Jacinda Ardern’s statement after the terror attack on September 3rd was indeed a slap across the face of racism. The Prime Minister said, “What happened today was despicable. It was hateful. It was wrong. It was carried out by an individual – not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity – but an individual who was gripped by an ideology that is not supported here, by anyone, by any community.”
I want to talk to you about racism today because it is so prevalent in our society and affects all of us regardless of class, social status, gender, or age. So, today I want to draw your attention to what I call “The 4 Ds of Racism.” These four Ds represent the four stages in the life cycle of racism [Photo: Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialists, emerges from the party’s Munich headquarters on December 5, 1931. Credit: Recuerdos de Pandora]
The Frist D of Racism is Deception
This is the head of the snake. Racism is deceptive because of the many faces it wears. They give it the ability to hide in plain sight and blend in perfectly with its environment. You cannot fight racism unless you can recognize these faces at first sight. Given below are the five most common faces of racism.
A. Nationalism and Patriotism: Racism can come in the form of nationalism and patriotism. In Sri Lanka, people can be seen using phrases like, “මම ජාතිවාදියෙක් නොවෙයි – මම ජාතිකවාදියෙක්” – I am not a racist, I am a nationalist – to justify their racist ideologies. (In Sinhala racist and nationalist sound almost the same.)
B. Liberation and Freedom: Racism can come in the form of liberation and freedom. The L.T.T.E often paused as a liberating force fighting to secure the freedom of the Tamil minority. The Federal Bureau of Investigations, however, in the year 2008 classified it as one of the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world [Source: The Official FBI Website].
C. Media Bias: Racism can come in the form of media bias. When a Sinhalese citizen commits a crime media doesn’t bother to mention his ethnicity. However, when a Tamil or a Muslim citizen commits a crime even mainstream media is quick to put an ethnic label on the culprit. Ex: 27 හැවිරිදි මුස්ලිම් තරුණයා 15 වියැති දැරියව අපහරණය කරයි (The 27-year-old Muslim youth sexually abuses the 15-year-old girl).
D. Racial Bias: Racism can come in the form of Racial bias. On 27th July 1983, then-President J.R. Jayewardene made his first speech followed by the anti-Tamil riots on “Black July”, offering no sympathy to the minority, and instead emphasizing Sinhala grievances. This encouraged even more atrocities against Tamils in the years that followed.
E. Rumors and Gossip: Racism can come in the form of rumors and gossip. In the year 1983 during the “Black July” false rumors began to circulate in Trincomalee that the L.T.T.E had taken Jaffna, the Karainagar Naval Base had been destroyed, and the “නාග විහාර” (“Naga Vihara”) had been desecrated. We all know what the outcome was.
Racism is like the proverbial “Trojan Horse” – It uses deception to penetrate the heart and mind of man and to sow the seeds of delusion. That’s what makes racism so dangerous. With that, we arrive at the second stage in the lifecycle of Racism.
The Second D of Racism is Delusion
The Meriam Webster Dictionary defines “Delusion” as “a belief that is not true: a false idea” – Racism creates the delusion that you are vulnerable. It creates the impulsive feeling that your survival is up against an imminent threat. A threat that doesn’t exist!
In the years 2017-2018 a racially biased propaganda movement urged the Sinhalese, to boycott eateries owned by the Muslim minority as well as Muslim – street food vendors. They accused the Muslim eateries and street food vendors of mixing infertility pills to කොත්තු රොටි (“kottu roti” – A Sri Lankan – street food delicacy)
The movement urged the Sinhalese to boycott Muslim-owned textile shops also. They accused that the Muslim textile shop owners apply an infertility gel on women’s undergarments sold in their shops. The rumor spread like wildfire and sunk into the psyche of Sri Lankans so much it even caused a violent outbreak against a Muslim-run hotel in Ampara on the 26th of February 2018.
Fortunately, in March 2018, 13 top medical experts in a media briefing, assured there are no infertility pills, gels, or powders that can cause long-term infertility anywhere in the world, let alone in Sri Lanka [Source: The Sunday Times]. So, deception breeds delusion and delusion breeds destruction the next stage in the life cycle of racism.
The Third D of Racism is Destruction
I can fetch you many examples from around the world but why bother when we are an example ourselves. The “Black July” in the year 1983 was the fourth and the bloodiest anti-Tamil pogrom in the history of Sri Lanka. I was a 2-year-old when the riot broke out.
Sinhalese mobs attacked, burned, plundered, raped, and killed Tamil citizens over the course of seven days. The death toll is estimated to be between 400 and 3,000 individuals, with 150,000 people becoming homeless. Approximately 8,000 houses and 5,000 businesses were destroyed. The riots were predicted to cost $300 million in economic terms.
The greatest destruction of all however came after the riot. The L.T.T.E leveraged Black July for recruiting new combatants and catapulted the nation into a full-blown civil war. It lasted 25+ years killing 100,000+ civilians, 50,000+ fighters from both sides, and an economic cost estimated at US$200 billion.
Although ten years have passed since the war, we haven’t achieved much success in ethnic reconciliation. (After all, at least two generations of Sri Lankans have experienced the trauma of war directly or indirectly.) It all began with the anti-Tamil pogrom in 1956 in Galoya then grew through 1958 and 1977 to fully blow up in 1983. The L.T.T.E was founded in 1976 in-between the second and the third pogroms. This indicates that destruction breeds derivation. It is the final stage in the life cycle of racism. Next, let’s see what derivation has done to our nation.
The Fourth D of Racism is Derivation
Derivation in this context inspires revenge in the heart and mind of man. The speculations of violation of human rights during the war have turned Sri Lankans traveling overseas into targets. Especially in India, the top racist country in the world. Wikipedia records at least eight attacks against Sri Lankans in Tamil Nadu.
Economically we must deal with economic sanctions. In the year 2010, The EU stopped granting GSP+ benefits to Sri Lanka, on the grounds of failing to address the reported human rights violations. We regained it in the year 2017. This year we are at risk of losing the benefit once again [Source: EconomyNext].
Finally, we must deal with the psychological derivatives. Exposure to 3 decades of war has created in us ethnic stereotypes with which we judge the other ethnic groups. I’ve heard the Sinhalese say “ෆොටෝ එකේ ඉන්න දෙමළවයි, වළේ ඉන්න දෙමළවයි ඇරුනම හුස්ම තියෙන එක දෙමළෙක්ව විශ්වාස කරන්න එපා” (Trust the Tamil man in the photo and the one in the grave but not the one that is breathing) The proverb “තම්බිගේ තොප්පිය වගේ” (Just like the Taqiyah/the skull cap worn by devout Muslims) is used when referring to people who don’t honor their word. All these are signs of unresolved ethnic tension.
These tensions are like volcanos waiting to erupt. Consequently, conflicts can break out over the slightest disagreement with all the ethnic groups pointing the finger at each other. The incident at the Jaffna University on 16th July 2016 is a perfect example. While the Tamil students accused the Sinhalese students of provocation the Sinhalese students accused the Tamil students and faculty of giving them the stepmother’s treatment.
So, racism is deceptive, and deception breeds delusion. Delusion breeds destruction and destruction breeds derivation. Then derivation once again breeds deception completing the never-ending Lifecycle of racism. Now the question remains. What must we do? You see, remove even one of these Ds and the vicious cycle will end and racism with it.
It’s what Prime Minister Ardern did. She killed the element of deception by speaking the truth. She prevented an unpleasant and horrific memory from becoming an ethnic stereotype and a derivative. In the light of her statement, there are three things we can do to break the lifecycle of racism.
A. Confront Deception Politely: When you witness racist behavior, whatever you do, don’t be silent. Whether it’s at home, work, school, marketplace, or even in social media. Confront and convey your disapproval or discomfort politely. Remember to confront the issue not the person. For example, don’t say “You are a racist”. Rather say, “You know what? You sound like Racist”.
B. Exercise Discernment: Racism relies on rumors to create delusion. Thanks to technology rumors are no longer limited to “ළිඳ ළඟ සංගමය” (Sinhalese slang for word of mouth and gossip). We even have a song by the late veteran singer Sunil Perera about it. Today the internet and social media are breeding grounds for rumors based on racism. In Sinhala, we say “කියන්නා කෙසේ කීවත්, අසන්නා සිහි බුද්ධියෙන් ඇසිය යුතුය” (The listener must listen with discernment regardless of what is being told). Discerning the information and its source is the key to beating delusion.
C. Educate the Heart: Socrates said “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” – In a previous episode, I said that racism is a sign of an uneducated heart. Unfortunately, parents are not keen about educating their children’s hearts as much as their minds, but society is. Fortunately, my parents taught me not to give room to racism in my life. I remember my parents getting me to listen to Sunil Perera’s “Our Land” and “ලොවේ සැමා/lowe sema” (Means “Everybody on Earth” A popular song upholding racial unity and condemning racism) as a 6-year-old. I studied in a multi-ethnic school. Remember, the war against racism must start at home. The burden rests upon you, the parents.
D. Make Love not War: I know, the slogan and its origin have their problems. Especially the words “Make Love…” Nevertheless, the message is loud and clear. I know we the Sinhalese have grieved the Tamil and the Muslim minorities. The Muslim and the Tamil minorities have grieved the Sinhalese majority. Let me leave this question with you. Whether Sinhala, Tamil, or Muslim all the religions we follow urge us to forgive each other’s grievances. Even die-hard atheists believe in forgiveness. Now, what use is your religion if you can’t forgive?
I believe it’s fitting to end this post with the song “Our Land” by the late Sunil Perera. So here it is for your enjoyment and inspiration.
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