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GUEST POST: Letter From A Black Maltese Man Living In The U.S

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 As I logged into a virtual discussion at work dedicated to sharing our feelings about current events, I looked at my colleagues present during this call. I couldn’t help but feel a metaphorical dark cloud descend upon me.

This was a safe space created by the organization I work for to offer its employees an outlet to share and feel heard. Over 80 people showed up to this call and I couldn’t help but notice how strange it all felt.

The black people seemed depleted, sad, a shell of what I was used to seeing in the office. Most of the other people seemed unsure of what to expect or do but were willing to listen and support their black colleagues during this hard time. I remember feeling drained, sluggish, and depleted by the endless barrage of social media posts that have had me in my feelings for the past few days. 

The U.S. has been in pain for a long time. Pain over the injustices inflicted on POCs (People of Colour) in this country. There is a lot of anger and disappointment. At this point, even the allure of the American dream can’t make up for this.

Yes, the U.S. is a great country, but what is the point of a great country if there isn’t equality? The murder of George Floyd highlighted a very disturbing truth: even though opportunity for all is the foundation of the U.S., justice for all is not necessarily a given. 

From the George Floyd protest in the US

From the George Floyd protest in the US

When I first watched the video of George Floyd’s murder. I was enraged. How could this happen again? We just had a to deal with the loss of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was murdered while going for a run in Georgia. When I say “we”, I mean the black population because every time a black person is killed in that way, it is a reminder that we could lose our lives going on an afternoon jog.

Coming from Malta, I cannot even fathom the thought of me losing my life while going on an afternoon jog on the promenade in Sliema but this a constant concern for a black individual. 

The officers involved arrested, tried, convicted, and executed Mr. Floyd on a sidewalk with no jury. They did all of this while being filmed!   On the other hand, Dylann Roof, a white man who shot and killed nine black people while they were having bible study in their church was bought Burger King by the policemen on his way to prison. 

When three days had passed and the police officer responsible for murdering George Floyd was still at home, I just went into a state of despair. I couldn’t believe that this was happening.

Growing up in Malta I was always hyper-aware of my surroundings. Whether it was the way the shop owner looked at me when I walked into their store or the stares I got when I entered public transport on my way to sixth form, I was always aware that I was being watched.

There was ALWAYS someone watching. At first, I thought it was just because I was different but in time, I came to realise that for some people, seeing me getting on the bus was almost offensive.

Growing up in Malta

Growing up in Malta

How is my existence irritating to you? I am a human being, just like you. I remember one particular occasion when I was on a bus making my way to school. An adult man kept saying harassing me in Maltese suspecting that I didn’t understand. Being a 16-year-old kid, I just sat there and had to listen to this person spew nonsense about black people and even though what he said hurt, what hurt most was that no one stopped him. Some people even found it entertaining.

This is the struggle of black people around the world and especially in the U.S. It’s not that we want special treatment. We want equal treatment. Our struggle is not for your entertainment. This shit is real life for us.

I personally do not expect racism to just end overnight (although that would be nice) but we need to speed up the process. When a racist act happens, and you don’t speak up or try to correct the person’s behaviour, you are perpetuating and potentially encouraging the behaviour.

You can’t expect the victim to correct this behaviour. As a victim, I am already suffering trauma. We need to nip it in the bud. People need to speak up and if you do not want to go out and protest or post on your social media, that’s fine. You can start small by speaking up next time you see someone exhibiting racist behaviour. A little tip, calling someone racist never goes down well.  You should explain that what the person did can be perceived as racist or you could just try and de-escalate the situation.

I left Malta at the age of 18, not out of discontent but because I joined a program that would require me to live abroad for a year or two and somehow, I never got round to moving back. It has been 15 years now and in this time I have spent time in Germany, Switzerland, England and many other beautiful countries but Malta is still my home.

I come to Malta every year or two to visit my family. I usually try to bring my wife and kids. In fact, my wife has attempted to make pastizzi at home and tried to learn Maltese a couple of times. Both have been a steeper uphill than expected. I should probably help her or get her a set of Id-Denfil books.

Chigo Ahunanya's family in the US and Malta

Chigo Ahunanya's family in the US and Malta

I could write a memoir of both good and bad experiences I’ve had growing up in Malta. Even though all these things happened, I have no resentment. Holding on to resentment takes up a lot of emotional energy plus it wouldn’t be fair to all the Maltese people who protected and supported me.

I want to turn my experiences into strength to go through this never-ending battle against racism. My goal is to make Malta proud. To represent Malta in outstanding fashion. That’s my way of showing Malta the benefits of having diversity in their population. That’s my way of combating racism.

Lovin Malta is open to external contributions that are well written and thought-provoking. If you would like your commentary to be featured as a guest post, please write to hello@lovinmalta.com and add Guest Post in the subject line. Contributions are subject to editing and do not necessarily represent Lovin Malta’s views.

READ NEXT: GUEST POST: When It Comes To Racism, Malta Should Learn Lessons From Its Past

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