Reflections on 2020 through a Rastafari lensSunday, December 27, 2020
The year 2020 has been particularly mystical and bizarre. It ends, as it began, as a year of uncertainty, unpredictability, and one which has been a test of character, fortitude, and faith for most people.
Many Rastafari who make much of having a “far eye” (as may be inferred from the syllabic ending of the nomenclature itself, Rasta-far-i) proclaim their ability to have a far vision. In other words, the gift of second sight, or even better, such a very deep and clear vision that they could always see beyond the surface of things. For some Rastafari, the novel coronavirus did not just spring up organically, or via some freak biological accident (for example, jumping across the species barrier to infect humans). The proponents of this theory argue that it originated in a laboratory. In other words, they hold to the view that the novel coronavirus is actually man-made, deliberately created for the purpose of biological warfare aimed at wiping out designated populations of the human family.
The fact that it has effectively affected much of the world's human population is seen to be a miscalculation by some, and a shrewd intended outcome by others. Whether one subscribes to the conspiracy theory or not, one thing is clear: People's basic freedoms have now been compromised, economies globally have shrunk, and the gap between the have-nots and the haves has widened. On a macro scale, the economic gap between the Global South and the Global North has widened, and countries that were in a dependent state are now even more dependent. Those nations without adaptable economies and a strong technological infrastructure are going to find it increasingly more difficult to survive as we plunge further into the future.
Black Lives Matter reignited
The other major event that occurred in 2020 was the reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement with the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police on a day that was celebrated as Memorial Day in the United States, May 25, 2020.
Paradoxically, George Floyd became a martyr to a movement that was initially resisted and denigrated to a large extent by the powers that be (the establishment) when it first emerged in July 2013 in protest against the acquittal of George Zimmerman of the murder of a young, black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Now the movement has gained worldwide popularity, with different racial and ethnic groups coming together to express their disgust at not only the brutal killing of Floyd, but the systemic racism that people of colour are exposed to in many countries in the world, but most blatantly in the United States.
At the time of writing (August 10, 2020), the Black Lives Matter protests are still ongoing in the United States, with the critical region of the demonstrations being Portland, Oregon. The killing of George Floyd seems to have reignited the consciousness of many around the world in the search for justice, the fight against oppression in all its forms, especially racial discrimination, and in advocating for the decolonisation of public places and people's attitudes.
Some argue that there has been a shift, a new awakening, the yearning to pursue what is right and just and to repudiate and expose the crimes, sins, and oppression of the former colonial powers. As an ostensibly anti-colonial movement, forged in the tradition of black resistance against colonial oppression in Jamaica, the Rastafari movement notably has ideological aims and goals that are in alignment with those of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Let us briefly recap a few notable occurrences resulting from the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020:
• Pushback against the police
Within 10 days of the protests, the state of Minneapolis bans chokeholds and the city council votes to de-fund the police and fund investment and safety measures instead. The charges against officer Chauvin and his three accomplices are notably upgraded to second-degree murder, and all four officers are arrested and charged.
Dallas adopts a “duty to intervene” rule that requires police officers to stop other officers who are engaging in inappropriate force, while New Jersey's attorney general announces that the state of New Jersey is to update its “use of force” guidelines for the first time in two decades.
In Maryland, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers announces a police reform group.
In Los Angeles, the city council introduces a motion to reduce the Los Angeles Police Department's US$1.8-million operating budget.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority agrees to stop making its public buses available to police officers to transport them to protests.
While in the city of Fort Lauderdale in south Florida police brutality captured on camera leads to immediate suspensions and firing of the officers involved.
• Monuments are taken down
Monuments celebrating confederate luminaries are removed in cities located in southern states such as Virginia and Alabama — something which previous agitation and activism have been unable to achieve.
After a Black Lives Matter protest in Antwerp, Belgium, over the weekend of June 6-7, 2020, the authorities decided to remove the statue of colonial king, Leopold II. Notably one of the most brutal European leaders who exercised colonial authority in Africa. Leopold inflicted immense human atrocities on the Congolese population, such as, for example, the mass amputation of the hands of those natives considered not to be working hard enough on the rubber plantations as they extracted latex from the trees.
In Bristol, England, the statue of notorious slave trader Edward Colston was dismounted with pieces of rope by Black Lives Matter protesters. It was then rolled along the ground and thrown into the harbour. Protesters jeered and cheered as this symbol of oppression was removed. As a result of this action all over England various city councillors debated removing statues of slave traders and imperialists that progressive-minded folk would in all likelihood deem offensive.
• British companies own up to being complicit in the Slave Trade
Pub retailer and brewer Greene King, and corporate body Lloyd's of London reveal their involvement in the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and pledge reparations by making payments to members of the BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) community in England. They do this as a result of Black Lives Matter protesters expressing their outrage against continuing racism in England and the lingering legacy of the extensive involvement of England in the slave trade and its imperial project (notably having colonised more of the world's peoples, their territory, and wealth than any other nation on Earth).
• Black Lives Matter Plaza comes into being in Washington, DC
In downtown Washington, DC, near to Pennsylvania Avenue by the White House, a two-block-long section of 16th Street NW is renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, and the Department of Public Works paints the mural “Black Lives Matter” in large 35-foot-tall yellow capital letters across that section of the street. This is commissioned by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
• The National Football League (NFL) of America changes its stance on protests during the playing of the national anthem
The NFL, in a major turnaround in policy, announces in early June that football players should be allowed to protest during the playing of the national anthem in the wake of national and worldwide protests against the killing of George Floyd. Thus, importantly, they have indirectly absolved Colin Kaepernick of any wrongdoing. Kaepernick was brave enough to sacrifice his football career by taking the knee during the playing of the national anthem at the start of the football season in the fall of 2016, as a show of protest against police brutality and racist oppression of black people in the US — following in the tradition of black activist athletes like Muhammad Ali, who in 1967 refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War; as well as Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City, in a similar show of protest against racism in the US.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues, unprecedented change is sweeping through the world. Hopefully, the end result will be that we all find ourselves living in a world of greater material equality, free of racial and other forms of oppression and discrimination, and significantly more connected as a global family through our common humanity.
Supreme Court ruling in Jamaica supports the banning of dreadlocks by Kensington Primary School
On July 31, 2020, on the eve of Emancipation Day in Jamaica, The Washington Post was the first newspaper to drop the bombshell that the stance taken by Kensington Primary School to bar the daughter of Dale and Sherine Virgo from attending the school on the basis that her hairstyle, dreadlocks, was not allowed at the school, was upheld by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Jamaica.
Kensington Primary School had maintained that they had an unwritten policy against the wearing of braids, beads, and locks — notably, all modes of African-oriented expression. The justification for banning locks (dreadlocks) at the school was that such styles had a propensity to attract head lice and junjo (a form of mould), and were a distinct source of bad hygiene.
The upholding of this unwritten school rule by the Supreme Court revealed the extensive prejudice against dreadlocks in Jamaica, which paradoxically is the nation that gave birth to the Rastafari movement, which, in turn, popularised dreadlocks globally. The wanton discrimination and prejudice against dreadlocks in Jamaica — where it has been publicly proposed that dreadlocks are synonymous with lice and poor hygiene, even now, well into the 21st century — has created a significant degree of moral outrage in the country and has even led to the emergence of a ”Black Hair Matters” movement.
The irony, I'm sure, is not lost on the reader — that, in Jamaica, the land of Marcus Garvey and Rastafari, a Black Hair Matters movement has had to emerge to combat the severe discrimination and stigma that the wearing of dreadlocks (natural African locks) still provokes, demonstrating in open view the schizophrenic nature of Jamaica in 2020.
For some Rastafari this is indicative of the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and belief of the Last Days, where all that was hidden will be revealed to all, even to the babe and suckling.
Editor's note: This piece is an excerpt from A 2020 Vision Perspective of the Rastafari Movement in IDEAZ — an interdisciplinary social science and humanities journal, 2020, vol 15, pp 188-191 ©2020
Michael Barnett is a sociology lecturer in critical race theory at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and a board member of the National Council on Reparation. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.