‘Communication is key’: Isaak Koroma says addressing people’s fears is key to curbing racism

Maltin Bħalek | Isaak Koroma | Student politics activist and DJ, Koroma on dealing with racism and rising above discrimination

Do you feel different?

I do feel different, but at the same time I think everyone feels different. That is the reality, nobody is the same.

Were there moments when you realized you were different?

In reality everyone is different, but there never was a moment where I looked at being different as a negative thing. I never felt different, to an extent where I felt strange, or that there is something wrong because I’m not like everyone else. Let’s say I appreciate the difference, and I see it as something nice.

Some say the Maltese are racist. How do you respond to such a statement?

It could be a person, is not scared, but feels uncomfortable dealing with something they do not know. I see that as something normal. So, should you try and generalise the whole Maltese population as being racist, I would say no. Are there individuals who are racist? Yes.

In my opinion, the Maltese are kind hearted people. I think we can both agree, we are part of the Maltese population, and it is one of the traits we can boast about. So no, I do not think the Maltese are racist people.

Did you ever feel the need to justify being Maltese?

Realistically I think the answer is yes. Not exactly to justify, but people have the mentality that the Maltese man should be white, a little tan, looks a kind of way. Even when people listen to you speaking in Maltese, they do not register that that person is Maltese. I think I had to justify being Maltese sometimes, but then you notice that people’s attitude towards you changes. The moment someone hears you speaking in Maltese, even their approach is different. Language is an important factor. In my opinion, someone who lives in Malta should work on learning the Maltese language, to understand better the Maltese culture. Communication in my opinion is crucial.

And you as Isaak, have you ever faced racism?

Yes, sometimes. I don’t think it was to an extent that I would say that I was affected a lot by it. But certain small things… you realise a person is too wary of you. For example, they wouldn’t be as cautious with a white person. If there are certain people sat next to them, they would not react in a certain way… the moment she sees me approaching her, you can see her clocking her handbag. So, it’s kind of micro…

So, because you’re black, you felt that stereotype that you are more likely to be a thief than a white person?

And to go back to my previous point, it’s the fear of the unknown. I to be honest, could be saying this, but the moment I see someone who is different from me, I will act the same. I am no one to judge, it could be the moment I see someone who is purple, I think it’s something in our nature, and the fight or flight instinct kicks in. But at the same time, you should be careful before labelling it as racism. It could be imprinted in human nature, but sometimes lines are crossed – to start offending someone, that is the other extreme.

On this point, if you know that because someone sees you differently they will think negatively of you, and you feel bad. Do you not say ‘why should I think negatively of someone because they are different’, when you know how bad it feels?

Listen, I think it’s easier to say it than to do it. What bothers me is not when a person acts in a certain way, because I think that is normal. What bothers me is when I see certain things, or hear certain comments. When for example someone thinks I’m not understanding, and he starts talking about you, because in his mind he thinks I’m not understanding him, and he says “he looks so…” or “I think he is so…”, or you listen to certain prejudices.

And when you see these comments, both directed at yourself, and people in general. How do you feel?

Nobody enjoys look at offensive comments on social media. But at the same time, you do not ignore these comments, but you get used to them. While I do wish there was more information and more education, someone who speaks in a certain way on people, is ignorant. On the other hand, to have someone who voices their concern, on certain situations, it does not bother me. For a person to be vociferous on things that bother him, that is all right. But, when there are insults with no basis, just because a person is different. I feel that is not a nice thing. That’s where a distinction should be drawn. It’s important that people speak up, but to offend people because they are different, I feel that there is a problem.