Martha Attard was packing up after a fun evening at a farmhouse when her brother called her in a rush: “Mar, I just opened Facebook, what the hell is this guy saying about you?”
Martha opened her socials and stared at all the comments in surprise. Her brother spent an hour with her going through them, and her sister called her, trying to make her feel better too.
Someone had said that Martha, a Maltese model, shouldn’t represent Malta at the Miss World 2020 competition, saying she wasn’t “Maltese breed”.
“It wasn’t the worst comment I’ve ever received, but it still hurt me,” Martha told Lovin Malta.
Having just finished Junior College recently and continuing her studies to become a manager in the hospitality industry, the 16-year-old girl can’t say she is surprised by the overt, open racism against her on Facebook.
Adopted from Ethiopia when she was just three-months-old by Maltese parents, her family then moved to Belgium when she was seven due to her father’s job. She picked up the flute there and learnt about the world, living and studying in a multicultural society.
“When I was in Belgium I didn’t encounter much racism, I was in a mixed school and I had people from all over Europe in my class,” Martha recounts. “But when we came to Malta, the amount of racism I began to encounter on a day-to-day basis was shocking.”
In Malta, she found herself without any local role models to look up to. At the time, her cousin was modelling with modelling manager Sue Rossi, and her family began urging her to model herself.
“I thought it might be a good idea to boost my self-esteem,” Martha said. “Plus, it would be a good platform for me to show that it’s not only white males and females that can participate in the modelling industry in Malta but dark-skinned models too.”
She’s been working on her routine, training and self-care – but she could never have imagined how she’d be catapulted into the limelight like this.
Incredibly, even though the original comment made against Martha had attempted to damage her campaign, it backfired, gathering her more support and votes than ever before.
“It was quite the experience,” she laughs nervously. “It has been a while since I paid attention to comments like that… it is always those little ones that bring me down though…” she breaks off suddenly.
“People tell me to ignore those words, and I know it comes from a place of ignorance, and racism should even be a thing in 2020 – but it still hit home.”
However, she was so grateful for all the people who didn’t know her yet still stood up for her on social media.
“It was really sweet, it made me happy to know I had this much support behind me, I would never have imagined… I knew if I was dark-skinned I might get a little hate but with yesterday’s reactions I’m really happy… thank you, it’s your support and love that keeps me going.”
“I didn’t have many Maltese role models before, but social media has changed… and hearing all of this would have helped me back in 2016. So I can only hope this incident helps people in a similar situation to mine.”
Martha recounted some of the other abusive phrases that have been thrown at her
“I’ve been called maħruqa, or that they left me in the oven for too long,” she said.
“When we came back from Belgium, and my Maltese wasn’t good at all, people would tell me: ‘you’re not Maltese, go back to your country’ or ‘you’re in Malta here hij, speak Maltese’… they were all stupid, but I was what, 13?”
In light of the initial hate and subsequent torrent of support, Martha is more determined than ever to be voted in as Miss Malta and represent the island at Miss World.
“Now, I want to prove that guy wrong – whatever I do now, I am doing to kick him in the derriere, proving him wrong – his comment was useless, if he felt that way, he should have just not voted,” she said.
“Your comments made me stronger, I know I have a strong character, and no matter how much hate you give me I won’t break down, I’ve come too far to let everything go,” she ended.