A young woman who was the target of racial hatred at the tender age of seven has kept going regardless. Today, Sarah Choual is a student and a successful athlete.
Intolerance and hate speech based on race need to be eradicated through more education both for students and teachers, said Dr Louise Chircop, a lecturer of Sociology in Education.
Around 10 years ago, Sarah Choual had her first unexpected experience. It was an incident which marked her childhood because it led her to believe that she was less than others because of the colour of her skin.
“This experience opened my eyes and I said, “so people treat me differently because I look different”. I was only seven years old and at a school a boy my age came up to me and told me “you’re black.”
She was afraid because the boy threatened her with her life, but when she told her teacher about these disparaging remarks she did not know how to address the situation which developed between the two students.
“There was a black telephone near us, she looked at the boy, picked up the phone and said, “this is black, not her”. So the racial slur was still there because he did not learn that he should not discriminate.. He just learned that he should not say it. Unfortunately, that is why these episodes which many people like myself experience, do not stop.”
Sarah told TVM that as she was growing up she began to understand what was being said to her even more, and the hurtful incidents continued. She is convinced that this is the result of a lack of awareness about diversity and tolerance of different races.
“For example, in secondary school they called me “a dirty Indian” …there simply is not enough education about these things and apart from that the consequences always fall on the victim.”
The young woman said her family suffered along with her because no parent wants their children to be hurt.
Despite this, however, she told TVM that she has a dream for the future.
“I wish to come to the point where we judge each other on our abilities and the people we are …if you are going to judge me, judge me on how I treat others.”
Dr Chircop explained that a lot of training is needed, not only with children but also with teachers.
She said that she wishes to raise awareness among teachers not only about racism but also about discrimination against people who are LGBTIQ and people with a disability.
“First of all, we need to know ourselves, what we call awareness … how we think and what our prejudices are….what annoys us in other people….because from there we can change our behaviour towards others.”
Dr Chircop said that the time has come for tragedies such as the murder of George Floyd in the US and locally, of Lassana Cisse, are discussed so one can recognise the good from the bad.
“All schools should have stopped and on that day addressed the racist murder..what happened, and why…is there any justification which obviously there isn’t…and urged children to think about what happened.”
The lecturer said that things are changing gradually and she is optimistic that the Maltese are adapting more and more to multiculturalism and diversity in our society.