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Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm a racist. Are you not?

Whacko came up with two very interesting, not to mention controversial posts recently. This and this. You can tell that just by looking at the shitload of comments he got. Still getting. Well I'm not trying to get as much comments, not trying to come up with my own controversial post just for the sake of it, but just wanted to add my two cents to this interesting conversation, or debate if you want to call it that.

Getting back to the topic.

Are you a racist? I think I am. And I also think we all are. I assume that someone is a racist if that someone is a homo sapien, just as I assume that someone is a liar if the said someone is a homo sapien. It's inherent in us. It's built into us. That's the way we are.

Take a minute and take a good hard look at humans. I mean not literally, don't stare at the chick in front of your desk at work, but think about humans. Ever since we were created by god, or since the mother nature turned the little black apes in to us - pick the one you like - we always wanted to divide ourselves into groups didn't we? As much as we are a social breed, we want to be social in groups. From the beginning of time, or rather the beginning of humans we divided ourselves into as much groups as we could. First we were hunters, but there were males and females. Females collected things like berries and stuff, took care of children and probably even decorated their caves with flowers that existed some thousands of years ago, while men went on and did the more macho and masculine stuff like hunting. It's a different story that women, instead of us men hunt more these days, that they even hunt us men down. Then we started cultivating, and more groups started to pop up, there were hunters, the new farmers and what not. They divided themselves into groups based on their geographical locations mostly. The group on the other side of the river had the right to their land and nobody from this side would enter their territory. And vice versa. There was our land and then there was their land. Our food, their food. We and they. You get the drift, I think.

What I want to say is, though they might not have clashed with each other all the time, this feeling, this concept of 'us', which was built into us was there all the time. By the last 'us' in the previous sentence I meant the humankind. See my point?

With time we evolved, or became civilized so to speak. But the concept of ours and theirs always remained. Today, we have found new ways in which we can divide ourselves into. We're Asians, Westerners or Aussies though some people put them - who are in the far east corner of the world - in the Westerners category which defies all logic. Then again there are not corners in a globe so maybe they do have a point. We divide into whites and blacks, not to mention browns and yellows and whatever else. We are Sri Lankans, Indians, Americans or Eskimos. When it comes to Sri Lanka, such a small island and such a small population, how many groups do we have? Up country Kandyans are categorized as big heads, while the wily old southerners are not to be trusted. Then comes the race. We are Sinhalese, we are Tamils, we are Muslims and we are many more. Even if you take us Sinhalese, don't we divide us into casts, and treat differently? I know people give much less importance to it by the day, but it still exists. Don't believe me? Take a look at marriage proposal column in a Sunday newspaper. And I didn't even mention the religions.

What I meant to say is, it is in our nature to divide ourselves into groups as much as we can. We feel comfortable that way. The thought that we belong somewhere is always comforting. Now I'm getting to my point. To divide us into groups, we need something to be based on. We are white, black or brown because of our color. We are Asians or Westerners depending on our geographical location. Same goes with countries. Then races. Though, it is a bit confusing what a race is. Certainly there are some biological differences in each race, I think that has something to do with breeding within that race for centuries though I'm not qualified nor knowledgeable to explain that any further. But I think you do agree, that Sinhalese differ from Tamils, Muslims and Jews or Japs. Then, there are some other differences that goes with races which are purely, the word is adjustable, I think. If a white boy born to American parents was raised by a Tamil family in Sri Lanka, he would be a Tamil in all sense except for the color of his skin, wouldn't he? The same goes with adopted Sinhalese children in Western countries. Remember that girl who perform exceptionally well in Australian Idol, who was born to Sri Lankan parents but was raised in Aussie? When someone introduced her as Sri Lankan, she objected and said that she was an Aussie. And she was damn right!

Now, after we divide ourselves and put us into groups, we do have a sense of belonging and a sense of ours don't we? We love our mothers the most. Our fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Exception is the spouse. But the thing is, we do love our group, and nobody says it's wrong. The problems starts when while we love, care and treat ours the best we can, we start to treat theirs a bit, say, not so well. There in lies the problem, but it is also the human nature if not the nature of all things alive. It is not necessarily the right thing, but that is how things are!

Let's talk about Whacko's arguments a bit. When you summarise what he has to say, he says that Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka are being treated differently, and that is to say less favorably compared to the Sinhalese. I beg to differ. It must have been the case, and yes it does exist to a certain extent today, but not as much.

There is one thing I want to differentiate between here. That is, the way in which each race is treated by the constitution and the way in which we treat each other individually. My whole point of this post narrows down to the fact that while the former can be addressed, should be addressed and is being addressed, with the latter we are all a bit helpless and it is up to us individuals to correct that. Now, a while ago NB came up with a good post about the privileges Muslims enjoy in Sri Lanka. It is a pretty long list and to be frank pretty accurate as well. They do enjoy all that and some more. And so do the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In short, the constitution of Sri Lanka has given minorities enough privileges to enjoy and enough power as well in my opinion. Here I do not want to get into a verbal battle about should we go to talks with the LTTE, because while we should treat Tamils with much respect and equality, TERRORISTS should be crushed. And that is what LTTE is. So if you want to argue on that, save it.

Then, while that remains such, the way we treat the members of each race in a personal level does have some racism involved. I said this in the comments section of a post by Whacko, but let me state it here again. Say you're the CEO of a company and that you are in the process of recruiting someone. After many interviews you select two guys, or girls for that matter who have exactly the same qualifications. They are both excellent, but you need to chose only one of them. If one of them was a Sinhalese and the other was a Muslim or a Tamil, who would you choose? If I'd be frank, I'd choose the Sinhalese guy. Now before jumping the gun on me, sit back and think for a minute. Who would you chose? As far as I know, only an alien would be totally unbiased given the situation. What I'm trying to say is we try to treat our side better than their side, almost always. When it comes to friends and family nobody gives two hoots, but when it comes to race, cast or color of the skin things differ. But, the things is, it goes both ways. Not just the Sinhalese treat their kind that way, so do the Muslims and Tamils. Sinhalese hold monopolies in so many industries/businesses in Sri Lanka and they do discriminate others to a certain extent. But how many businesses are there in Sri Lanka that Muslims and Tamils hold monopolies over? So many right? And if you are not being naive, you will have to agree with me that there is discrimination by them as well. When Sinhalese gather together and talk about Muslims, they might talk ill about them, but wouldn't the Muslims and Tamils also do the same?

But the world is not as bad as it seems. What is important is, despite differences, and inherent hate between our races we still manged to live rather peacefully. I want to talk about the place where my home is. It's in Kandy and in my hometown there is a very large Muslim population. I'm not exactly sure about the statistics, but it is close to 50-50. And almost all the shops belong to the Muslims. But we never ever had any kind of conflict there, in fact we do go along quite well. I do have a lot of Muslim friends, and they are being invited to our home every Sinhala New Year day. And we are invited to their homes for their new year. Muslims support us a lot when we organize "Dansala" for Wesak and Poson poya days, and one time the richest Muslim Mudalali made the largest contribution to our Dansala. Not to mention the chicks we tried to dig from each other's race.

The bottom line is, there was always some friction between different races that are in Paradise, there is now, and there will always be as far as we remain humans. But as long as we manage not to go as far as kill each other, which I'm sure we won't bother starting again, things will be fine.

The world is not as bad a place as it seems folks...



  1. how can you be sure it wont start again? we dont know if all the issues that causes the last one were identified and resolved. or did they just disappear? we cant rely on wishful thinking can we

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  3. You bloody racist :-) he he... nice post bro.. I am kind of lost when people talk of this so-called "divide" for I have never known the meaning of it. Honestly Man... I have been lucky i guess. I am a Bohra (there are only 4521 of them in Srilanka as of today). Such a small if not the smallest community among 20 Million Lankans. 4521 may seem so small, but the importance and recognition we enjoy is beyond ultra ultra. I guess this is because Srilanka is still a beautiful place for every RIGHT THINKING human. I attended a Christian school where I was the only muslim in my class. But never knew the meaning of discrimination. Its to do with one's upbringing and background as well. Some due to their background are communal, whilst others due to their background are not so communal. Its how and what the parents teach their kids.

    ( I deleted my earlier comment due to spelling errors ) :-)

  4. Whack >
    I'm not sure. Nothing on this earth is sure, if I am to be a bit poetic. This is what I'm trying to say. Nobody in this world wants to involve in a fight unless they can't do otherwise. It's not me who says that, but Charles Darwin. And what exactly are the reasons today that such burning issues that Muslims face that they would take up arms to resolve it? What I mean is, the situation is different and the reasons or the causes of this conflict we have today, most of them do not exist now. It's now wishful thinking, it's the truth. And you shouldn't misinterpret what I said, that we should be ignorant. No we should continuously encourage the harmony between races - I try to do that as much as I can with my acts - and we should teach our children the importance of the ability to understand each other and the importance of tolerance. But also, blowing something out of it's proportions does no good either.
    Also I believe that this government even is trying it's best. See the work done in Eastern and Nothern parts of the country? It is not ignorant, neither is discriminating the minorities.

  5. NB >
    Yes I agree. This island, compared to most other countries is far better place for different races to live together.
    I also went to a Catholic school where people from all three races and all four religions studies. We never ever had a problem with either.

    If there is a discrimination in this country, what there is the one that is done against the poor. That, I think is a problem we need to address, and we need to address soon...

  6. Sach - An interesting post.

    Some time ago I looked up the dictionary definition of "racism" as I felt similar to you; that we all are.

    I can't recall the exact words but the definition was something like

    "to negatively discriminate against any one race or races"

    So my understanding (if the dictionary is correct) is that any time I think something like "all Germans lack the humour of other races" then I'm being racist. For record I don't actually think that as I know the Germans take their humour very, very seriously!

    And I think most of us, not all, but definitely most, are a little bit racist at times. Sad but true.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  7. Interesting insight into racism. But when I interview people i usually dont hire tamils.. I think they woul brand me being racist with my own race!

  8. good points. i suppose we should do all we can on a personal event. and i never said that there will be a conflict with the Muslims. You should really try and stop stereotyping me mate. ppl might call you a racist ;)

    btw, personal level effort is all very well, and investment in the north and east is inevitable with the war, what remains to be seen is how that investment will be administered. but I’m still insistent that we take a road to change and integration, and you and N.B forgive me, but seem to only be aware of the racial aspects of the more cosmopolitan areas of the country, things in rural areas are very different, and they are not so far away either if you venture into the darker sides of cities even i guess. I’m not trying to stir up hatred or anything you know, just addressing an issue i think is important and there is nothing to pacify with poetic statements, i get enough of that through the propaganda.5th Feb 2008

  9. Like you rightfully said, humans will always be groupies. However, as the world becomes smaller and communities are getting mixed-up, the “groups” are no longer defined by the race or religion alone. The new digital generation is “polarising” based on common interests, for example.

    However, the language still plays the most important part in any “group” because communication is what makes, or breaks a “group.”

    Having said that, I personally think our paradise should adapt a common language – I vote for English – and that could open up the barriers that are currently shut. People like you and I know how it feels to be alienated in a group that speaks a foreign language. But if we understood what they were saying, we would seek a common interest to “blend-in” or “belong” as much as we could, wouldn’t we? Because no human likes to be left out of a group – and no one wants to be part of the minority, they will find a way to belong to the larger group. Because, human instinct also says that unity is strength, that gives the power to survive.

  10. Long, but very good post. Enjoyed it.
    Isn’t it the conflict between who we are and who we want to be (or what we think we can be)? Just because we have racism in us, does it make right to be such? I think we have to be humble about our demons.
    Racism was not a bad thing back then. It worshiped together with loyalty and patriotism that we still think is good. Racism becomes bad, as societies get bigger than usual, starts to absorb more minorities in to it. We all belong to a minority group in current social structure. As humans always selfishly do, we make any activity or theory that have potential to harm me (not you), a bad thing. Now racism considered unholy. But patriotism still required.

  11. RD>
    Man, you never cease to amaze me with your humor!
    So the Germans take their humor very seriously? LOL... I couldn't stop laughing...
    Yes my point is that, most of us are in fact racists, but as long as we are able to fight it off, we should be fine.


    I did not try to stereotype you buddy. If I did even unintentionally, my apologies.
    About the investments in east and north, yes I totally agree with you on that. We all, and MR in particular should make sure that what he intend to do in fact does happen. There are always politicians who have one of their eyes on the amounts of money that is being put into the development of those areas.
    And I cannot speak for NB, but I definitely is not someone who is only aware of the racial aspects of the cosmopolitan areas. For one, I do not come from Colombo, rather from Kandy. Also, I have travelled a lot in Sri Lanka, to many a rural village, and have seen the powerty those people live in with my own eyes. And I do believe that, the bigger problem in those areas is not racial discrimination, rather the powerty that is over almost everyone irrespective of their race. I think we should first address that, before anything else.
    Been a nice exchange of opinions.
    Thanks for your input.

    Yes I agree. The "want" to be in groups will always be there, and prolly we will never be able to eliminate it. We should at least try to minimize the harm that can cause though. I also agree with the idea of a common language though practically I think that is near impossible. That thought need to be approached with much care.

    Thank you very much.
    I don't think that it is right to be such. No it isn't. But, that's the way it is, and it will take a lot to change that.

  12. well I'm not a racist and I know that. The fact that we like to belong to groups has nothing to do with racism. Racism is putting down other groups and feeling like they are inferior to yours (in my opinion).And I have never ever felt like someone else is inferior to me just cos of their race and that's the truth. Things like prejudice and racism are learned and taught. They are not qualities that we are born with like you imply. Besides, saying that all ppl are racists and therefore implying that it is okay to be racist is not the answer to the problem anyway. We sri lankans are ought to have an honest discussion about the roots of this problem and for years our political and religious leaders have been putting that away. It is good time that we accept that there is discrimination in sri lanka. Hell it exists in every country. But our constitution has never defined tamils as 3/5th of a person like the US constitution did to blacks. But look how far they have come now. My point is that even though there is discrimination, it isnt enough for the ltte to go and ask for a separate land for themselves only and a lot of tamils know that. But for some reason, even the educated, anti-ltte tamils feels disenfranchised by the government and there should be fair reasons for that. There shouldnt be a reason why they should be feel that way and we Sinhalese should do whatever we can do to make them feel like first class citizens. Cos at the end, as far as tamils keep supporting this war, it will go on.

  13. Anon, thanks a lot for your insight, though I wish you didn't wish to be Anon.

    Anyway, I did not say that racism is a good thing. Neither did I say that we are all racists in the manner you imply. What I meant is that we all, or at least most of us, tend to favor our groups whenever possible. Actually it's a very subtle thing...

    And like you admit, our constitution does allow a lot of privileges to the minorities, and possibly more than some of the so called developed countries do.

    And about discrimination, it is not only the Sinhalese that discriminate, that's one of my point.

  14. well when you say that you assume that someone is a homosapien when you hear that that person is a racist, I took it that you meant racism is a born trait of all humans and that's what I'm trying to disapprove. Because like I said, racism is learned. It's not something you are born with. And if some ppl favor their groups more than others,then that's learned too. And if I were the person stuck with making a choice between 3 equally qualified candidates for a job who come from 3 different races, I wouldn't just pick the one who comes from my race, cos that would exactly be what one would call racism. I would just pick the one I like the most. If I like them all the same, then I would counsel someone else or I would just pick the name randomly and give it to that person. Picking someone for a job mainly cos of their race is a main contribution to poverty and economic disparity that you talked about.

    Plus it isnt the fact that our constitution allows a lot of privileges to minorities. It should allow equal privileges to all religions and all races. A constitution that says the state shall give buddhism the foremost place and it is the duty of the state to foster the buddha sasana is not giving equal importance to other religions. It says on the same sentence that it shall allow equal rights to all other religions. But I'm not sure what that means when they first say that one religion is the foremost. In my opinion, a government should never sponsor a religion. A government should always be secular.Besides, it doesnt matter what the constitution says as far as ppl are not implementing it. It says that a person is entitled to seek education through any of the national languages but we all know that a tamil who goes to visakha, ananda, mahamaya or nalanda cannot learn in Tamil. The same goes to schools like Zahra College and Hindu colleges. Any sinhala kids who go there would not be able to learn in sinhala.

    And our constitution does not grant more rights to minorities than developing nations. I dont think sri lanka can even come close to a country like US in terms of minority rights. But at the same time US is a democracy of more than 200 years while Sri lanka is still a very young one..So hopefully, we'll get their oneday.

    and It's true that there is discrimination on both sides. But sinhalese account for 75% of the population and therefore, there will be more sinhalese who hold high government and private posts than other minorities and therefore, tamils will face more discrimination on the hands of sinhalese. Anyway, what I am trying to say is, "we all do it" is not a solution to the problem.

  15. Hey Sachintha, I just published a somewhat mammoth post (see here) as my contribution to what Whackster and you have been talking about. I'd be interested to hear your views, if you get a chance to read it :-)