Racism - Noel Agius

Zminijietna Harga Lulju – Settembru 2007


Racism has really come to the fore in Malta since the mass arrival of African immigrants in the last few years. The racism that we knew existed only from dry social surveys has become visible to even the most detached hermit.

The formation of extreme right wing and populist movements (whose list of hates goes way beyond people of colour) on one end to a general everyday public discourse about the “Blacks” and what they would like to do with them are now sadly common place.

Many are still in denial about the whole racism issue saying that they are not racist and that they just fear for their job, or even more abstractly, their “culture.”

However, a look back in history as well as the occasional survey tells us clearly that the whole racism and xenophobia problem did not start with the arrival of the boat people from Africa. History has shaped Malta into an island of “us” and “them.” Crusading Christians, Turks, Napoleon, Protestants are a few keywords that remind all the very exclusive nature Malta has on its people. As groups like the Knights are heroes, while the Turks are simply villains. The “us” are the good guys; the others, the them, if not downright “bad” are at least to be looked upon with suspicion.

Despite the very heterogeneous ethnic, linguistic and even religious DNA of these islands, people tend to see things as us and “ta barra.” Blacks, especially African Blacks with their history of slavery, colonialism and exploitation by the rich world of Europe have become easy scapegoat. For many they look and act too differently from us to be acceptable. At least Northern Europeans bring money.

That racism exists in other countries, with a worrying rising trend in East Europe does not let Malta off the hook. Every country has the responsibility to act. Now, besides the immorality of racism that sections of the Church and a few NGOs, like Graffitti have bravely drawn attention to, we see scant little else to combat. The Left is where one would expect something. But what Left?

Hate literature abounds on the internet, and even in the popular press. These are crimes which would be put down in Europe and other liberal democracies. There is a limit to so called “free speech.” The state meanwhile has not produced a clear immigration policy, let alone and anti racism campaign. Any campaigns and policies must be based on logic, not just ethics and morality.  Racism, going on unchecked, means the country faces very serious consequences that may turn into vigilantism and mass hysteria similar to the American south of past. This will not only making living here very precarious for all, but would damage Malta’s international reputation.


One obvious place to start to diffuse is the area about immigrants (specially African) and jobs. I write this as it sounds like the most rational and “not about race,” issue. A look at the statistics showing which foreigners are working in Malta will illustrate that the great majority are from rich Western countries and Eastern Europe. Go back ten years and you’ll note the demographics are very similar. There was not a big outcry about these employees years ago, even  though many did and still do more prestigious jobs than most Maltese. On the other hand, those African boat people (remember many are in detention anyway) that work (almost all without official papers) are far more visible (or invisible) working in the worst jobs, under the worst conditions for very little money. These are jobs that most Maltese would not dare take, especially for little pay. If anything these immigrants are doing jobs that never existed while at the same time spending what little they have on everyday needs. Of course a better situation for all would be for their jobs to be regularized abiding to standards of health, safety and pay, while contributing to National Insurance. For this to happen though, they must be accepted into the mainstream.

The irony is that as everyone says, regardless of political opinion, that they want the economy to grow, Malta will have to welcome immigrants to work in all sorts of jobs-high and low. If and when Malta reaches high economic level foreign workers will be required to keep the standard of living high. The Trade Union Council of the UK recognizes this in its country and has publicly stated that immigration is needed to boast the economy.

In a similar vein, Iceland with its 300 000 people has had to bring in thousands of immigrants the last few years because their unemployment level has shrunk to an enviable one percent. Simply put, there are economic areas where there is no one to work. Malta is not there obviously; but in some areas of the economy there are shortages. Anyway, to get back to the earlier point, we can dream of the day we really see full employment.

And if we want our  Maltese citizens, men and women, light and dark, those with Semitc, Anglo-Irish, Latin and other surnames-like our underrated football team -to be educated and have good jobs we would need others to do other work. (sometimes even top jobs).

Having a more openly multicultural society in the future is a reality, we must deal with it. It must be accepted that the population make up may be quite different in the future. Its up to the country in all its facets to make this acceptance a smooth reality which can enrich Malta, culturally and economically.

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