The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Are we racist?

Charles Flores Sunday, 8 September 2019, 10:34 Last update: about 14 days ago

Given the sad events of the past decade or so, during which Malta has had to cope with the non-stop influx of illegal immigrants and refugees, there is every reason to believe that a huge chunk if not a majority of the Maltese population is racist. How and why is difficult to explain, more so since not only have we been a foremost migrating nation ourselves but because, even physically, we are after all such a mixed breed of human beings, as is characteristic of all peoples in the Mediterranean region.

The fulcrum was reached when military-trained men had to be taken to court accused of shooting and killing an innocent immigrant and injuring another as they walked down a countryside lane. The chilling story is starkly unfolding inside the halls of justice and one needs to tread prudently here, but even the very legal question-and-answer exchange taking place leaves one confounded and perplexed. How could anyone in his right mind think of such prejudices and views, particularly in a so-called Christian country where we have been brought up to believe that all men and women are born equal, irrespective of their skin colour, race, language, religion and perceived social status.

It is glaringly obvious how reaction to foreigners among us fluctuates. Dark-skinned individuals quietly going about their business in construction, waste-collection, inside factories and IT establishments seem to cause more irrational behaviour among many Maltese than the white Eastern Europeans plastering our walls with indecipherable graffiti. EU citizens from across the water to the North also seem to be OK by our acceptance standards.

The racist vein has been featuring among us much longer than we can realise. It is in the language itself that one can still find traces of it. For example, the standard reaction of someone who feels denied of something, even if it’s just a plea for attention within a group of friends, is: “Mela jien iswed” (crudely translated – “I am not black”). Everything that is assumed wrong – devils, rebelling angels and even Ottomans in our history books – is depicted in black.

As a budding teenager, I remember a particular incident at Kalkara during the annual festa. Anchored in Grand Harbour at that time in the mid-1960s was a US warship, with members of its crew ordered to go ashore to help clean up the mess the ship had caused by an oil spillage marring the festa environment. The gesture was much appreciated by the populace until, suddenly, there was an uproar when three black American crewmen tried to have a go at a decorative column on which rested a statue of Victorious Malta, a common allusion in many festive villages and towns to the Great Siege of 1565.

It transpired that the US sailors had objected to the three black-skinned Turks at the foot of the column, no doubt taking offence at its depiction of submission. The Shore Patrol happily intervened in time before the sailors and the locals got entangled in unnecessary turmoil but it showed how racism can be perceived from different angles.

To stick to my Kalkara analogy, such perception was blatant at the time most of my fellow street kids, now desperate job-seeking adults, were contemplating emigrating to Australia or Canada. I distinctly remember three or four of them who were denied the chance to start a new life in Australia on the grounds, wait for it, of their being rather dark-skinned! It was the White Australia Policy at its most vile, but the moral of the story is, of course, that we should know how it feels when we act like we do 20 years into the 21st century.

Remember the Mission Fund magazines (the only junk mail one received in those bygone days) displaying painful colour pictures of bizarre-bellied, sad-eyed black children, their heads swathed in flies, somewhere in Africa and India as part of the money collection campaign to help provide food, build chapels and hospitals? And the Mission’s appeals for Maltese families to adopt African and Asian boys and girls, which many happily did? We all have memories of our parents contributing to the Mission Fund, even when their own income was hardly anything to go by. Many still do, and rightly so.

Somehow, however, it seems soul-soothingly convenient to donate hard-earned money to black and dark-skinned people in a distant land, but when it comes to giving them next-door shelter and security, away from their troubled homelands, the attitude as we witness everyday instantly changes. How can one reconcile all this? I dare call it innate, misled racism, but prove me wrong. I want you to.

 

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Timely action

I will not seek to take any credit for having probably been the first only a couple of weeks ago in this very same space to call for action on the issue of e-scooters on our roads, but it is good to know that the authorities have taken the initiative of regulating them before some nasty accidents start happening. The launching of a public consultation on these regulations is part of the timely action required and contrasting views have already been doing the rounds in our media.

While, admittedly, it is important to promote the concept of modality and the use of alternative and sustainable means of transport in a car-infested island, the next step once the consultation process is over is to assert law enforcement. Rules and regulations mean nothing without adequate and efficient monitoring by the Police, traffic wardens and local council officials.

In the UK alone, 1,600 incidents involving e-scooters, hoverboards and segways have been reported since 2018. In Vienna, there have been more than 200 accidents since the introduction of the e-scooter last October. The Spanish authorities were even more drastic: they banned them after a 90-year-old pedestrian was killed when he was hit by one.

It is why there is a growing global backlash as the authorities everywhere grapple with the issue of – pun galore for those who enjoy it – how to put the breaks on a mobile trend that is rapidly wheeling out of control.

E-scooterists are already an everyday feature on pavements and pedestrian zones in places like the Sliema waterfront right up to St Julians and other spots popular with the young both local and foreign. I have personally seen them whoosh past people and going the wrong-way up and down  the narrow streets, their noiseless traverse shocking pedestrians trying to navigate past parked cars, urinating dogs on extending leashes and stinking waste bags.

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