A workshop held last year led to the creation of the blog, Written for Reconciliation. Here contributors spoke about the various aspects of reconciliation and how we, as the youth of the nation, could help understand and accept people regardless of their ethnicity or gender. Through this blog, the contributors themselves came together and accepted that reconciliation is easier said than done.
Harmony between various ethnic communities is not easy to achieve. It takes a great deal of understanding, tolerance and acceptance to love people or associate with people despite the different social backgrounds they come from. During a time when the country is full of so much hate and intolerance, a question that is constantly asked is; what part does the youth play in reconciliation?
The future of a nation is in the hands of youth. While adults are in charge of today, the youth is in charge of tomorrow. And today isn’t all that bright and sunny. It’s a time when people would rather hate than love, make war than peace. Thus, it is tomorrow that can bring about change. And tomorrow belongs to us.
Further, young adults have very little history to consider. Very few let riots and murders and battles decide on their behalf. Few are brought up in families that believe in the importance of the caste system, and the various classes of society. There was a time when a Colombo school was only for the wealthy, English speaking families. Today, the scholarship system allows students from the more ‘in the middle of nowhere’ villages to study in the same class as someone from a ‘Colombo Seven’ family. Today’s youth are not geared to discriminate or hate. We are taught to love and to accept. We are told of the importance of reconciliation.
Very few schools are strictly Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu or Muslim schools anymore. We studied with students who worshipped different gods, and followed different traditions. Race and religion were not deciding factors of friendship. While the ignorance of one’s history is not to be taken lightly, the youth’s lack of knowledge of our nation’s dark history, where blood has been shed mercilessly, is one of the main reasons the youth doesn’t give importance to ethnic differences. Our parents use their own experiences and memories to hate, but we have very little memories and experiences that will make us bigots.
Our complexion, accent, language, religion and traditions are not dividers. They are not barriers. And they should never stop one from doing what they love.
Today there are many youth organizations that work towards creating better environments for people to live in. Issues regarding the youth, but also the future of the nation are being discussed due to the interest in youth to be the change the country needs, and also due to the need of a stronger youth.
Adults often believe young adults shouldn’t interfere with adult matters. “You just learnt your ABCs. So what do you know about reconciliation?” Such attitudes discourage people, and silence many voices. Today, not many keep quiet while their rights are breached. Not many choose to suffer in silence.
This is why there are so many organizations that focus on human rights. Workshops, programs, projects are organized to spread awareness, develop leadership skills, and give the youth a platform to show they care. Further, there is a large number of blogs, sites and forums where youth voice their opinions. Reading the stories, articles or poems written by young people, who live ordinary lives, and who see the injustice around them, gives us all hope about tomorrow.
We are so pessimistic. We often believe the situation cannot be changed, that racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will continue. And instead of trying to change the situation, people tend to accept it. They think it is okay to hate if one comes from the North or South. They think its okay to hate if one speaks a different language.
Most of us have read some version of Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. Remember how Shylock is insulted by Antonio?
“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”
This is one of the most important quotes of Merchant of Venice, and it perfectly captures the idea that after all, we are one and the same. And yet, we continue to distinguish one and another by skin color, race and religion. For years, African Americans were called blacks. Why? Because, they were dark in color. Somewhere, someone realized it was an insult, and instead decided to call non fair skinned people colored.
When I born, I black
When I grow up, I black
When I go in sun, I black
When I scared, I black
When I sick, I black
And when I die, I still black
And you white fellow
When you born, you pink
When you grow up, you white
When you go in sun, you red
When you cold, you blue
When you scared, you yellow
When you sick, you green
And when you die, you gray
And you calling me colored?
The above poem shows that the labels and terms we give certain communities often lack a proper basis. Dark-skinned or fair-skinned, we all belong to a certain color, and have no right to call one white, black or yellow. We are beautiful regardless of our complexion.
Whether you are a Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher, you have a right to the same opportunities, and you have a right to live. And reconciliation between ethnic communities will be possible only if the youth stands against the discrimination, hate and violence that people seem to encourage and indulge in with very little shame.