When we speak about the issue racism, many people automatically link it with the issue of migration from Africa and Asia. No, it rarely is a question of legality and documents since it is only Arabs and black people that are targeted. In fact, as I had written in another blog, when a black student who was a French citizen left Malta prematurely because of racism, he was many times called an illegal immigrant or “Klandestin”. In fact, for some, the word illegal immigrant is synonymous with being black or Arabic.

What many fail to see is the fact that racism is an issue in itself, irrespective of one’s views on immigration. The issue has many aspects, but what I will focus on here is the emotional one. Racism hurts.

Lately, I had a conversation with a Somali who is still deluded that the American Dream is true. His naivety, honesty and above all the emotional pain in his eyes touched me deeply. “When I go to America, it will be different. There isn’t black or white there, they love you for who you are. Some people are good here but others think I am a criminal, even though they do not know me. And I’m not a criminal. I’m a good man”

I’m talking about a person who has a legal job and refugee status. Whether the Maltese government pays the Ghaddafi regime extortion money to keep African immigrants from coming into Europe is not the issue for him. Neither are rules and regulations on who can work legally or not. “My boss is a good man” he asserted (while we hear of many cases of exploitation of immigrants, this is not the first time I heard praise for their employers. I think it’s very unfair to put people in the same basket and this includes businessmen employing migrants).

My Somali friend’s main issue isn’t legal but emotional. Like that of many others. Many talk about being refused from entering nightclubs or other places of entertainment. It might tempt someone to ask “what’s the big deal”. It is a big deal, not because the individual isn’t going to cope without going to that nightclub, but because of the message it gives.

Another situation I sometimes encounter is seeing black people sitting in a bus and an empty seat besides them, while the bus is nearly full and people are standing. While I personally benefit from such a thing (remain standing, idiot, I’ll take the place) I can also imagine the personal pain inflicted on a clean person who sees people standing up rather than sit beside him, and the reason why is obvious.

In fact it is on public buses that I’ve seen the most overt cases of racism. Sometimes, buses do not stop when on a bus stop there are only black people. On one particular case, a bus driver was verbally aggressive towards a black woman because she gave him €0.50 and expected the €0.03 change for a €0.47 bus fare. Rather than doing what he should have done (give her the change) the driver started offending the woman “mhux bizzejjed qed nitmawkhom u nlibbsukom Haqq al Madonna, xiż-żobb trid aktar. Ha hudhom it-3 cents u mur hudu foxx il-liba razztek” The humiliation could be seen clearly on the lady’s face as she refused the change with as much dignity as she could muster and found a place.

Needless to say, people who commit such racist harassment do not represent the Maltese people. For example on the last mentioned episode I heard people whisper dissent for the driver, which could also be seen in their facial expressions, while a kind lady told the victim “poggi hawn sinjura u taghtix kasu”. Yet, aside from the bad reputation such people give to our country, many do not seem to realize the emotional pain these incidents inflict.

I am glad to be part of the Campaign Against Racism. I have met many Maltese people who show complete disagreement with racism and judge a person on what s/he really is rather than on the color of his/her skin. We will be focusing on many aspects and I find it vitally important that the emotional aspect – possibly the most painful and destructive – is not left out.

P.S While I’m not sure if I’m in accordance with laws on blasphemy and obscentiy I quoted the driver’s harassment word for word. To be honest, I don’t really care, when in reality such blatant abuse is being done in broad daylight and no one ever gets prosecuted.