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'I am Muru, I am from Nigeria'
Jaffna from about 1990-1995, was primarily occupied by Tamil People. Other groups, including Muslims, were forced to evacuate the region by the Tamil Tigers in 1990 (the Tigers, in later years, apologized to the Muslim community, and asked them to resettle in their lands). As a result, Jaffna kids growing up during that period were not exposed to people other than those just like them.
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Jaffna from about 1990-1995 was primarily occupied by Tamil People. Other groups, including Muslims, were forced to evacuate the region by the Tamil Tigers in 1990 (the Tigers, in later years, apologized to the Muslim community, and asked them to re-settle in their lands). As a result, Jaffna kids growing up during that period were not exposed to people other than those just like them. There was also a lack of access to mainstream media under the territories controlled by the Tigers, which had also deprived Jaffna kids of any exposure to other ethnic groups.
 
The mere talk about members of the Sri Lankan (SL) army, of Sinhala origin, would trigger their curiosity. They would imagine how the Sinhalese would look in real life. They wanted to meet them; learn about the culture, language, and religious differences between them, and that of their counterparts in the south. The Tamil Tigers made Jaffna the fortress of Tamils. They simply didn’t allow any other ethnicities to spread their roots in the soil of Jaffna, for they believed that not only Jaffna, but the entire Northeastern SL, historically belonged to the Tamil people.
 
All this was happening while the SL army was stationed just about twenty kilometres away from Jaffna town at the Palaly military base (the SL Army initiated a military offensive in October 1995 that had led to the mass exodus of Jaffna). The peninsula fell to the SL Army in December 1995, and Tamil people gradually began to resettle in their homes. It was during the resettlement period that the kids who were born between 1988-1990, for the first time in their lives, interacted with a group other than Tamils, that too, in the form of the Sinhala army personnel, not the civilian population. 
 
Other than the Sinhala soldiers, the Jaffna kids growing up in that period, were only exposed to other races and ethnicities through their grade three English textbook. The textbook would contain the images of people of different backgrounds, with each presenting themselves stating their country of origin. Among them, Muru from Nigeria was one of the most talked about. Muru would introduce himself in the following way: “I am Muru, I am from Nigeria.” A Tamil boy born in Jaffna in 1988 had to wait until the age of eight to be introduced to a black boy from Nigeria, that too through a textbook.

Muru from Nigeria was not treated with respect by the Jaffna kids, who had been raised with colonial ideals of beauty. He was often picked on for his skin colour and for his afro-textured hair. The Jaffna kids would body shame their friends comparing them to Muru’s skin colour and his hair. Because having black skin was seen as a shame among many in the community.

A page from Grade 3 English Text book in Srilanka, in which Muru introduces himself along with others. A page from the english book taught to Jaffna kids
 
With the availability of television and electricity, the Jaffna boys started watching cricket matches where they would sometimes see black players from countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, playing a bilateral series against India or SL. The players from these teams were now familiar faces to Jaffna boys, through their introduction to Muru from Nigeria. The Jaffna boys at that time would make fun of their friends, comparing them to Zimbabwean or Kenyan cricket players to make derogatory comments about the colour of their skin.
 
Henry Olonga, the black African cricketer from Zimbabwe suffered the most ridicule by Jaffna boys, just like Muru from Nigeria. He was picked on for his skin colour, ignoring his cricketing skills. The lack of multiculturalism in Jaffna might have played a role in how they behaved. In western countries like Canada, even the toddlers going to daycare could have the privilege of growing up along with kids of other races, and it's a community which is coming to terms with racism despite the diversity. Had the Jaffna kids grown up alongside other races, their perspectives about the black community could have been different.
Henry Olanga, cricketer from Zimbabwe who played in the late 90s to early 2000s Zimbabwean cricketer, Henry Olonga
Interestingly enough, most of the Tamil boys and girls who made fun of Muru and Henry Olonga, immigrated to western countries, where they had to get accustomed to and embrace multiculturalism in their respective countries of immigration. They even marry people outside of the race. But the real question is - has their mentality of making fun of dark skin changed? Have they learned to let go of their racist learnings? Has the community at large matured enough to accept and embrace all races as their own, and treat them with genuine respect and equality?

We may, on a regular basis, leave room for racism to grow within our own households. When was the last time someone you know referred to a black person as “Karuval/Karuppi?” A Chinese person as “Sappadai?” Surely, other races may have terms to call their counterparts, so this is not limited to the Tamil community.

We all are boiling with rage over the death of Geroge Floyd, but we are also without or with our knowledge contributing to the growth of racism. When are we going to change?In fact, there is outright discrimination even within a race. Take casteism among Tamils for example. It’s deeply rooted in people's beliefs. It’s a huge issue in the Tamil community, but not often spoken about out loud.

Unless we are open to real change, racism and discrimination in all its forms will continue to live in our society, and we may hide it within ourselves, and continue to be politically correct about it in public.

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Created By
Kumaran Loganathan
blogging | blogging
Canada
I am passionate about movies, politics, sports and a bit of writing in free time.
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