Understanding Race within Rasta
Looking back on previous posts I wanted to create a healthy discussion of race and the role that it plays within Rastafari. I'll start by answering a few simple questions and welcome others to answer with their own opinions as well. I would like to make it clear that we are all speaking from our own interpretation of Rastafari so there may be room for disagreement.
1. Can other races be Rasta? Yes, of course!
Whether you believe the bible or not, Rasta is based on Israelite culture. In this culture is the concept of the "stranger" or goyim. Disrespectfully this is sometimes rendered as 'gentile'. But basically, non-Israelites were foreigners until they "converted". In this conversion, they became a citizen of the nation and were to be treated like the natural born. But this is part of the reason circumcision was a big issue. All Israelites were to treat each other as brothers. There are laws that are different based on whether or not you were an Israelite. Non-Israelites were not judged according to the same standards.
2. Does it have to be about black liberation? Yes, it does.
Paul was a missionary specifically to non-Israelites. The 12 disciples were specifically sent first to the lost sheep of the 12 tribes. What this means is that, as much as the NT is often used to dismiss Israelite culture and serve as a means and method to appropriate this culture on behalf of Europeans, even Yeshua sent his disciples to the children of Yisrael FIRST. They were given priority. Yeshua was going to rally the 12 tribes to fight against Rome. If you don't understand or believe this it is only because you don't know or understand what the Hebrew word Mashiach/Messiah actually means. It doesn't mean "Savior". It means anointed one; as kings were anointed to indicate that they were chosen by Jah. So the spiritual side is all good and everything. However, the disciples were armed and ready to protect their master because of his political position in the liberation of his people from Rome. People believed that Jah would send someone to free them. This is why the zealots believed they could use Yeshua to rally the people and instigate a larger war for their freedom. The idea that Jah saw his people under heavy Roman taxes and didn't care about the oppressed position they were in as long as they were spiritually believing in him... it's just ridiculous. If that was the case then just leave them in KMT/Egypt and not save them at all. The difference in Rasta is that a person must realize that the Word, the King, the Prophets, Heaven, Hell, etc. all of these things are in YOU. This is what spirituality is about. You take on the forms and functions of 'that' spirit.
3. Is it the same as black supremacy? No, not really.
Again, the children of Yisrael were given priority. It wasn't until they had the opportunity that the disciples were supposed to "go ye therefore into all the world". But what that meant was that Yeshua was acting as the VINE. Others could come in through the vine and be "grafted in". But into what? The tree represented the family tree of Yisrael; the chosen people. You can't cut down that tree and replace it with "spiritual Israel" as if none of their histories happened or as if anything they were previously told matters. It's not about black people being supreme or better than anyone else. It's about not covering up the past or trying to act like we're living in a post-racial society where everything is perfect and equal. It's understandable that white people hearing a term like "black supremacy" would think that it means the same thing white supremacy means, just exchanging white for black. But again, our relationship to race is different than whites because of racism and how it affected and still affects us. So no, we're not interested in being no different than all the whites who oppressed us with racism and white supremacy.
4. Can black people be racist? No.
This is a good follow-up to the previous question. This is another thing that whites commonly misunderstand because they feed off of their own definitions. Black people do not respect all of white people's definitions. If it suits us, we'll change it. This is why black people can use the N-word and white people... you can't. To use the word "nigga" you, if you're white, need prior permission and approval from the black person(s) you're talking to. They will decide if you're "cool" (relate) enough to do this.
White people created racism. They, therefore, think they are the ones who get to define it. However, just like the word "nigga", black people have our own definition of what racism is according to our understanding. And it is our understanding that it involves a power dynamic. Therefore we typically agree with the definition of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing which is as follows:
Her definition was "Racism (white supremacy) is the local and global power system dynamic, structured and maintained by those who classify themselves as white; whether consciously or subconsciously determined; this system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action, and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of people activity: economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war. The ultimate purpose of the system is to ensure white genetic survival and to prevent white genetic annihilation on Earth --- a planet in which the overwhelming majority of people are classified as non-white (black, brown, red, and yellow) by white-skinned people. All of the non-white people are genetically dominant (in terms of skin coloration) compared to the genetic recessive white-skinned people". Welsing was against white supremacy and what she saw as the emasculation of black men.
Black people do not have the position of power to restrict or otherwise dictate the lives of whites. It's not simply that racists think they're better and it's not simply that racists prefer or feel more comfortable with their own people. It's that they want to be in control/power and use that power to give themselves as many advantages as possible so that they do not have to fairly compete. Simply not liking someone because of their race is what we call racial prejudice.
When a black person says "white people" are they talking about you? No.
I want to try and explain this and other common misunderstandings between white and black.
This is commonly misunderstood. Race is an invention based on human perception. It is a fabricated construct that we have all given energy and life to. Because we (black people) are oppressed by the stigma of race we do not relate to racial terminology in quite the same way. No racial or ethnic group is a monolith. Black people understand this more than most because we come from all walks of life, have every interest under the sun, invented language and most forms of music and human expression, etc. So knowing how different we can be, one to another, being cast as the same person is irritating. It's natural for people to react and black people have a range/spectrum of reactions to racism from the most emotional and angry to the most dispassionate intellectual. But in general, "white people" as a label is used towards the white people who tend to fit that description. It doesn't mean all white people.
"I don't see color. Why are you offended by this?" I am personally and collectively offended by this. Here's why.
And I think most black people will agree. We all want to live in a world where color doesn't dictate your friends, your job, your income, your success, etc. We all want to love each other. But loving someone means that you accept them for who they are. You can't marry a woman and then decide to take away all the parts of her you don't like that make her who she is. And if you say "I love you but let's change your hair" then it says you don't really accept her hair. If that hair is part of her identity then you don't accept her identity which means you don't accept her. You could say "I'm personally not a fan of those clothes or the music you like" but would you pretend that they don't like that style of clothes or music?
White people don't generally mean to be dismissive in saying this. They just don't understand how it gets interpreted. They see it as "When I see them, I don't see their taste in music or clothes, I just see their character/personality/inner beauty." What we tend to hear is "I see the parts of them I like so if I'm not trying to see their color then it's because there's something wrong with it."
If you are a white person and you don't want to be misunderstood, please stop saying "I don't see color". There are beautiful people who are black, beautiful people who are white, beautiful Asians, Hispanics, Indians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, etc. Part of our beauty, in every case, is our skin color. Do you think Catherine Zeta-Jones is beautiful but you don't see her skin tone at all? That's unrealistic. It's okay to have principles where you don't want to limit a person to any shallow expressions of who they are. But the surface of the water is still part of the water. Our color is not only part of us but it has positive meaning. Not seeing it is like not seeing that different flowers are different colors. There is nothing wrong with their color; only treating them badly because of it.