Sri Lankans Don't Conform to White, Western, Individualism

I’m a 23 year old Sinhalese woman in Minnesota by way of Dubai by way of Sri Lanka. I am a Womanist, and part of my womanism is figuring out how to be in solidarity with my transnational sisters worldwide. I’m a daughter, a sister, a partner and a writer. I’m a brown girl who knows Shakespeare by heart and devours anything Toni Morrison. I believe in radical, revolutionary living and loving.  I blog at Irresistible Revolution.

 The new year is barely underway and already there’s tons to rage about. This Chicano studies program in Arizona is under threat because as usual white people are threatened by the thought of empowered brown folks.

At the university I attend, the Multicultural Studies program is under attack by numerous white professors claiming that our knowledge is not as ‘real’ or ‘rigorous’ as theirs. Translate: only white people are allowed to teach about ‘other cultures’ because that way, supremacy remains unchallenged.

I was tempted to have my first post of the year be about calling out, yet again, the continued colonization of our minds, our bodies, our intimate spaces, our sense of self. But then I thought, hey, we have survived and are surviving despite the colonialities we must struggle through, and in that survival lies power and wisdom and beauty beyond anything whiteness can ever conceive, imitate or destroy. I write this post, my first post in the year 2011, in the spirit of acknowledging all the brown cultures that thrive and flourish and enrich the lives of their people. I write this post to unequivocally declare: Sri Lankans know how to PARTY!

I spent the holidays with my aunt’s family in Toronto, and we had a blast. In between the lounging and gorging on food and dancing, I noticed things about the way Sri Lankans party that struck me as never before. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, when we party we party with the whole family. There’s no looking for a babysitter so mom and dad can go out, no bemoaning the loss of a social life once you have kids, no worrying about whether the teenagers are out getting drunk and risking their lives driving home. That’s because most Sri Lankans I know, don’t go out to the bar to drink. We pour a glass while we cook, sip some wine before dinner, maybe even dance a tune or two before sitting down at the table. And when we party, like for Christmas or New Year, we either ask people over or they ask us over. Once again, the whole household. That’s right, kids, teenagers, toddlers, visiting relatives, cousins, EVERYONE.  At Sri Lankan house parties, it’s not unusual to have kids dozing on the couches while their parents fire up the dance floor, or to have them grumbling sleepily as they’re loaded into the car for the ride back home. Oftentimes, my aunt would be the family designated driver for the evening; of course, when we have house parties, everyone in the house gets to throw one back.

White people often dismiss cultures of colour as too ‘traditional’, or patronizingly refer to us as ‘family-oriented’; oftentimes white feminists characterise us as too traditional and family oriented because our agenda for social justice doesn’t conform to white, western, individualism. Well in the traditional, family-oriented culture I grew up in, I learned to drink safely with my parents, I learned that dancing baila (a creolised dance inspired by the Portuguese kaffringa) doesn’t require classes or prowess, only the willingness to laugh. And I also learned that everyone has a role to play in maintaining community, even though this involves occasionally sitting through parties one would rather not attend, because at the end of the day most people will have your back when shit hits the fan. I learned that nothing brings people together like homemade food prepared with love. When the Sri Lankan cricket team beat the racist Australian team to take home the 1996 Cricket World Cup, I remember being 10 years old and sitting around with my parents and cousins, seeing them pump their fists to this song, and learning what national pride means to brown people.

And I learned that among ourselves, sharing the food and music we love, us brown people can empower, enrich and sustain each other to survive a white supremacist world with joy and dignity. And as I write this I know that this is why we NEED to continue fighting for our right to teach, learn about and love our cultures, to empower others and decolonize our lives. The revolution is here and now; the revolution is us.

This last video is dedicated to any fellow Lankans reading this who enjoy a good baila beat. Suba aluth awurudak weva! Happy New Year everybody!

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