Monday, March 14, 2011

On My Mind: Vybz Kartel, Haile Selassie I, and Mutabaruka

I attended a lecture at UWI last week given by Vybz Kartel- yes, Vybz Kartel a.k.a. 'di teacha' (?), and current king of dancehall known best for his sexually explicit and highly controversial lyrics.  "Bleach-out face" man, however, has become his latest nickname.  In several of his latest songs he boasts about his use of cake soap, a skin lightening agent, which has, in his opinion, contributed to his skin being "pretty like a coloring book."  The title of the lecture, which was prompted by Carolyn Cooper's column in the Sunday Gleaner that denounced Kartel's skin bleaching as an act of self-hatred, was "'Pretty as s Coloring Book:' My Life and My Art."

Now, I should state that it's been almost an entire week since the lecture, but I've been back and forth when it comes to formulating my opinion of the reasoning Kartel uses to explain his skin bleaching practice.  Prior to the lecture, I listened to him on New York's Hot 97 radio show with Cipha Sounds and Rosenberg.  Of course, Cipha Sounds got right to the heart of the matter asking Kartel to explain the change in his skin tone from a rich, chocolate brown to a ghostly yellow (this was Cipha's own description- hilarious.)  To my utter surprise Kartel quoted His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I as a means of explaining why skin bleaching is OK.  Haile Selassie's words, spoken during his 1963 address to the United Nations and later adapted in Bob Marley's classic song, War, are "Until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes...the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained..." He quoted H.I.M. yet again at the lecture held at the UWI campus.  As a matter of fact he began his lecture with this quote and even asked a student from the audience to expound on it.  This shows that given the amount of negative controversy he's been receiving as a result of his lightened skin, he's decided to use (manipulate, misconstrue, distort, etc.) the words of H.I.M. in his defense.  Now, really people - Rastafarian or not- do we honestly and truly believe that Emperor Haile Selassie's historic words are relevant in this situation?

I attended another Rastafari Youth Initiative Council meeting yesterday where Mutabaruka was the guest speaker.  He, too, touched on the absurdity of Kartel attempting to lead the public to believe that the words of Haile Selassie could be referenced as a means of condoning his practice of skin lightening.  One point Mutabaruka made was that if the color of a man's skin doesn't matter, why change it? This is what Kartel has done, yet he insists that he's comfortable with his natural, Black self.  I'm not convinced.  Yes, he is one individual person.  So, why should how he feels about his Blackness or how he portrays this publicly matter to me or anyone?  Only because he is by far the most influential person among persons age 15-24 in Jamaica.  I'm just saying...

I'll stop here, as I'd like to avoid steering this post in the wrong direction.  Looking forward to your comments. 
Hundreds of students gather on the UWI Campus to hear 'Di Teacha'

Peace and Love.