Racism in Malta cannot be dissociated from economic policy and two decades of racialized political rhetoric around ethnicity, nation and belonging that fueled murderous asylum policies, labor practices abuses, human rights violations, grotesque racist attacks and, ultimately, the brutal murder of Lassana Cissé.
Racial injustice and xenophobia are rife in Malta, affecting the lives of thousands of people, a source of unspeakable suffering that hinders the potential of too many children and young people in particular. Racism is not limited to the beliefs and actions of individuals. On the contrary, it is systemic and institutionalized.
In May 2020, the government pledged to change the situation by launching a consultation process to inform Malta’s first national action plan against racism and xenophobia. The result of these efforts, the Anti-Racism Strategy, has just been announced and will be presented to stakeholders in the coming days. This can be a powerful tool in setting a clear agenda to tackle racial inequalities and xenophobia in Malta. It has the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives and for this reason it cannot and should not be an exercise in rhetoric and empty political games.
Systemic racism in Malta maintains differentiated access to services and opportunities, breeds poverty and affects the quality of life and well-being of individuals, families and children of color and ethnic minority groups. Discrimination has a direct impact on access to affordable and decent housing, adequate health care, education, and meaningful learning and employment opportunities to ensure a decent and equitable income, while influencing also interactions with the police and the criminal justice system.
Racism is produced and sustained by deeply ingrained norms, policies and practices in our institutions, reproducing inequalities between different racial and ethnic groups. To be clear, institutions that have a duty to protect are a source of violence, neglect and abuse, perpetuating the idea that black lives don’t matter, or as much, anyway.
A meaningful and honest anti-racist strategy must recognize this reality. It must commit to dismantling existing racist structures and investing in policies, practices and procedures designed to combat xenophobia and ensure racial equality and justice. It cannot be a symbolic exercise to collect a few Facebook likes and “sexy” photo ops.
It is not enough to express shock in response to racist attacks or simply to condemn discrimination against blacks, people of color, and minority ethnic and religious groups. It is time to take an active anti-racist stance and embark on a strategy that confronts racism wherever it escalates, within and across Maltese society and institutions. This includes education, police, armed forces, parliament, criminal justice system, media, sports, entertainment, and other structures.
The strategy should provide policy makers, service providers and frontline workers with clear guidance on this set of renewed national priorities. This should be reflected in a wide range of measures establishing coordinated and complementary actions, as well as integrated mechanisms for effecting institutional and systemic changes and recording and evaluating progress.
Racial injustice and xenophobia are rife in Malta– Maria Pisani
It should also provide groups affected by racism and xenophobia, as well as social partners and NGOs, with effective mechanisms to engage in ongoing dialogue, aimed at supporting implementation and holding government and national institutions to account. .
The plan must recognize and respond to the intersection of racism and xenophobia with other forms of discrimination, including, but not limited to, gender, age, creed, language, nationality, sexual orientation and legal status.
While discrimination is experienced by many Maltese migrants and ethnic and racial minorities, certain groups, in particular black asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection, remain victims of ongoing hostility, violence and segregation (detention, profiling racial and policing immediately come to mind here).
Effective implementation of the strategy and lasting change requires honesty, political will and long-term investment. This requires human resources, capacity building and adequate funding for measures and initiatives.
While the anti-racism strategy is the government’s primary responsibility, it cannot do it alone. Parliament has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that the plan is recognized as an essential tool for improving the human rights situation, strengthening democracy and enriching well-being in Malta. The plan must represent a long-term commitment that endures as governments change, requiring strong commitment from politicians and politicians as a whole.
Malta is a multiracial and multicultural nation. It is not a statement of ideological position but a simple statement of fact. The pulse of the nation depends on the contribution of migrants to key public sectors, the economy and cultural life. These people belong to an evolving community that has taken up residence in Malta.
Young Maltese of color and ethnic minority origin stir the racial consciousness of society while shamelessly taking a political position. They are “Maltin bħalek” (Maltese like you), who renegotiate the notions of Maltese and of belonging. It is time for blacks, people of color and ethnic minority groups to lead and inform the race relations debate in Malta.
But they shouldn’t have to fight for racial equality alone. Tackling the scourge of racism and xenophobia requires the commitment of allies to listen, to take their individual responsibilities, to reflect and to control their own beliefs, prejudices and behaviors. It requires allies to remain vigilant, alert to micro-aggressions, to confront racial injustice, discrimination and hatred, to be staunch defenders, to hold individuals and institutions to account. , that they be active in their solidarity with black lives.
On a personal note, I wait to learn the finer details of anti-racism strategy with a mixture of dread and hope. The past 20 years have been marked by inexcusable violence and a collective failure to tackle institutional racism in Malta. This is an opportunity for the government, and for all of us interested in making Malta a better home, to learn from the past and do better. Make it worth it.
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