations started in the US, countries all over the world (from the UK to Australia to South Korea to Iraq, and so many more places across the world) have been having their own versions of this conversation too—showing the pervasiveness of racism and anti-Blackness, and the importance of shining a light on these issues.
Being a small island has not spared Malta from having its own struggles with racism—therefore the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for more conversations about racism have reached Malta as well. Calling out the shortcomings in Malta in this regard often meets with defensive reactions, and thus many have questioned the need for this discussion in Malta.
There is a sentiment that racism in Malta is something very new, or that currently we are ‘only’ in the beginning stages of racism (because apparently racism has stages, from baby racism to mature, fully grown racism), or that there aren’t “enough” of those cases yet for it to be an issue to talk about or for people to actively take a stand against it.
Racism isn’t a child going through different stages of development until it reaches maturity.
Racism isn’t a child going through different stages of development until it reaches maturity. There’s no such thing as a ‘non-alarming’ stage of racism. The very presence of any racist sentiment —whether one believes it’s ‘benign’ or not—should be a cause for concern, because racism cannot be publicly expressed unless it is already strongly rooted, or has been fully internalised, in a person. Nor is there such a thing as a sudden ‘rise’ in racism. People don’t develop racist thoughts and sentiments overnight. The truth is that this ideology was there all along—it’s just that nothing had brought it to light yet or forced those beliefs to be challenged.
A report published by the ENAR from almost 10 years ago shows that racist violence was very much alive in Malta ‘even’ back then. The report (available on the Centre for Peace Studies’—one of ENAR’s member organisations—website) detailed some of the racist violence experienced, which included: verbal abuse, being chased by cars, threats written on notes which were left in the open centres, being attacked while walking (i.e. with iron rods, or bottles thrown at people), and much more.
A report published by the ENAR from almost 10 years ago shows that racist violence was very much alive in Malta “even” back then.
All these were incidents that took place between 2002-2010. Yes, some of these are from almost twenty years ago. So the racism we’re seeing today is not new. People are simply expressing those same sentiments more loudly—empowered by politicians who further fan the flame of xenophobia and racism to distract the population from their shortcomings as a government.
So when Lovin Malta releases an article about a nurse being refused entry into a club because of his skin colour, remember that a good 10+ years ago, Black people were already having bottles thrown at them to deny them entry into clubs. When we hear of two soldiers (the same ones who killed Lassana Cisse) deliberately running over ‘migrants’ (migrants written in inverted commas because this is a term that seriously needs to be deconstructed) because of their skin colour, remember that “migrants” have been targets of similar car chases for over 10 years. And when we see videos of people like Ryan Fenech saying that he would kill all ‘Blacks’ (Blacks in inverted commas because the correct way to describe humans is people, and therefore we say Black people), remember that verbal abuse and threats of violence towards Black people in Malta has been documented for 20 years.
When we see videos of people like Ryan Fenech saying that he would kill all “Blacks”, remember that verbal abuse and threats of violence towards Black people in Malta has been documented for 20 years.
And that is precisely why it is high time that we talk about racism in Malta. This is not a ‘new’ issue. And it is not in its ‘early stages’, it is not something that’s being ‘blown out of proportion’, it is not just ‘isolated incidents’ or a few ‘bad apples’.
Not when people are murdered because of their skin colour and yet the perpetrators get to walk out free on bail (with the AFM assuring us that there is no racism whatsoever in their ranks…in a report which none of us have gotten to see) while ‘migrants’ who protest because of the horrible conditions they have to live in are thrown in jail on basically the very same day, are denied bail, and are brought to court tied to one another in groups (in a manner drawing parrallels with slaves being brought to Europe and the US chained to one another during the transatlantic slave trade).
Not when a not-so-negligible part of the Maltese population supports a man who made racist statements and when a fundraiser is created to help him get out of a charge for hate speech, which—for those who need a reminder—is a criminal offense according to Maltese law [see: Articles 82A-82D of the Maltese Criminal Code] (also—please note the irony of people condemning ‘migrants’ for supposedly being prone to breaking the law while they themselves pick and choose which laws apply to them).
We need to talk about racism because people of colour are continually exposed to racism (in all its forms) in Malta, too.
We need to talk about racism because people of colour are continuously exposed to racism (in all its forms) in Malta, too. Because too many people conflate patriotism with racism and xenophobia, or mask their racism under the guise of ‘protecting their country’. Because too many people in Malta hold racist views and are comfortable with voicing them, knowing that they have the support of many others who think like them. Because people think that racism is only racism when it’s ‘violent’—meaning physically violent, as if emotional and verbal abuse is not violence too, as if telling people to go drown in the sea is not brutal, as if denying people basic rights (to access housing, to be able to walk in peace, to be paid properly) is not violent also.
I have seen many people asking for Malta to have a ‘real conversation’ about immigration and integration (two words whose meaning needs to be unpacked—who do we mean when we say immigrants? What do we mean by the word ‘integration’?).
I would suggest that while having those conversations, we also have a ‘real’ conversation about racism in Malta. A conversation that is not led by ignorance, fear mongering, false information, denial and/or deflection. A conversation that is not there solely to let those with racist and xenophobic views air their thoughts and feel validated in holding those views, but one that actually properly and critically examines how people of colour are being treated in this country and concrete ways in which to address this. Psychology has shown us how important and effective talking is.
Let’s stop giving ourselves excuses to avoid the topic, and start talking more about racism in Malta.