Foreign Affairs

Thoughts On Race Relations In The US & Sri Lanka

By Mano Ratwatte

Mano Ratwatte

Mano Ratwatte

The defining truth for two generations of Sri Lankans (or Ceylonese if you choose) has been the strife between the island’s two primary ethnic groups because independence from the British. Several erudite scholars, political scientists and historians have examined the causes of this conflict. Some say it all began in 1956 and others say it began properly prior to that. This is 2015. A hellish war, which lasted effectively over twenty years has ended. But nevertheless the barriers amongst the two significant communities nonetheless exist attempts to break those barriers are stymied mainly, in the opinion of this writer, by the lack of a typical hyperlink language. These are just personal thoughts of an émigré and not views of qualified authorities. The writer is also thankful to a brilliant gentleman for assisting him edit this opinion column.

Race relations in the USA – some history

Race relations in this writers adopted nation, the United States of America, have a darker and much deeper history. Developed by the unimaginable horror of “industrial” slavery, divisions and discrimination has survived the emancipation (official freeing of all slaves in the USA) of 1862. The hated “Jim Crow” laws, which ensured that Blacks (the preferred term these days is ‘African American’ but for the purposes of this write-up we will use the older term) continued to be relegated to a reduce location in society, persisted over a hundred years because that date. Finally the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, brought about a important change that eased the plight of the Black individuals in the Southern USA significantly.

Following decades of post civil rights healing nonetheless, race relations in the US have taken a turn for the worse recently. A Federal Division of Justice report released on March 3rd, 2015 on riots in Ferguson Missouri, reveals that African Americans have been profiled and targeted by law enforcement authorities for just becoming black. This is not a surprise. In numerous corners of the US, Blacks which includes wealthy ones, are nevertheless profiled and targeted for harassment. Unlike in Sri Lanka, both Black and White communities speak the very same language, but they are distinct racial groups with a history of systemic discrimination by law. (In the case of Sri Lanka, harassment of innocent Tamils for just being Tamils, was made worse by not having a widespread language.)

The Southern Sates and Racism

In the southern states of the USA Blacks didn’t have the appropriate to vote until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Folks had to fight for that right different obstacles had been placed to stop them from registering to vote. Below Jim Crow, Blacks were regarded “separate but equal” but in practice they had been never equal and were viewed culturally as inferior to Whites such deep seated biases are dissipating but disturbingly are still quite prevalent.

The crimes of July 1983 were a watershed for our country | pic by Chandraguptha Amarasingha - A Tamil boy stripped naked and later beaten to death by Sinhala youth in Boralla gustation - 1983 July

The crimes of July 1983 have been a watershed for our nation | pic by Chandraguptha Amarasingha &#8211 A Tamil boy stripped naked and later beaten to death by Sinhala youth in Boralla gustation &#8211 1983 July

Just before the civil war, legally a Black particular person (whether or not Cost-free or a Slave) was regarded as only to be worth three/5ths the value of a white particular person as per the Constitutional convention treaty of 1787. This was done not only for tax purposes, but for the explicit purpose of limiting democratic representation in the legislative assemblies1. That measure was only repealed by the 13th Amendment to the US constitution which abolished slavery and was ratified in 1865. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 that incorporated the privileges and immunities clause, applicable to all citizens, and the due process and equal protection clauses applicable to all persons. The Fifteenth Amendment, (proposed in 1869 and ratified in 1870) prohibits discrimination in voting rights of citizens on the basis of &#8220race, colour, or previous situation of servitude. Despite all these laws even though, Blacks continued to be discriminated against fairly openly. For the longest time even right after the civil war ended Blacks could not even sit at the exact same table as Whites in numerous parts of the USA. This is comparable to how some caste primarily based societies function even nowadays, where so known as “lower castes” are nevertheless not allowed equal access or equal rights by practice or even enter through the front door of residences of upper class Hindu households. Brahmin war refugees had been housed, schooled and fed separately from the rest of the Tamils following 2009 by the military.

Deep seated racist or casteist views can be discovered in virtually every single society. They are incorrect and immoral but deeply entrenches biases don’t disappear overnight be they in Sri Lanka or the USA. Atrocities against Black individuals had been commonplace in the Southern USA. Lynching (further-judicial murders) was commonplace. Even mass murder was tolerated, examples are the terrorist bombing of a Church in Alabama (Birmingham, 1963 where four innocent kids were killed by Christian racist Whites) or the attacks, disappearances and murders of civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s. Quite seldom did a White get prosecuted for murder and assault of a Black particular person these days. The identities of the terrorists responsible for killing the girls in that church had been identified almost immediately, but no action was taken till the State of Alabama decided to prosecute them in 1977! There were a number of such circumstances which in no way saw light of day. In protests following the church bombing two other black guys have been killed one particular by the police and 1 by White supremacists.

These attacks go back in history. America’s equivalent of the heinous state-instigated pogrom of Black July 1983, took spot in 1921 in prosperous Tulsa, Oklahoma the state this writer considered residence for a extended period . Racially motivated violence killed an estimated 300 black folks. There houses and shops burnt. The victims have been mostly from the prosperous black business community in Greenwood, then recognized as the Black Wall Street. This heinous crime was the outcome of economic envy and wiped out the most prosperous black middle class neighborhood in the USA. State and neighborhood law enforcement officials have been complicit in this attack. Not a single particular person was brought to justice and no official apology to black folks was provided only in 2013, when the Police chief of that city issued a extended overdue request for forgiveness. According to eye witness accounts some members of the Tulsa police force openly participated in arson and murder. But no Governor of the State of Oklahoma has ever accepted responsibility for enabling that crime against humanity, or apologized to the victims. There are several equivalent race riots where whites attacked black individuals in Florida, Illinois and other states with impunity more than time. Tulsa was one particular of the worst.

The incidents of documented targeted attacks on Blacks by Whites in the 19th century are even higher. Incidents of lynching occurred all the way into the 1940s. Lynching of Black guys had been treated as picnics to be viewed by thousands of gleeful whites. Image postcards have been even made with images of such lynchings mailed in glee or sold as souvenirs. A powerful book “Without Sanctuary” documents these horrific incidents that have haunted the US for a extended time.

Parallels in Sri Lanka

The crimes of July 1983 have been a watershed for our country. The UNP government of the day stood by and did nothing at all, as carnage was unleashed for a week. These had been the all strong days of virtual dictatorship by Parliamentary writ.

President JRJ did a lot to transform Sri Lanka by, opening the economy, bringing in foreign investments and re-setting the outdated stagnant socialist economy. But regrettably, the legacies his government will be remembered for, is the responsibility for attacks on Tamils right after 1977 and the reckless antagonizing of India in the field of foreign policy. It was his government which also gave us this constitution, which is proving to be such a hindrance to democracy. It was also his regime that silenced the democratic representation by Tamils by engineering the removal of the TULF from Parliament. Nevertheless noxious or unpalatable a person’s political view is it was foolish for the UNP to expel the TULF from Parliament. In the absence of a viable opposition, a lot of mistakes are made due to hubris and overconfidence.

The deliberate targeting of minorities (Tamils primarily) by the gangs from the majority communities, resulted in the beginning of a period of carnage and terrorism and grief. Terrified individuals fleeing to India and becoming refugees placing higher political pressure on the Indian Central government to intervene in Sri Lanka. Please note, except for the horrible riots in 1958 where there had been victims of both communities, all targeted attacks on Tamils occurred in the course of the UNP led regime which came following 1977. Those riots have been carried out by gangs related with the UNP and its JSS thugs. These targeted attacks had been a deliberate “pogrom” (an organized massacre of a distinct ethnic group) that shook the psyche of innocent Tamils, even these of the English speaking upper class. A lot of of these men and women felt far more protected and comfortable increasing up and living in Colombo, than in their ancestral villages areas they had no connection to far away in the North or East of the island.

Those who witnessed the 1983 riots report that there was a distinct “class envy” angle to it, when even productive corporate entities have been targeted merely for being owned by Tamils. The parallels to Tulsa Ok are apparent. This violent state sponsored (or at least condoned) act of terror was the seminal occasion that enabled a ragtag band of separatists (who had been supported by India for its personal geo-political reasons) to grow into a massive separatist terrorist group. The LTTE or Tigers could not have survived and grown (even accounting for India’s insidious hand) if it was not viewed as being the only group in a position to shield Tamils. It took the events of July 1983 to ultimately drive even moderate Tamils into the hands of violent seperatists, as obviously the Sate could not, or would not, defend them.

What brought about the alter in the USA?

The United States of America is in several techniques a conglomerate of person States or Countries. The US constitution delegates acknowledges this and numerous rights are granted to individual States to decide, in their Federal kind of government.

One particular such law is the one particular governing interracial marriage (miscegenation). Till the US Supreme Court ruled against it in the landmark Loving vs. Virginia case in 1967two, interracial marriage was illegal in the Confederate Southern states, as nicely as several other backward states of the Union. This was insidious thinking about people in the South regarded as themselves devout Christians but yet could not accept inter-racial marriage and folks have been even jailed for breaking this discriminatory law. The resistance to political alter was immense, but so was the get in touch with to adjust. Brave individuals on each sides of the racial divide united t bring about the adjustments that have been required. Hasn’t time arrived in Sri Lanka to build bridges also? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the most well-known “face”of the Civil Rights Movement, identified allies amongst Christian and Jewish white organizations parallel to the non-violent protests by Dr. King, the Black Panthers and other militant black groups advocated change via violent upheaval. But the peaceful voices prevailed and have been in the end productive. The violent ones have been relegated to the dustbin of history. How different to our experience in Sri Lanka.

Several analysts think that it was not only just the heroism of Dr. King (who was murdered by a White supremacist) who influenced individuals like Robert F Kennedy ( Attorney General of the US and brother of then President John F Kennedy) an ardent advocate of equal rights for blacks and later President Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ), to alter insidious laws of the US that forced folks into segregated lives and humiliated black individuals in the south. There was also an underlying fear of Black militancy and the possibility that foreign powers might encourage the use of violence to destabilize the US, that lent impetus to the reforms. Even though the Kennedy brothers were goods of the Liberal east Coast establishment, President Johnson was a very good ole boy from Texas and a racist solution of his time, but also a pragmatic and visionary leader.

Even so, when he signed the landmark civil rights act in 19643, LBJ knew that the Democratic celebration he represented was going to shed a really big group of southern White voters to the Republican celebration forever this group of voters have been commonly referred to as “Dixiecrats”. They had traditionally voted for the Democratic celebration since the finish of the Civil War when the secessionist south was beaten by the Union forces commanded by Republican President Lincoln. More than time, this legislation cost the Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes and also the Southern Electoral College has been Republican ever considering that .This shows that deep seated cultural distrust and segregationist tendencies nonetheless exist amongst older whites in most of previously Confederate Southern States. To this day, only places where Black Congressmen still get elected in the South, are black majority districts. It is not uncommon to hear people speak about the “northern war of aggression” in reference to the Civil war.

Modify comes really gradually

Just due to the fact the US elected Obama as President does not mean these age old biases have disappeared. If a single appears at the voting patterns of each the 2008 election (regardless of it being a year of modify) and the 2012 one particular, you could see that an overwhelming quantity of older Southern Whites voted against Obama and for Republican candidates. This trend is now almost permanent. It is practically a guarantee that in states such as Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi (all Southern and Confederate) a important majority of whites will not vote for democratic Presidential candidates unless he is a “son of the soil”. Jimmy Carter 1976 who was from Georgia, Clinton 1992 from Arkansas both managed to break this trend. Al Gore lost his personal property state Tennessee in the 2000 election, to George W Bush, who was from Texas.

There are exceptions to this divide of course. Florida, positioned in the South remains a “swing” state simply because of its unique demographic patterns, where Whites, Hispanics and older retirees of Liberal persuasion are all mixed collectively. Virginia is a greater example (at one particular time the heart of the Confederacy) exactly where swiftly changing demographic trends have led to dramatic changes in voting patterns. Virginia’s vibrant urban places are close to Washington DC, exactly where highly educated initial generation immigrants from Asia driven by finance and technologies primarily based company conglomerates reside. This combined with the young urban pros, Physicians, scientists, lawyers, all in the larger financial strata, delivered the state to President Obama in both recent elections.

Correct subsequent to it, is the mostly White poor coal mining state of West Virginia which is overwhelmingly democratic at neighborhood and state levels, voted against Obama in the Presidential election. Obama won each his elections mainly via the votes of progressive and northern states of the union. Elections have been won on a coalition of minorities (95% of the Blacks vote Democratic) and a plurality of young voters like young whites and young girls who do not have the exact same prejudices about race as older generations do. In the close to future even a solidly “red” (Republican) state such as Texas is projected to swing far more towards “purple” if not “blue” (Democratic) in voting trends, as demographic patterns change. Hispanic Americans are expected to turn out to be the biggest voting bloc in Texas. This coupled with the younger urban pros who tend to be more liberal, could effectively alter the way Texas votes in future Presidential elections.

Whither Sri Lanka?

The intent here is to show that despite the USA getting the wealthiest democracy in the planet, that there are nevertheless numerous folks who will vote just based on colour/race, just as anyplace else. Sadly it seems in Sri Lanka expedient politicians utilised the Tamil vs. Sinhala divide to acquire power over time.

Was this a result of Colonial favoritism or just far more inherent ethno-religious biases towards every single other? How considerably of post-Independence policy has been driven by a desire for social justice and not by a cynical desire to polarize the voting population in order to keep in energy? What is the end outcome? As a result of the language policies enforced at all schools considering that the 1960s, our citizens can not talk to each other.

The “standardization” and “Sinhala only” policies, while seemingly laudable, wreaked havoc in the lengthy term. It emancipated many Sinhala and Tamil speaking students, who otherwise would not have access to larger education. When English was the only language utilised for greater education, the English speaking upper classes amongst all communities had a large advantage.

But the extended-term effect has been two communities who can’t talk to each and every other. Just put, without the use of vernacular languages. it is unlikely either Sinhalese or Tamils of much less-affluent and rural regions would have been in a position to go to University. A number of generations of students have received a globe class education at no expense to themselves thanks to these modifications. Yet, the contradiction is that with the emancipation of lesser privileged classes, the nation gradually lost the indicates of speaking to every other in a typical language. This writer was fortunate sufficient to have grown up in Colombo in the 1960s and 1970s. Small did we understand that this was the “calm prior to the storm”. Our parents had gone to schools such as Royal, St Thomas, Trinity and their lingua franca was English and their drink of option was Scotch. Sinhala, Tamil or Burgher didn’t matter when parties were held, buddies got inebriated together, cried and fought more than silly issues such as which college had a far better cricket group. They listened to English music largely and study English newspapers. The savvy entrepreneurs no matter whether they have been Tamil or Sinhalese also faired really properly. But was that reality or was that the realm of the couple of privileged families whose 1st language was English?

Then came this writer’s post 1956 generation this was the first generation of the either Sinhala or Tamil education streams in the exact same college. Previously the elite schools employed English as the medium of instruction for all students. Abruptly there was a “Sinhala-stream and a Tamil-stream” and for the lucky handful of “an English-stream” class as well. English was taught only as a Second language at Royal to the Sinhalese and Tamil students. By the 1980s the older generation of outstanding English teachers were replaced by teachers who had quite restricted fluency in the language and taught it really badly the distinction was quite evident in good quality of English education in the senior grades. This writer didn’t feel also comfortable speaking English as a youngster, even even though at home his parents spoke English as did his Grandparents. The older generation partied and mingled with every single other with ease language was not a barrier simply because everyone spoke English. Their cultural identities had been still clearly influenced by the Colonials. There were a couple of who had married from other communities, such as this lovable Senior Police officer who employed to get tipsy at our dinner table and turn out to be emotional. Venerated legal luminaries like Vanam Rajaratnam were good buddies of this writer’s father. Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil assassinated by the LTTE (the ideal ever Foreign Minister Sri Lanka had) was on a 1st name basis with this writer’s father, possessing been from the same school. This possibly was probably the case for many youngsters Tamil or Sinhalese, if they have been from the privileged classes of dare we say the “lucky” generation? This writer started studying Tamil in 1979 beneath the tutelage of a wonderful retired Tamil government servant (as portion of a requirement for his first job in Sri Lanka) was able to study the initial grade book and regrets fully dropping it afterwards.

The End of an Era

Following those expedient decisions of 1956, even at a privileged public school like Royal, where students came from a lot of socio-revenue strata including from slums of Kollupitiya or Jawatte, the medium of communications had been split students either spoke Sinhala, English or Tamil based on which “language stream” class we have been assigned to. There was no link language. The only Tamil and Sinhala students who spoke to each other, have been the Tamils who spoke Sinhala and Sinhalese who spoke either English or Sinhala or each. Judging by the angry reactions to this writer’s arguments about the two groups becoming of the same origins, it is certainly a sad reality that even a fight more than marbles on the terraces at Royal Junior in the course of recess became a “demala panthiyey” or as somebody sadly pointed out “ado demala” as opposed to just becoming so and so who was being a jerk. Why? If it were a fight over marbles it shouldn’t matter what race the offender was.

Similarly in the US regardless of all efforts such cultural dividers exist. A student of this writer’s who was a single African-American parent shared a story how her daughter was told by her classmates in grade three, that they had been not allowed to play with or invite black kids to their properties simply because our parents don’t like “ni****s”. This was in 2010 and not even in an old Confederate state. After, an old black man at a Bar in Milledgeville, Georgia described the racial divide this way “you know the distinction amongst racists in the south and north? In the south, the white man does not care how close a “ni*****s gets to him as long we don’t get also higher up in life and in the north the white man doesn’t care how high up we get in life as extended as we don’t get too close to them”. Sadly there is a lot of home truth in that statement even these days though much has changed for the better in most spheres of the economy.   Yet from time to time suspicion and rage leads to riots. Ferguson was the most recent. Ahead of that in 1994 following the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles Chicago riots in the aftermath of Dr.King’s murder and numerous instances in in between.

Adjust is not not possible

In spite of a far longer history of constitutional discrimination and targeted attacks on Blacks, and regardless of them not becoming even deemed equal to a white particular person, over time the USA has evolved into a significantly higher state of tolerance than it was barely 50 years ago. Race relations have taken a toll for the worse with reports of excessive police action in numerous states lately, but items are far much better for black folks than they had been 50 years ago with much more awareness and far more political activism. Such contradictions and variations must not be permitted to take root in Sri Lanka.

This writer thinks the following would be a start towards altering our society:

  1. The senior leader of the UNP ought to emulate President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge and apologize for the heinous crimes of Black July 1983. Amazingly when asked if she hates Tamils for what the Tigers did to her, Chandrika’s response was “no require to hate an entire people for what some have done”
  2. The TNA must apologize, on behalf of the Tamil community, for the atrocities committed by the Tigers such as massacres of females and children, and the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims and Sinhalese from the North.
  3. An immediate establishment of Language laboratories and mandatory language research from Grade 1 so that all communities will be necessary to understand Tamil, English and Sinhalese.
  4. An independent non-political task force comprised of legal and forensic experts of both communities to investigate the final days of the war and figure out what truly happened.
  5. A commission to document and produce a database of those who lost lands due to war.
  6. An independent non-political job force to account for the 1987-89 period when thousands of Sinhalese youth disappeared.
  7. Locating the bodies of the 600 policemen who have been massacred by the Tamil Tiger terrorists.
  8. Take actions to bring back Sri Lankan refugees in India even though meticulously screening for Tiger terrorist infiltrators
  9. Take methods to allow the 95,000 Muslim and other victims of Ethnic cleansing in the North to return to their houses as properly.
  10. A committee with powers to report on abuse of minorities and beneath privileged communities of all races by law enforcement authorities.
  11. More language proficient police from local places to deal with everyday law and order concerns.
  12. The establishment of a national Broadband Network, so that more communication can take spot among citizens with out the State being involved. Social media networks are effective tools that were used effectively during the recent election. Enable free of charge access to all varieties of social media, so Sri Lankans as a nation can communicate with a single an additional.
  13. Concerted efforts by the government to heal the psychological scars of war on youngsters, ladies and the disabled of each communities by growing the number of vernacular speaking counselors with the help of volunteer services such as the amazing VSOSL which no longer functions there.
  14. Cultural exchanges organized for school children of all communities to travel and live inside a community of the other group for a handful of days under supervision by adults so they can see the circumstances of poverty and lack of access to sources cuts across all communities outdoors the privileged classes.
  15. Incorporate civil and human rights into the school curricula and replace religious studies as an O-level topic.
  16. Introduce legislation comparable to the 4th amendment to the US constitution which protects individual privacy, and every citizen’s correct to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, houses, organizations and property-weather by way of police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of homes and firms4.
  17. Introduce legislation to equivalent to the fiveth amendment to the US constitution which offers the correct to not to give self-incriminatory statements in when taken into police custody.

In conclusion, will Sri Lanka ever have a leader who will emerge to be like MLK? Most moderate Tamil leaders have been murdered by the LTTE fascists, Sinhala leaders like the charismatic humanist Vijaya Kumaranatunge were assassinated by southern extremists. Much more to the point, who will be Sri Lanka’s LBJ who will do the correct issue ? Will President Sirisena be the a single to succeed where others failed?





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