More wise words from the brother Shiva
think many people make the mistake of considering Rastafari a religion/spiritual path first and foremost, which also has a history of political action. In truth it is exactly the opposite. Rastafari is first and foremost, and has always been, a political movement for black liberation. It is not like being a Christian or a Jew, where all you need is your faith and belief in a higher power. Rastafari originated out of an absolute necessity for black people to organize and defend our right to the traditions and cultures of our direct ancestors. It grew out of a necessity for Africans to have a healthy community which they could feel a part of, and as an outlet for us to organize these communities to create positive change. The spiritual context is simply a backdrop for the more radical political and social circumstance that is Rastafari, not the other way around.
To use an analogy, let us assume that in your area there is a support group for military veterans. (I want to make a disclaimer here; in no way do I support the actions of the US military but I'm attempting to illustrate my point in a way that is easy to understand). Let's say that veterans come together on a certain day of the week to share some of their horrific experiences. It is a space of healing and reconciliation for them, it is the only space in which they feel like they are safe amongst their own people...people who understand what they've been through and who can relate and who do not judge. "Normal" society does not understand what they have been through. So they have a pot-luck once a week and a small church service, but the point of the gatherings is not to eat food or to worship God--it is a gathering place for veterans. Now let's say that you hear about this group. Let's say you have never been in the military, and nobody in your recent family line has been in the military. Do you think it would be appropriate for you to show up and eat the food simply because you want to hear the church service? Would you call yourself a veteran? You could say, "Well, I'm not a veteran but I hate warfare and I believe in God so I should be able to come to your meetings, worship, and call myself one of you"...but clearly the meetings are not about worship, the meetings are a support group for people who must live with things that you, as a civilian, have never experienced and consequently cannot possibly understand. Disagreeing with warfare and condemning it does not qualify one for this veterans support group. Likewise, Rastafari is like a support group for Africans living in a white world. You are a white man in the white man's world, your day-to-day experience is completely different from a black persons...you will never understand what our experience is like. Sure, you can sympathize and you can actively be an anti-racist ally, but for you to come to our support group and insist that you be allowed membership is to disregard our suffering and ignore our wishes to have a space to be African. To go back to the military analogy...if there are many Churches all over your town and you would like to worship God, go do so there; why do you have to do it in the middle of a veterans support group? Likewise, Jah is not unique to Rastafari. You can believe in the divinity of Haile Selassie and still be a Christian, or follow any other spiritual path. Like condemning warfare does not make one a veteran, simply condemning Babylon does not make one a Ras nor does having the same spiritual beliefs. Like the Church service does not constitute the purpose of the veteran support group, the spiritual beliefs of Rastafari alone do not constitute what it means to be a Rasta. So why Rastafari?
Now I know that the birthplace of humanity is Africa, but you are not black. And to say that "we are all from Africa so therefore I have a right to be a part of black spaces" is a huge generalization and entirely misses the point that BLACK people are suffering NOW. We might all be from Africa at some point down the line, but those of us who have a much more direct and recent connection are penalized because of it. Again to go back to the veteran analogy, imagine justifying your so called right to be a part of the support group by claiming that you had a great-great-great-great-great grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War. Does that make you a veteran simply because a distant relative was at one point? Do you suffer from PTSD and all of the terrible effects of warfare because of this distant connection? No, you do not. You live a comfortable life as a civilian and it would seem outrageous and insensitive to claim yourself a veteran. To impose yourself on such a group takes away from the entire purpose of it, and it directly affects the experience and healing process for the veterans in the group. By doing so you are disempowering the veterans, disregarding their wishes, and hindering their path to healing.
Earlier in this thread Humble one asked if a white person could be considered a Rasta if they follow the spiritual practice and they additionally take part in the political movement to challenge racism and Babylonian Imperialism. I have no authority to say who can or cant be Ras but let I say that if I were in your shoes I would consider Iself an ally to the Rastafari cause. To pose a question for you, and to return one last time to the veteran analogy, if you were to be an engaged anti-war activist and an outspoken champion for veterans' rights does that make you a veteran or an ally to the veteran community? Food for thought.
Now Hemphill says that he "would" actively condemn Babylon, and much respect there. What is stopping you? And let me also say that backseat condemnation and working to actively dismantle oppressive systems are two very different things. Your condemnation means nothing if you do nothing to back it up. In the organizing world we call such people "armchair activists". If you are genuinely motivated to challenge Babylon it takes a lot of work and education. One must organize, strategize, and work with others to put pressure on the system. It is easy to talk the talk, but the walk is a difficult and dangerous path that far fewer people take the effort to tread. We will never create the world we want to see by sitting around and chanting "Kumbaya". We will not achieve victory by appealing to the emotions of the downpressor. We must be strategic, outspoken, diligent, and militant. We must make the downpressor cease his violence either by applying pressure in a way so that it is in his political/economic interest to do so, or by forcefully dismantling the foundations of his empire. People have devoted their lives to writing books about all the ways in which this can be done, and generations of brave folks have died in the process of trial-and-error. There are strategies that simply don't work, and there are those which we know to be effective. If you really want to be helpful to the cause you must, must, must educate yourself. Otherwise we're doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, and such endeavors are simply not useful to I African people. We want to win.
I hate to pick on you both, but this is a perfect example of why it is so important to educate oneself. When in the "revolutionary arena", so to speak, there are things you just don't do. And attempting to assert oneself as a part of another groups cause without doing the necessary groundwork is something you simply don't do. I appreciate your sincerity, it is clear to I that you are good people. But at the same time that you claim to be a "friend of the Africans" you are asserting white-supremacy by trying to appropriate an African movement and apply to it your own values. "We are all from Africa, Jah loves everyone, etc..." This mentality is the epitome of white supremacy. White people condemn the cultures of those who they see as lesser, but they appropriate what they find attractive and whitewash it with their own values that were never a part of the original culture. Every time a white person on this board asks this question, it is almost entirely unanimous that the black members here say, "No, this is for us"...but their voices go unheard and white people claim the Ras title anyways simply because they find some of the spiritual aspects of the movement attractive. This is what modern racism looks like.
I think of Bob Marley. He is a global icon, and in Babylon his music is as widespread as Elvis. He is one of the most well known musicians in history. Some see this as a good thing. I do not. To I, it shows Babylon's inability to actually listen to what others have to say. Bob Marley was a radical. His music spoke of revolution and of condemning the ways of Babylon, yet even so I hear his music played by the most wicked of Babylon's people on a regular basis. They like the idea of "peace and love and unity" and they like his rhythm, but they refuse to listen to what he is actually saying. They refuse to do the work that comes with it. They appropriate Jamaican music because they like how it sounds, they strip it of everything it has to say, sanitize it, and reduce it to white values of "peace and love". It is outrageous. It is insulting. And now there is an entire culture of white folks who claim to be open-minded and loving because they listen to reggae, rock dreadlocks, and smoke ganja--but in reality their day to day life is indistinguishable from any other white person in Babylon. They love to point the finger but they do not actually confront power structures, or understand how they are shaped by their own privilege, and they refuse to do the critical thinking to get to that point. They listen to Bob Marley and in their mind that qualifies them. Because they have appropriated and "accepted" the lesser culture, they deem themselves purged of racism and all of the negative qualities of Babylon. It is exactly this self-righteous, so called "liberal" mentality that is so harmful to our cause.
I want to provide one more analogy for you. (I love analogies, as you can probably tell lol) Imagine that we all live in campsites. There is the white campsite, the black campsite, the Asian campsite, the Latino campsite, the Hispanic campsite, etc...The white campsite is the smallest, but because it goes around and takes what it wants from all of the other campsites it has the most food and resources. The white campsite is full of abundance, anything that the white folks want they have access to; and if it is not immediately available they just take it from other campsites. The other campsites are meager and just scraping by, and though sometimes they get scraps from the white camp they are generally not allowed access to any of the white camp's abundant resources. Now not all of the people in the white camp agree with how the other camps are treated, but it is not up to them to make the rules and so they sit back content as can be, convinced that they are unable to actually change anything. Let's say you are one of these campers. One day you decide that the food here has become tasteless. You are sick of eating the same thing everyday and you have begun to see the wicked ways of the other white campers. You go for a hike to see the other campsites. You look around and feel sorry that so many people are scraping by while you are able to stuff your face. You come across the African camp. This camp is the most destitute, they have the least amount of resources. Even so, it appears that these Africans have been able to pool their collective resources and create a stew that they call "Rastafari". You get closer, the stew smells fantastic. You would give anything to have just a sip of their creation. In fact it smells so good that you want to take it and bring it back with you to the white campsite just to prove a point. To prove to them that there is other food which tastes better than theirs. You walk into the campsite, unannounced, and begin to pour yourself some "Rastafari stew". An African camper approaches you and says, "Brother, what are you doing? This is our stew! It is all that we have to eat! It is made from all that we left, your people have taken everything else from us!" You respond by saying, "Don't worry my friend, I'm not like the others. I do not like how the food in our campsite tastes. I would prefer your stew, for it is the best tasting stew I have ever had." The African replies, "But you have so much to choose from over there! None of us have access to such plenty, and we would give anything for such a feast that you enjoy every day! Yet even so this is not enough for you?" You say, "No, I do not want that food; I have to eat it every single day and it has lost its taste, it is no longer tasteful to me. I have grown bored of the food in my own campsite. I want this stew, it is untainted by greed." The African laughs, "And why do you think that we should share this stew with you? It is made of our own labor, with all that we have left in this world. You have taken everything else, now go and enjoy your spoils and leave us in peace." But you refuse. You desperately want that soup, and nobody has ever told you "no" before. You feel full of indignation...how could these people have so much nerve as to say that you can't have a sip of their stew?! Clearly they must not see the error of their ways. Somehow you must prove to them that you are not like the other white campers, then perhaps they will share. So you tell the African, "Listen, I am entitled to this soup. I am sorry that I have so much and you have so little but I did not ask for that, I do not make the rules. I am asking for some of your stew and you are in the wrong for not letting me have any, do you not understand that we are all just people? We all have the right to eat stew and you cannot deny me that right!" The African stares blankly for a moment before he cracks a smile and says, "Yes my friend, we all have the right to eat stew. It is indeed our birthright. But you see that you have hundreds of stews to choose from back in your own campsite, and they are essentially the same as this stew. The only difference is that this is all the stew that we have, you have already taken everything else. Why can you not be content with the stews that you already have? The ingredients are only slightly different..." And so you debate back and forth until finally you decide you are sick of this ignorant African man and you take the stew for yourself, pour some in a bowl, and run back to your own campsite to enjoy it. Before too long, other people from the white camp are coming for a taste of this "Rastafari stew" and clearly the Africans cannot keep them all at bay. Time passes and more and more white campers come to sample this renowned and "exotic" stew, and when all is said and done the Africans are left yet again with nothing to eat while those in the white camp have taken the stew and mixed it with their own ingredients, integrating it into their seemingly endless choice of stews. Eventually the original "Rastafari stew" is so diluted that people forget it ever actually existed as it's own unique stew. It no longer tastes like "Rastafari" as it was originally, in fact it becomes almost indistinguishable from all of the other stews. The white-camp, having appropriated this stew and diluted it to the point that they can no longer taste it, eventually moves on and seeks something more novel. And yet again there is another young white man who finds himself bored of the available food selection, so he goes exploring the other campsites looking for new and exotic cuisine to sample...
This is an incredibly long post and I apologize for that. I also don't mean any of what I have said as a personal attack, I am just speaking from the heart. To share my own experiences, I am black but I grew up in one of the whitest regions of the USA. Even as a black person, I was so conditioned by unquestioned realities of the white world that I was subconsciously convinced of my own inferior nature for the better half of my life. It wasn't until I actually connected with more black people and began to educate myself that I realized all of the ways that I had been limited. I grew up around supposedly open-minded and so called "liberal" white people. The idea of racism, in their minds, was a thing of the past. There was a reggae festival in my home-town every summer and it was full of white Rastas. I do not exaggerate when I say that I can't even count how many supposedly white Rastas I have met. And let me just say, as someone who grew up in the heart of this culture, that the way in which Rastafari is presented in the West is not accurate. As is the case with reggae music, it has been sanitized and whitewashed. It has been reduced to it's most basic parts so that it might be applicable to white people. Rastafari is so much more than "Peace and love and unity". In my own opinion, to be white and to claim oneself as a Ras is to admit that one does not even understand what Rastafari is. In America, Rastafari is often associated with "hippie" culture. I am not saying that this is you, but let me just be clear for any white person reading this that Rastafari has NOTHING to do The Grateful Dead and is MUCH MORE than growing out your locks, loving Jah, and smoking the herb. Rastafari has been "Disneyfied"...it is not the neat, pretty little package which so many in Babylon seem to think it is. I am a black man, I have locks, I follow an Ital diet, I worship Jah...but I have beliefs and practices which fundamentally differ from the ways of a Ras, so rightly I am not going to take it upon myself to call I a Ras. Why would I? Sure, I have always been attracted to Rastafari and part of I is dissapointed that it just isnt for I...but if my own experience is such that it is incompatible with the ways of a Ras then I am not going to label myself as such. I am still intrigued by the movement, and that is why I stay active on these boards. I enjoy looking at Rastafari as a movement, and learning about it's unique approach to liberation so that I might compare and contrast it with my own...for I it is a part of the process of my ongoing political education. And I would encourage anyone, white or black or otherwise, to engage with Rastafari in this way....but to claim that title for Iself is a bold thing indeed.
I understand that as humans we seek community and meaning in our lives, and we often attach ourselves to the nearest thing which resonates with our own sentiments and beliefs. There is nothing wrong with looking to other cultures and traditions to inform your own practice. I see no problem with supplementing your belief system with ideals drawn from Rastafari, and sharing that knowledge with people. But it is an entirely different matter to claim it for yourself and that is all I am trying to say here. Do not claim something that is not yours for yourself. Learn from it, listen to what it has to say, but remember that it does not belong to you. White supremacy entails the unspoken and unacknowledged belief that as a white person, you have a right to anything and everything. The white man believes that he is entitled to whatever he decides that he wants and he will use whatever logic he can to defend his supposed birthright. As a community of black people this board is explicitly stating that Rastafari is a black outlet. It might not be the answer you want to hear, but if you actually want to challenge white supremacy start by challenging yourself. You are not entitled to everything, and we are saying here that you are not entitled to Rastafari.
Let me just end by saying once again that Rastafari is not a neat little package. It is not all about peace and love. It has a very specific body that operates according to its own set of laws and beliefs. I was drawn to it for many of the same reasons as you, but through investigation and education I have learned that it is not all of these things which Babylon portrays it as. I have no wish to criticize the beliefs of this community so I will not do so, but I will say that Rastafari is not the all-loving, open and accepting, peaceful community that I once thought. Overstand what you are claiming to believe if you call Iself a Ras.
Much respect to you both as humans, who have every right to pursue your own set of beliefs and practices. I challenge and encourage you to prove I wrong...show I that you can be a Ras if it is truly that important to you. But know that challenging white supremacy is hard work; it is not easy and saying that you are not racist does not just magically make it so...all work for positive change must start with the Self. If you cannot challenge yourself how can you expect us to take your claims seriously? I will not be convinced if you are alone in your pursuit and do not actually know any black people, do not engage in liberation work, and constitute your claim solely on the fact that you agree with the spiritual principles of Rastafari. The spiritual aspect of Rastafari is no different from any other spiritual practice. Jah is going to be Jah no matter what lens you look through. What separates Rastafari from other practices is that it is not strictly a religion, it is a political and social movement for black self-empowerment...that is what defines it as Rastafari and not as a reformed Christianity or Judaism. To ignore the black-revolutionary aspect of it is to miss the entire point.
Here is a small list of online resources which you might find useful and enlightening:
A Chicago based blog which attempts to document how the current prison industrial complex operates and to underscore the ways that it structures American society. Understanding the PIC is absolutely essential to understanding how racism operates in the modern world. I would highly recommend checking out the "Essential Reading" section of this website for relevant literature (here: http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/essential-pic-reading-list/)
A website loaded with historical documents and literature that is usually not taught in Babylon schools. This is an incredible resource for historical context...you can download entire books for free.
An amateur blog about cultural appropriation and white privilege. From the Native American perspective but very enlightening, I definitely suggest this as it is EXACTLY what we are discussing in this thread. If nothing else, please at least check this out as it is extremely relevant to this discussion.
I'd recommend learning about the history of colonization, decolonization struggles, and the continuing legacy of the effects of colonization in the modern world. I recently finished a book called "The Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon that was very informative. If you have an interest in psychology and sociology at all then this book should be an easy and fun read for you.
The book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" is a very good introduction to the topic of the prison industrial complex and "invisible" racism in the modern age. It's responsible for much of the mainstream dialogue about race which is taking place in the US and parts of Europe now.
For other books I would suggest checking out the Essential Reading section of Prison Culture which I linked to above. I am sure others here have suggestions as well.
Love and overstanding for all of Iration
Comes not to the I who lacks education
Peace and Inity for IandI
Comes only after we ask the right questions
So give Thanks and Praise to the Most High
And forget not the words of His Majesty,