Monday, October 1, 2012

Kwame Dawes--One Bad Ass Punk Rock Rasta (pt.1)

For many of us, Rastas and Punks don't seem to share much in common besides their mutual existence as large sub-cultures in the West, each of which has sprouted its own style of music that, despite their wide symphonic differences, proudly sound off on motifs of resistance to cultural and government domination.

I imagine that (the dying) mainstream American WASP culture see Rastas as funny third-world people composing a harmless, silly cult that doesn't (yet) pose a serious threat to their existence.  For those Rastas who wish to move to America (as if they would want to), the WASP culture would welcome them as long as Rastafarians were to cease all that refer-smoking and abide by "the laws of the land". If the Rastas were to protest by claiming that they smoke marijuana as a spiritual tool used in a ceremony known as a Reasoning, well, too bad. Religious freedom doesn't apply to cults!

(Did anyone else besides me have an evil Christian fundamentalist step-grandmother who always insisted your entire life, prior to Romney's nomination, that the Church of Latter Day Saints was a "cult!"? The fact that most WASP folk--especially of the evangelical sort--have chosen to willfully ignore the "cult" of Mormonism to which their Republican Presidential nominee subscribes is at once thoroughly disturbing in its hypocrisy and hilarious in the radiating silence of discomfort it bleeds from them.)

The Rastafari Movement proves two interesting things in light of the above scenario: 1) It makes "religious freedom" in American out to be the joke it really is. (There are papers to be shuffled, permits to be filed, and taxes to be paid if you want your religious freedom. Freedom isn't free!) and 2) Considering that the Rasta Movement prefers to distance itself from categorization as a religion, it compels us to be a little more honest about what counts as a "real" or "authentic" religion and what doesn't. Who is granted access to freely worship? Who isn't? And who the fuck assumes the authority to tell the Rastas whether what they believe is "authentic" or not?

To illustrate: Despite the Movement's small numbers, like Mormonism, it not only branches off from historical Christianity, it claims to be the inheritor of  the "real" Christianity!

And it has lots in common with both Mormonism and mainstream Christianity: Rastas believe that a man who ruled Ethiopia for 44 years was the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Emperor's name was Haile Selassie I. He died in 1975. Likewise, Christians believe that an eccentric and thoroughly annoying Jewish carpenter, Jesus, was God incarnate. Mormons, who can chat with their Muslim neighbors about prophets, believe that Jesus spoke personally to Joseph Smith in 18th century America. And both Christians and Rastas have trouble coming to terms with the earthly death of their incarnate god (who happens to be the same fella!). 

But the historically mainstream (right-wing) WASP culture is slowly being displaced as the dominate culture in America by a new cultural elite: the (left-wing) PC elite. The latte-drinking, organic-craving, academic, bureaucratic, smoke-free, safety first, seat-belts-save-lives crusaders for climate change, "diversity," and hate-speech awareness. Both are equally totalitarian in their will to purge the earth of any behavior or belief that deviates from the "norm." (Which, of course, they each define--many times through the violence of the law--for the rest of us.)

How the fuck does any of this relate to the poet Kwame Dawes?  That answer will be published shortly. In the meantime, ask yourself, is believing in the divinity of Haile Selassie any less authentic or any less "cultish" than believing in the divinity of Jesus? And if you can connect with God--literally drink his blood--by consuming wine on a Sunday morning, then can you get a spiritual high from smoking ganja in a Reasoning? And if so, then why can't you get a spiritual or religious high from smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with your friends at a punk rock show?

Jesus H. Christ, circa 1950, otherwise known as Haile Selassie I, former Emperor of Ethiopia

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