Cancelling black and brown faces: Identità’s disservice to an inclusive Malta

‘Everyone has a story to tell… we make it official’ the video clip touted as a rebranding of Identity Malta Agency proclaimed. Everyone except fellow Maltese of Asian and African origin it seems

On Saturday I felt a gust of satisfaction, marching along with a multitude of people in Europride. Like Herbert Ganado in his magnum opus, I could emotionally claim that I have seen Malta change (Rajt Malta Tinbidel).

It was an occasion where different orientations and gender identities were proudly on display, giving visibility to identities which in past were violently and structurally cancelled by our conservative and clerical elites.

Meeting an old friend, we could not but hug each other and express a deep sense of relief at how much Malta has changed in the past decade. 

There was also another change which filled me with hope. Along with tourists who came to celebrate with many locals, there were also people hailing from different communities living here, including Bangladeshis, Filipinos and Ukrainians who work and live here. Some even marched under the banner of their ethnic community.

It is also a fact that what annoys far right conservatives most about Europride is the visibility of these people, who are expected to enjoy the rights conceded to them out of sight and in silence away from ‘our children’.

In this sense, the institutional support given to the visibility of the LGBTIQ+ community merits praise. The message was clear; the government and the institutions are four-square behind this social revolution.

But my joy and appreciation of the new Malta which I love, was short-lived. On Monday, a rebranding video by Identità, the government agency formerly known as Identity Malta responsible for issuing residence permits, ID cards and managing the public registry, cropped up on my facebook feed.

The message of the video is that Identità registers your existence, but it is up to you to make your own life and write your own story; a corny but sweet message probably meant to humanise a bureaucratic institution.   

“Everyone has a story to tell… we make it official,” the video proclaimed.

Since the video consists of a mosaic of faces rolling after each other, I expected to see a black or brown face to crop up at some point.

But like the tireless social activist Omar Rababah I was disappointed. Apparently, the Maltese are all white and the only religion practiced and celebrated here is the Catholic one. 

Maybe it’s a cliché to celebrate identity by showing diversity, especially when one considers that cosmopolitanism often sugar coats exploitation and inequality. One may argue that compared to real problems in workplaces and the bureaucratic hurdles faced by migrant communities, their absence in a video clip is a minor incident with little consequence. 

Surely, I would prefer discussing citizenship and voting rights for migrants and their children rather than discussing what may have been a bureaucratic blunder. 

But the least one can expect from an agency which registers people and their ‘existence’, is to represent society as it is.

After all the Census shows that 5.2%, or approximately 27,000 people, are of Asian origin and 3.6% or 19,000 people hail from other non-European ethnicities.

This is a reality which is very visible on our streets, buses and public spaces.

And yes, I regularly meet foreigners who recount being told to go back to their country.

Surely many are not here to stay for long but there are also many who fall in love and who have families and children here, thus becoming Maltese like us. Their children go to Maltese schools and consider Malta their home.

In this sense, their visibility is not hidden in the same way as different sexual orientations were cancelled in the past. This is because the Maltese economy depends on their labour.  

What is lacking is official recognition of this visibility. Unfortunately, the gap between what is really happening in Maltese society and that depicted in the video clip raises the question; how is it possible that nobody noticed this omission? Or was the depiction of black and brown faces deliberately considered as bad PR for the government agency which directly deals with them on a daily basis?

The Identità video clip was a missed opportunity to give official recognition to a statistical fact. And as our experience with LGBTIQ+ rights shows, visibility is key to emancipation.