The tag-line chosen by Commission for the Promotion of Equality to promote an EU anti-discrimination programme really says it all.
"We're not racist, but..."
Never has one three-letter word been imbued with so much hidden meaning. Few are those Maltese who actually think of themselves as outright racists. Indeed, to show our European neighbours that diversity is our middle name, we often feel the need to proclaim loudly that we certainly "are not racist" and heavens forbid that anyone should taint us with such a noxious brush.
Such proclamations usually precede an equally loud (and indignant) follow-up that proves just how intolerant we have become, particularly when faced with the prospect of sharing breathing space with people whose provenance is not Northern enough for our tastes.
Ah, the infamous "but". The Commission really hit the nail on the head with this word. This is the same "but" that leads us to resort to baffling pronouncements like the following, all of which I have heard fellow Maltese utter with a straight face.
"Not that I'm racist, but property value in my neighbourhood will go down if they (!) move in."
"I'm not racist, but I don't want my daughter to be exposed to such a different culture at school. It will confuse her."
"I'm not racist but then again I don't want them to impose their religion on us."
I've heard all these "I'm not racist" remarks first hand, more than once and even from quarters I'd have expected to be more enlightened. The general feeling of "us vs them" has become almost scary and I have now ceased to be surprised by the onslaught of irate comments that I receive both online and via email whenever I dare bring up this issue on my blog.
Which happens pretty often, because I can't stand to see the (self-proclaimed) most generous nation in the world behaving like rabid xenophobes without saying anything.
However, despite collectively acting like spoilt and insecure teens competing for the bounties of Mother Earth, I do believe that if we dig deeper we are, indeed, not as racist as we like to appear.
On a political level (and I use the word "political" in its broader meaning as opposed to the petty meaning we usually assign to it here) we are very fast with our anti-immigration slogans. And with our exhortations for the authorities to send immigrants back to their countries pronto.
But in my experience all this theoretical conviction disappears very fast when we come in close contact with the human reality of the situation.
What I'm trying to say is that many are those who will rush forth with the "send them back" comments without stopping to think about the implications. Just have a look at the comments under the story about the latest batch of immigrants that landed in Golden Bay last night; it's enough to make you despair.
However, few are those who would actually back their statements with actions were they to come face to face with the subjects of their condemnation and were they to witness, first-hand, the suffering that these people face on a daily basis. In many cases, all that is needed to penetrate the armour of racism that we have built around us is to dig deeper into the human stories behind the dry facts, figures and statistics.
So let's all dig a bit deeper and cut out all this "us and them" nonsense, shall we?