The White Rasta: Should race matter in Rastafari?
Jah’s blessing and Tenastall’n
An important part of Rastafari is Reasoning. Almost every Rasta Reasons, with or without others, with or without ganja for meditation. So while observing Reasonings and reading Reasonings I and I have noticed the subject largely being reasoned these days is Multi-races in Rastafari. Specifically: Can someone be White and Rastafarian? This question understandably so is a huge topic of discussion, with Rastafari expanding so far and quickly. In my experience I and I have encountered instances of not only white Rastafarians, but asian Rastafarians also, and our movement has over one million followers world wide. With such rapid expansion, the question does arise about the legitimacy of non-black members in a predominantly black movement.
Before I and I continue let I and I make it clear that I and I am not considering myself an expert of Rastafari. I and I am not a major in “Rastafari Studies” (As if my University would ever include a class like that to begin with…), I and I am simply taking into consideration the most basic principles of Rastafari and interpreting them the best I and I can. This is I and I’s Reasoning.
First I and I must break down Rastafari into its three basic aspects. Most agree a Rasta should exhibit all three of these aspects (Although many will tell you some areas aren’t necessary): Symbolism, Spirituality, and Earth Based Movement. Symbolism involves what makes a Rasta distinct on the surface. This is where most people draw stereotypes of Rastafari from. Dreadlocks, Scarfs, Chains, Caps, covered in Red Gold and Green are all part of Symbolism. Spirituality involves how a Rasta worships Jah. It can be done in multiple ways including prayer, and can have multiple tools including ganja. Spirituality often differs from Rasta to Rasta but is rooted in common acceptance of Jah. The Earth Based Movement is the most complicated area when discussing race.
The E.B.M. is used by many to claim that Rastafari is a Black Liberation Theology. The E.B.M. is an aspect of Rastafari that deals with empowerment of the downpressed and those who haven’t experienced justice. The large argument against multi-races in Rastafari stems from this: Arguably blacks have been some of the most horribly downpressed races, and still face institutional racism and injustice in many parts of the world, therefore Rastafari’s E.B.M. is by blacks and therefore for blacks. Therefore Rastafari is a Black Liberation Theology, liberating blacks from Babylon.
But if that’s the case then technically whites and other light skinned people could never be fully Rasta. Why? The E.B.M. is part of the three aspects of Rastafari. Some say whites can participate in the other two aspects: Symbolism and Spirituality, perfectly fine. Whites can grow dreadlocks. Whites can know Jah and praise Jah. But it’s argued that whites can’t participate in the E.B.M. aspect. Of course whites can overstand (Rasta dialect for understand) the E.B.M. You can teach whites about slavery, racism, and Rastafari, but they won’t experience the suffering and injustice that is unique to the Black Experience. For example, I and I could teach a white person that the mishandling of ending slavery by the United States government has mortally scarred the U.S. with institutionalized racism, but I and I can’t make the white person experience this institutionalized racism without making the white person permanently black. The white person won’t suffer the same downpression and injustices because of the benefit of their skin tone.
But I and I brings this up in response: can a non-black person liberate him or herself from another suffering? Very little if not, nothing compares to the suffering and mistreatment of the black race globally. De-humanizing racism was new to the world and the first guinea pigs for it were Africans. That goes much farther and has more impacts than many realize. Still, that doesn’t mean no other suffering outside of it exists. People of many races and creeds suffered during the Holocaust. Does the fact that not all of them were black make their suffering any less significant to them and the world? One shouldn’t have to be black to participate in the E.B.M. The E.B.M. is a liberation movement, started by blacks but not exclusively for them. To claim that blacks are the only ones capable of suffering is absurd and goes against the core Rastafari belief of universality and equality. A person of any race can have a unique (Yet not equal to that of blacks) suffering they need to be liberated from that is respectable. Perhaps there are some whites who wish to be liberated from the stigma of their ignorant, prejudice, inhumane grandparents, and justify the damages caused by them. There certainly are whites and other races downppressed in other ways by Babylon including economically. Rastafari is well aware of Babylon’s growing greed for money, sometimes though not always regardless of color.
Another major argument against white and multi-racial inclusion in the pre-dominantly black Rastafari movement comes from the United States and its civil rights movement. A huge fear strikes through some that Rastafari’s principles will be watered down by the inclusion of multiple races, as many United States civil rights movements were. Some Rastas cite the NAACP and The Nation of Islam, others cultural movements such as Rock and Roll and Hip Hop, and more even cite the misguidance of “organizations” meant to emulate civil rights movements such as the United Bloods Nation and the Cribs (Crips). Quotes of the plague of multi-racial involvement support some Rastas’ fears. Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots” speech included: “They [whites] Joined it. They didn't integrate it they infiltrated it. They joined it, became a part of it, took it over.”
The problem with this argument though is that Rastafari is like no other movement in the past. Rastafari has an entirely different leadership and organization than these movements did. Rastafari is organized extremely locally – some Rastas may never meet with another Rasta, and don’t need to. Rastafari is a way of life more centered on the self and self organization than huge bodies of organization. There is no “Pope” or “Bishop” or “Priest” in Rastafari, no positions of incredible influence. Likewise, this organization of self in Rastafari makes each Rasta essentially a leader of his or herself. These components mean that the basic principles of Rastafari essentially remain the same as time passes. The possibility of badly intentioned people entering the movement and leading Rastas into a system to that person or that person’s race’s benefit are greatly limited.
Keeping in mind Rastafari’s uniqueness, one must understand I and I can’t use United States Black civil rights leaders to justify exclusion of multi-races in Rastafari. U.S. Civil Rights leaders (Outside of the Prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey) were not familiar with Rastafari principles and had no reason to take them into consideration. Malcolm X for example was not a Rasta nor was his movement organized similar to Rastafari, therefore he didn’t need to consider Rastafari universality or principles in his movement. He wouldn’t overstand that a fear of watering Rastafari doesn’t justify Babylonian, Elitist, exclusiveness in the movement.
Afro-centrism is a key part of Rastafari, influenced by the Prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Rastafari’s Afro-centrism is often used to argue against multi-races participating in the way of life. Afro-centrism in the Rastafari movement embraces all things African and focuses on interpretations that benefit blacks instead of the traditional European white interpretations. It can be summarized in upliftment and prosperity for the black race. Although it’s improbable to accomplish this, cooperation among all people of all races is to the benefit of everyone, including blacks. Therefore, when Rastafari strives for Afro-centrism, Rastafari also strives for universal inclusion, equality, and non-degrading cooperation among all races. This has to be achieved outside of and within Rastafari.
For Rastafari to have full control there must be unity. Unity among all people and all Mansions of Rastafari. For that to occur we must eliminate the petty exclusiveness and borders within Rastafari. Whites are not Rastafari’s enemy, downpression, injustice, and ignorance anywhere and in any form is I and I’s enemy. You don’t have to be black to burn Babylon and stomp out its downpressive, violent, unjust, vampire methods.
Peace and Jah Bless