By Hema Senanayake –
A couple of months ago BBS became a household name in Sri Lanka. We may agree or may not agree with the views of BBS but we all agree that it created a heavy impact in the social fabric of Sri Lanka. Some people think that BBS is a patriot movement and some people think that it is a cheap racist organization.
Therefore when somebody told me that the General Secretary of BBS (Bodu Bala Sena) was supposed to come to the New York Buddhist Vihara on May 05th to submit his case to Sinhalese community in New York I thought I should come and meet him to ask a question. So, I asked one of the resident monks in the temple that whether the session was open for a discussion. The reverend monk told me that the planned session had been cancelled. I missed the opportunity of asking an important question directly from the General Secretary of BBS. So, I thought I would raise that question through the media.
The question is about as to how we recognize a Sinhala racist.
There is a small background story to this question. Let me explain it first. One of my Sinhala friends’ son was studying in Queens, New York. At about grade 10 he left this school to a new school in Howard Beach area close to the JFK airport. In that school most of the students were white. Majority of them were from Italian descent and some of them were from Irish decent. In fact in this boy’s very first class in that school there were no students from African descent. For dark skin students there were only two, one was my friend’s son and the other was an Indian girl.
In the evening of the very first day in that school I telephoned the boy as to find out how he was doing in the new school because I knew that old students sometimes play mischiefs on newcomers. In responding to my call he replied that the school was good and he said “but one racist white student yelled at me.”
“What did he say” I asked him. The white student had told our boy “go back to your country, go back to your jungle.” Perhaps some of those students might have thought that Sri Lanka was a jungle. I asked him whether he was scared. He said “No, I did not but I gave him a good reply.”
This child had told the white guy that he would go back to Sri Lanka but on a certain basis. The white student had asked what the basis was. He had told him that the basis was “first-in-first-out”; “so, you came first and must go out first then I would go back next.” Our child was studying American history in that grade and knew that white people came to America a few centuries ago from Europe. That was the reason he intelligently played a trick on the white student without going into a verbal or physical fight. I asked him as to what happened after that. He said that the white student had just gone away.
From this story we get a practical definition as to who a racist is. Our child defined the white student who yelled at him as a racist because that student had asked him to go back to his country thinking that the America is belonged to them only. In the same way if a white skin person come and say to any member of Sinhala community who domiciled in the United States that he or she has to go back to Sri Lanka they would definitely identify that person as a racist. So, this establishes a universal practical definition for a racist. That is, a racist is a person who thinks that a country belongs only to its old inhabitants who contributed much to the country’s culture. Racists think that other citizens must go back to countries where they came from.
Let us equally apply this definition to Sri Lanka. If a Sinhala-Buddhist person thinks that Tamil or Muslim citizens must go back to their former countries, that person is a racist. Also if that person verbally abuses citizens of minorities and destroys their properties, that person is a full blown racist. From this definition even a child like my friend’s son could recognize who a racist is. I like this practical definition of racism than the scholarly definition of the word which says that racism means “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (Oxford Dictionary).
Racist is not a patriot; racists are disgrace to a country. So, I wanted to ask from BBS Secretary General whether BBS is a racist movement in terms of my friend’s son definition of the word. Since I have missed that opportunity as the General Secretary had cancelled his planned meeting in New York, I now pose this question to the members of Sri Lankan community that live in the United States and elsewhere around the world. What is BBS in view of their recent acts, speeches and declarations?
In view of the same definition, LTTE was a racist organization because they evicted around 100,000 Muslims from North thinking that north was part of Tamil homeland. Therefore I think this is a fair and practical definition of a racist so that even a child could recognize who a racist is. Hence this definition must be duly embedded into the core of the social fabric in Sri Lanka.