The Exorcism of Race
Rastafari has significance around the world, due in part to the name itself, Ras Tafari, reflecting the King, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Bongo Bob Marley must be added to the list as he popularized, revitalized and secularized this mission in Jamaica and around the world with new influence. The basic tenet of the foundational Nyahbingi Order as Tafari (2000) is “Death to Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, and White Downpressor “, a motto that applies to imperialists and colonialist oppressors regardless of race, effectively exorcising race. Others have also made testament to Rastafari’s stance (Chevannes, 2003; Forsythe, 2003). To build nations today we must exorcise race as the social construction it has perpetuated. Mankind is a diverse being. Every man has a history.
Racism and ethnocentrism are packaged as they and we. Racial ideologies are both cognitive and binary. Body norms, handsome vs ugly; hair quality, fine vs coarse; nose shape, wide vs straight, narrow, flat; lip size and so on. Moral character is another attribute evaluated. The values of Rastafari to simply admire oneself, publicly abuse European cultural icons and torment European identity. Rastafari creativity and beauty standards seek no help or knowledge from Europe. All mankind is beautiful. Like most in the Caribbean, Jamaica’s majority African population—largely uneducated—revered Africa as the homeland of their forefathers, while the educated held England as The Mother country; France in the Francophone world and Spain and the Pope in the Spanish Caribbean.
Chevannes (2000) grouped several categories to make his claim for Rastafari’s capacity to exorcise race as a factor in Jamaican society. First, the Nazarite vow as set in the Book of Leviticus; second, the commitment to cultivate the head and facial hair, of the Knotty, Kinky Kongo-I or Dreadlocks. Finally, the extension of the concept of God as I, (the linguistic transformations in speech and music, including the concept of InI).
Rastafari is dynamic, but these three points are most offensive to the status quo and to the exorcism of race. Africans are considered bad, ugly with their knotty Dread locks, their language modification (overstand vs understand) and maintaining patois (considered ignorant by the middle class), yet the poetic art of speech continues, being continuously invented, re-invented, and created through the assemblage of music, dance, prayers and spirits. The self-atonement of man as God is powerful, refining the attributes Europeans and colonists assess as ignorance, ugliness and evilness as beautiful expressions of love, beauty, divinity.
Physically fit, Rastafari have a vitality of mind, a wonderful sense of humor, and depth as Walter Rodney described Kingston men in Jamaica in The Groundings with my Brothers, affirmation of their blackness, affirmation of their self worth, without having to be racist against anyone at all. One must love the self. Again and again it starts with the I. Lukumi, you are InI. AFRIKIN, you are I, a kindred; Diaspora, you are I; Rastafari, you are the I, (Selassie -I). Loving the self hurts those that need imitators the most. To build nations today, this is where we must start.
Written by: Ida Tafari