I still can’t understand why I keep reading comments on the online version of the Times, especially on anything regarding black people. Some really nasty people seem to have made it a goal to repeat ad nauseum racist comments. They want to show clearly that they DO NOT, ABSOLUTELY NOT and repeat many times daily that they DEFINITELY DO NOT want A SINGLE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT in Malta (which for them is the equivalent to black people). They emphasise their point by typing such words every time in capital letters (since it is not possible to use bold and underline).
Now, these do not show that the majority of the Maltese people are heartless and racist. A look at the names gives a clear indication that about seven to nine people are responsible for these disgusting comments (two people, someone who signs in as l galea and another as Louise Vella astonish me to their serious commitment to the cause, coupled with their obsessive repetition of some words and phrases). I try to remind myself not to take these people (whom I imagine, suffer from deep solitude and boredom) seriously. However I was in a negative mood wasting my time reading this crap when I received an email from an old friend I hadn’t heard from for quite some time.
He’s French and was in Malta a couple of years ago working with youths on a non-profit EU project. A very friendly, charismatic person, respected by everyone who knew him, especially the youths he was working with. He also happens to be black, which is not that much of a coincidence since both his parents are black. Unlike what many Maltese people assumed, he is neither a legal or illegal migrant but a French citizen son of two French citizens spending a year in Malta as a volunteer.
We used to hang around a lot together while he was here, even went abroad in a seminar in Turkey together. He was the only black guy in a group of forty, but not a single person in the group bothered about that. We even cracked ‘racist’ jokes (such as smile when you’re in the dark so that we can see you) which he took with good humour since it was obvious there was no malicious intent.
He was only the only black person on the plane when we came back which didn’t seem to bother anyone aboard. However it mattered a lot to customs officials. Only some three or four people were searched at the Maltese airport. He was one of them. A coincidence? Maybe. What definitely was not a coincidence was the fact that while the others where just frisked and officers took a peek into their bags, my friend’s search took a whole hour. When he was ready he told us he was Ok but the expression on his face showed otherwise. Every single item in his bag was carefully inspected, while he was subject to an intensive and humiliating strip search, with a special emphasis on body cavities. The way he was talked to was a quasi-interrogation, and when it was clear that there wasn’t the slightest illegal thing about him, he was told he could go, no apologies whatsoever.
He still had a long time to spend in Malta, during which we enjoyed other social occasions together. Once again, most people never bothered about his skin colour. Yet he still left pre-maturely (after nine months) and the reason was the racist attitude of certain people such as bus drivers, people on the bus, together with a couple of passer bys who slowed their car to send their we-don’t-want-you-here message.
Seeing things from my (white Maltese) perspective, it is obvious that these not so pleasant people are a minority. From a thousand cars passing by, only one or two would pass such comments, only a couple of bus drivers did not stop on the stage as was their job (and, jokes apart, they had definitely seen him). However, if I put myself in his position, I’d have seen things differently. It is not the 999 cars who just went by that you notice, but the one that stopped so that the people inside can offend you, if you get my point.
Replying to his email I felt like sending an apology. But why should I? What am I to blame that some losers who happen to share my skin colour turned nasty? Or for a couple of artists who far from skateboarder style graffiti art paining, vandalise walls and billboards with misspelt racist comments (no blaks) and swastikas.
I owe him no apology. I’ve been a good friend. Yet I had to write this blog, mainly to ‘clean myself’ from the guilt I sometimes feel, which honestly I do not deserve.