By Nick Poole
When you think about the word “Rastafarian”, you probably imagine a Jamaican man with dark skin and dreadlocks… as a matter of fact, you probably think about Bob Marley. This wouldn’t be an inappropriate association, after-all, Bob Marley is probably the most internationally recognized practitioner of Rastafari. However, not all rastas these days are from Jamaica, and there is even a small but growing population of Caucasian practitioners. No, I’m not talking about teenaged skateboarders who smoke marijuana and listen to reggae music, I’m talking about real, deeply religious, white rastas. Now, depending on how much you know about Rastafari, you’re either wondering, “How does a White person join the Rasta faith?” or you’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”. I think it may be wise to first address the latter.
Let’s start with a little history of the religion. Rastafari is a relatively new religion, which finds it’s beginnings in the early 1930s, surrounding the coronation of Haile Selassie I as the Emperor of Ethiopia. The word “Rastafari” actually comes from his pre-coronation name: Tafari Makonnen (“Ras” is an Ethiopian title, literally translated to “head”, but more precisely equated to “Duke”). Rastafari began when it was suggested that the coronation of Haile Selassie I as the Emperor of the only fully independent African State fulfilled Biblical prophecy. People of the Rastafari Faith believe that Haile Selassie I is God incarnate, and refer to him as HIM or His Imperial Majesty. The faith is deeply Afro centric, and maintains that Ethiopia is “Zion”. For a short period of time near it’s origin, the faith was not only afro centric, but Black supremacist. This notion of racism towards whites didn’t last very long, as Haile Selassie himself publicly condemned racism. Rastafari is also well known for the practice of smoking Ganja as the sacrament. Which drives many people to wonder, are white rastas real people of faith, or are they just in it for the marijuana?
Well, there’s no question that many people are attracted to the prospect of a religion where marijuana use is not only accepted but widely encouraged. However, A person can’t just dreadlock their hair, smoke ganja, and call themselves a Rasta. Rastafari is a real faith which is earning respect in the theological world as a religion that pulls a lot of weight. It was a beacon of Hope to the poor population of Jamaica in the 1930s and has continued to minister to the under-privileged today. It teaches solid values such as Positivity, Faith, Meditation, and “overstanding”, the Rasta word for understanding which was changed to have a more positive connotation. It warns against the potential danger of corrupt “Babylon” society, and has been instrumental in driving political change. It’s been just as influential in Jamaica as Christianity, and thanks to the Rasta influenced Reggae music of Bob Marley and other popular artists, it’s increasing in global influence.
Rastafari sounds like a fine faith, why is it so strange that a white person would want to be part of it? Bottom line is that it’s not. It may seem strange from the outside, seeing as the majority of Rastas are black. Many people would also argue that because it is an afro centric religion, white people have no place in it. Well, according to that logic, all Christians should be middle-eastern. The truth of the matter is that, in theory, even a White man could preach Afro centrism. While most white men weren’t physically “taken” from Africa, and forced into slavery, modern science fairly universally supports that all life started in Africa. Given the power of that statement, it isn’t hard to see how Africa found it’s place as the center of Rasta faith.
The question is though, In a faith which preaches the rejection of corrupt white culture, how are white patrons received? There seems to be conflict in the Rasta community. Many rastas are skeptical when they meet or hear of a white person who claims to be Rasta. They assume, naturally, that they came to Rasta through listening to reggae music, or worse, as a way of justifying their misuse of the sacrament. There also seems to be a fundamental distrust of white people, and historically for good reason. A true Rasta would say that all man is equal, and every body, white and black, came from Africa, so it is only natural that All people, regardless of race or color, turn to Rastafari for the “highest truth and overstanding”. However, the common sentiment among rastas is that whites cannot understand the “black struggle”, As they were never taken from their homeland and enslaved. But surely, anyone who really cares about the human race on the whole can appreciate the need to stop violent acts like this. After all, Rastafari itself teaches that all people are one with God, Or “Jah” as they say (Derived from jahweh of the old testament).
In modern Rastafari, especially more contemporary sects such as the Twelve Tribes, White rastas are welcomed. Anyone who believes that there needs to be a fundamental change in the way society treats the “down-pressed” and in the way man views and interacts with one another is encouraged to join the faith. Real rastas are peaceful people who overstand the need for equality in the world, and so they extend that principle even to the faith itself, All men are equal in Rastafari. Some Jamaican rastas are even excited to meet white rastas, as they bring a new point of view to the reasoning sessions, and also because they stand as a symbol of whites acknowledging the wrongs of their ancestors and rejecting “Babylon”.
All in all, white Rastafarians are out there, and they’re no less devoted to Rasta than the first Rastas of Jamaica. So next time you ask a white man his religion, and he tells you he is Rasta, don’t laugh, It may not be a joke.
117 thoughts on “White Rastafarians? By Nick Poole”
I’m confused by the statements made here. Let’s forget skin color for a moment, and talk about the concept of Babylon. Babylon is the curse of being removed from a land and forced into accepting the ways of another culture. The aim is to reject Babylon, reject that culture. How, if not affected by a diaspora, can you reject the culture? To what culture can you return? I grew up seeing West African cultures seep through and into my Caribbean cultures. I am learning of African cultures in Black American cultures now, as an adult. When I reject Babylon, I think of adhering to these old, ancient customs that persist, customs that rebuild an ancient identity.
The goal for a Rasta is to heal from historic, ancestral pain, and nurture a soul to purity. The path for someone who is not a child of diaspora is different, and won’t fit in the Rasta path through and through. The love that comes from non-diasporic people who wish to embrace Rastafari mentality is BEAUTIFUL, no one is refuting that. However, love also means seeing and speaking with honesty of the heart. To want to be a Rasta for some personal benefit, and to do so by ignoring a very central point of contemplation and healing, is a dishonesty that should be discussed. Instead, the attempt to discuss it is called racist, because one’s personal feelings are being put before the movement and healing of a people.
I do not understand how some here can say, “oh it’s racist to consider someone’s ancestral background that’s central to this religion,” and in the same beat say, “don’t be a Rasta for the Ganja alone.” The argument is the same! Don’t be a Rasta for the Ganja alone, and don’t be a Rasta and expect to ignore the role of racial history. Both are demanding respect–one for a people, one for a plant. I see that one argument is grasped easily, and the other spurs fierce argument. Armor yourself with love and you’ll find the discussion of race is not 1) an attack on you personally, 2) central to healing from diasporic pain. (Diasporic pain, btw, also affects the displacers, just differently than it does the displaced.)
The colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes. Anyone who wants to perpetuate racism is not of Ras Tafari but of the Evil One.
I lived as an Orthodox Rastafarian for several years, but now believe solely in the divinity of Jesus Christ. My being Caucasian was never really an issue, although some found it a curiosity. Black Redemption is a main theme in Rastafarianism, but any race can support that. Rastas are not racist by nature, but very proud to be of the African race.
Black people werent stolen from africa. African kings and waring tribes sold their people into slavery. If it werent for England and the great charter there would still be slavery in every part of the world.
Why does babalyon have to be associated with white people. This religion is very left leaning based in victimization mentallity. I think the originators had it right but i hear alot of reverse racist crap from alot of the rastas.
Arabs enslaved your people for 1600 years still to this day. White men ended it and practiced the least amount of time. We are the true revolutionarys and created the modern world based on god given rights to all men. Magna carta. Stop demonizing your white brethren!
Hello one and all,
I have quite a neutral stance on this topic, I am a Caucasian male by heritage from London , and an avid historian who reads and is facisnated by all religion and cultures. I believe Rastafari is just as cultural as it is religious, and from a standpoint I’m tempted to say that by declaring yourself as Rasta and locking one’s hair as a white man is very similar to growing a beard and declaring you are a yogi without living amongst Hindu’s; proper studying the ways understanding and the true ideologies of the people. Although there is a cultural feel made popular by reggae music and conceptions of the religion, this can only be felt and not learned. As an empath you can feel people and energies but to indoctrinate yourself into a religion you must also have a deep understanding of the history and the ways of the people. Especially to live in its purest form, I’m sure white people understand and deeply empathize as humans to the Rastafarian cause. But it takes a deep amount of wisdom to undertake this lifestyle if you are not born into the culture. There are many ways to practice spirituality and express understood divinity to one another no matter what your background. But I think it’s important to know that Jamaican culture and early Rastafaria arose through a great deal of struggle brought on by imperial tyranny. That led many to live of the land ‘in the hills’ so to speak. This struggle is part of a cultural identity and should not be taken lightly. It is a delicate subject and I’ll admit I am naive too much of the tradition. Forming more recently then most recognised religions, you cannot simply practice Rastafari. believe it is important to recieve all creeds cultures and causes and learn from the past, however you do not need to adopt a culture as well as a religion to understand the human principles behind these ideologies. Spiritual context is to broad a spectrum to shut anyone off from expansion especially in the Information Age we live in. All are entitled to do whatever they wish to better the lives of themselves and others, but we must also take cultural appropriation semi seriously and respect the birth of all movements.
Hi as a a male of white heritage from London I have a neutral stance on the matter. I am an avid studier of religions and history. I think it’s important to understand the context of Rastafaria as both a religion and a culture. Unlike most religions the birth of Rastafari was much later. Eye believe that too live true to a religion one must have a deep understanding for its roots and the foundation the people have built for its assymylation. There are many ways for any human to expand themselves spiritually. However in declaring yourself Rasta and locking your hair as a white man, I believe one must have great wisdom as well as spiritual insight to go down this path as it is a life dedication. If you are not born into the culture it complicates things because of the circumstances through which Rastafari came to be. A lot of the tyranny was brought forth through imperial means. In order to seek refuge from this some of native Jamaican population had to seek ‘the hills’ and live off the land, oppressed by a means they couldn’t control. I believe that cultural appropriation should be taken semi seriously. We now live in an Information Age were it is impossible to stop the expansion of human development through resource, which is both a blessing and an alemant. Any empath can feel the sentiment of the Rastafarian cause and head lessons from the wisdom of its disciples; like any religion. However it would be foolish not to recognize the conditions through which people were enlightened and the strength of the people who overcame such harshness. Anyone can practice spirituality and understand the divinity within all men but we must try to take the right steps in respecting and helping people out in our day to day lives.
This stance is constructive and much appreciated. The commentary is insightful.
Some whites brought other whites to other parts of the world to “take advantage of them.” Your point. Anyway, some African kings and warring tribes sold other groups. Some were coerced into selling blacks or suffer.Others African leaders resisted. The Africans that sold others are not blameless, but these Africans didn’t force Europeans to buy these slaves so Europeans are not absolved from their role either.
Arab participation in slavery is not right but it does not absolve Europeans of their own slave trade. As for white people ending slavery and practicing it the least amount of time, I appreciate those whites who assisted, but black people contributed to their own freedom through resistance like slave rebellions. It was not solely or primarily the work of whites. As for creating the modern world, whites were inspired by the ideas/strategies of nonwhites to defend certain “god given rights” so whites didn’t do this alone either. Stop demonizing and guilt tripping your black brethren.