This article first appeared on Malta Today
I was having my car washed the other day at the Pama shopping village and as I was waiting I saw before me a microcosm of the multi-cultural Malta of today.
The young Maltese teenager helping his Dad wash cars exchanged smiles and friendly “how’s it going?” greetings with an African man who (presumably) works somewhere at this shopping mall. Then, a Maltese man in a rubbish truck drove up to empty the skip, with a young teenager (from his complexion he seemed to be East European) hanging from the back. They worked together in congenial silence to dispose of the rubbish.
It all happened in a matter of a minute, but the way it unfolded it was almost like one of those feel good Hallmark commercials of how it is possible for all of us to get along, despite our cultural differences.
As it turned out the feel good moment was short-lived. Not long after I got home I read about a driver “going nuts” at the very same shopping mall, damaging lots of cars in the process. Some of the comments underneath the story automatically started attributing the man’s behaviour to the fact that our island is too packed to the brim with ‘foreigners’. Eventually it turned out that he was an elderly Maltese man who had confused the gears on his automatic car.
Now before you take to your keyboard to furiously call me a “libtard” which seems to be a favourite insult these days, I realise that the reality of what it means to live on already crowded island which has seen a dramatic influx of peoples from all over the world, of every ethnicity, race and culture, is not the rosy picture which I described in the first scene, but more akin to the underlying sentiment triggered by the second scene. I am no Pollyanna, naively believing that you can just snap your fingers and people will accept multiculturalism; generally speaking human beings are averse to change, and would much prefer to remain cocooned in their comfort zone where everything is familiar and there are no sudden shocks to their system. The truth is that the sheer speed of the changes within Maltese society has led to some very negative repercussions. Racism, sometimes in your face and sometimes subtle, has grown. Intolerance, impatience and resentment towards ‘the foreigner’ have likewise increased.
It doesn’t help matters that lately, many of the crimes, ranging from petty to violent, involve strangers who whether by accident or design, ended up in this country. Obviously they need to be reported, but sometimes the race of the perpetrator is given the most prominence, becoming the headline in the story (especially if they are Africans or Arabs) leading to such a stream of invectives from people of all political persuasions that many news portals have taken to switching off the commentary function. Do we really need to add more fuel to an already simmering fire?
As the anger grows, it also doesn’t help matters that people who are not Maltese are treated differently by the authorities. It has often been pointed out that court sentences tend to be harsher if the person in the dock is not a Maltese national. On the other hand, I do agree with Court decisions to deport those who are perpetual trouble-makers because our jails are full and there needs to be some kind of deterrent to admonish those who are guests in our country that there are grave consequences to breaking the law. But the recent police clampdown in Marsa to check if the immigrants there had the necessary identity documents would not have seemed so glaring if we had seen similar behaviour towards other immigrants, who are Caucasian, being asked to show that they are here legally.
Incidentally, describing someone as black is not racist, but a state of fact, so please let us not get too tangled up in trivial, meaningless, political correctness which has us all tangled up in knots. On the other hand, speaking disparagingly or treating others differently purely because of their race or skin colour is definitely racist – a case in point is when witnesses speaking to the media said that the driver and passengers who tried to run over police officers in Marsa were obviously drunk. There is nothing wrong with pointing this out, but would the same (presumably Maltese) witnesses have been so quick to talk to the media if the drunk driver had been Maltese? My hunch is no. There have been several bad accidents involving Maltese drivers since that incident, but nowhere in the news report did “sources at the scene” come forward to voluntarily speak to the media about whether the crash was caused by drunk driving. These are the crucial differences which indicate whether we perceive others differently simply based on the country where they were born.
Is a rapist who is Maltese any less despicable than if the man had to be African? Or is the rape in our eyes that much worse precisely due to the man’s African origins because he “dared” to touch a Maltese girl (for example).
I believe the force of the law should be applied equally to everyone, no matter what, as should working and living conditions. And if we are happy to have Africans, Arabs and East Europeans doing our most menial jobs because no Maltese wants to do them – whether it is collecting our rubbish, doing construction work or waiting on tables, and if we are happy to charge them exorbitant rates simply to rent a room, then it is pretty hypocritical of us to then speak so scathingly of ‘foreigners’ when it suits our purpose.