The Malta Independent 27 January 2022, Thursday

Racism in Malta – a moral duty to take seriously

Pierre Mallia Sunday, 21 November 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Racism in Malta - a moral duty to take seriously

We have all been shocked the last days by the employer who let an injured foreigner on the pavement. Racism does indeed run deep in this country and is reflected even in political circles. Multiculturalism seems anathema to these groups and indeed fascist - a kind of nationalism which not only is outdated but has proved to lead to mass killing and genocide (as Nazism and fascism are the same thing under different guises) and unfortunately have also lured religious organisations into their realm from Christian to Catholic to Muslim (yes, Hitler had direct contact with some Muslim leaders on the issue of the Jews as related in one of the biographies of Pope Pius XII, who unfortunately was also a victim of things he did not do - other than try to preserve the peace and save more Jews than the Allied forces did).

Back to Malta... A nurse from another country came to my office this week. She is a nice person, has been living here quite some time and is a very religious person as well. She has fitted into the local neighbourhood very well and does not isolate herself. Yet, working in the hospital, has at times been a nightmare. What is it about us Maltese? I always remember being told as a child that the Maltese were always seen as very nice and welcoming people to foreigners. It is also in the New Testament. What has happened?! The reality is we always held grudges. I remember a now defunct term (hopefully politically incorrect by now) which I used to hear - Haqq ghat-Torok - a remnant of course of people coming here to sell helwa tat-Tork, and not, as many believe, of the 550-year-old great siege.

Being black, this person finds it hard to deal with the character of many. They come from different cultures. She related a horrible story, after prompting, that a colleague told her that she (my client) had an argument with another and that other suffered harm a couple of days later, implying of course that she put some sort of curse on her. What have we come to? In hospital, of all places?! She went into a room, cried and tried to recollect herself. This was some time ago. Since then people try to ignore her. Thank God she finds solace in finding meaning in her work and patients. I encouraged her to continue to be good and nice to everyone, including colleagues, and not to allow her happiness and well-being to depend on how people treat her. Of course, this is easier said than done and it takes time, an ascetic, as it were. Using suffering as a springboard to love others notwithstanding is an ideal many Catholic people try to reach - it is prayer, as we are told by the Saint - in action. True prayer. And yet.... We treat other people in this way.

Now loving others does not mean not reporting people who act in a racist way, especially if they, not only do not apologise, but continue to perpetuate a myth around the person. It may lead the unfortunate individual to resign. Bad treatment can only make things worse, if one wants to be utilitarian; one cannot speak of "principles" to these people who say such things, even if they think they are good people. And if they are good and made a mistake they should own up and at least apologise. But I do not think that someone who arrives to the point of saying such a thing to a foreigner has been training the act of love, nor respect for that matter. The small light inside these people needs some oxygen.

I told her not to hesitate to report such an incident if it had to occur. But the problem is that I wonder what action will be taken other than sending for the perpetrator and giving him/her a small warning. Racism is cause for dismissal, no matter how much we need nurses (if it was a nurse, for I did not inquire). Such behaviour is not only intolerable but it does not help a hospital environment where people ought to find meaning in their life by helping others. One ought not to see the poop but see the vulnerable person who has to go, at the end of his or her life, to have his/her nappy changed. If one does not find meaning in the activity of their work, then they either need a rest or should reflect seriously if they are going to work simply for the money. If it is the latter, then the hospital is not their place!

We all have our faults. I am not trying to blame people. But certainly, racism has to be condemned in all its forms. We can do physical harm and emotional harm. How often do we have to hear or see on Facebook incidents where black people are treated unfairly? Beside the unfortunate guy left on the side walk, a few weeks earlier we all saw on Facebook how another African was beaten and shoved into the sea at Mgarr Harbour. We are told the police made questions. But what has really happened? They may get a fine or a warning. Racism ought to have harsher terms or else we should not be receiving these people here, if we are unable to control the people who say in their heart of hearts, "yes, why allow them to come in". They are simple angry and foolish. They find no value other in that which benefits them.


Pierre Mallia is Professor of Family Medicine and Patients' Rights and teaches University of Malta. He chairs the Bioethics Research Programme of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. He also chairs the Bioethics Consultative Committee.

This article is his personal opinion and does not represent the opinion of any committee or Board he serves on.

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