I stepped into the night air from the restaurant with Clara. She lit up a cigarette almost immediately and as she exhaled a long plume of smoke said: “Okay. I’m a little bit racist.”

Eight of us, four couples comprising locals and non-locals, had finished an enjoyable meal, putting the world to rights until the topic turned to immigration. Local friends bristled at the mention of the subject and non-locals thought it best to keep their counsel.

The conversation was sparked after we were served by a smiling, young waiter of African heritage as it was noted that: “They normally work in the kitchen.”

That throwaway remark confirmed to me that our country has an undercurrent of “passive racism”. The majority are not anti-foreigners, rather they are anti dark-skinned people.

We may have made great strides forward in 20 years of EU membership, but we are way behind in our attitude towards those who have a different skin tone.

Bus drivers are abused, a politician’s throwaway remark stated our country was, “… dirty and full of Indians,” a trade union leader recounts the shoddy treatment of foreign workers while a ride hailing app now gives us the opportunity to choose a ‘Maltese speaker’ to pick us up in his or her cab in favour of a foreign driver.

Even our media outlets are guilty of making waves in the racism undercurrent by the constant reference to the native country of foreigners making the news. “A 25-year-old Nigerian man was…” Where he resides may be of interest to the public, but highlighting his country of origin just keeps that undercurrent flowing and is not in any way newsworthy.

All of this should come as no surprise. Take a look back at the survey commissioned a year ago by the University of Malta’s Faculty for Social Well-being and carried out by Sagalytics. The results were widely reported. Two standout statements are below.

Over 50% of respondents agreed that they were in some way racist and only 20% felt that immigrants make a positive contribution to our country.

Make no mistake, these are awful sentiments and require to be addressed in early education not just in schools but in the home.

If our passive racism goes unchecked we are in real danger of blaming all of our problems on others- Tom Welch

Thankfully, racist attacks are few, although likely under reported. And who can forget the brutal slaying of Lassana Cisse and the maiming of his two friends just over five years ago.

However, if our passive racism goes unchecked we are in real danger of blaming all of our problems on others and who knows where that would lead?

Respect must be shown to all people irrespective of their skin colour. It does not matter. Respect needs to be shown to all of our residents who carry out important work in our medical, transport and hospitality sectors whatever their family history.

Let us also bear in mind that everyone who works pays contributions towards the pensions of all of us… and we certainly need the contributions of foreigners as the debate about the viability of future pensions is played out in our media.

Bear in mind that in our population of close to half a million, nearly 140,000 are foreigners. Combine that with our rapidly falling birth rate and it is there for all to see. We need migrants and we will continue to do so.

I challenged my friend Carla on her original remark. She told me she had an African work colleague she liked, who had emigrated and did not respond to her emails anymore. Really, nothing to do with skin colour but that was my friend’s excuse. As to being “a little bit racist,” I asked her to let me know if she was ever a little bit pregnant.

Malta does not have an immigration issue, rather it has a racism issue. For make no mistake, if the rubber boats heading to our waters were filled with Canadians or Australians… we’d all be wading out to haul them to safety.

Tom Welch is a former UK regional newspaper publisher living on Gozo.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.