Ever since I was in grade ten, I made it a point to begin seeking out knowledge on my history and culture, as that information was absent from my school experience. It was amazing to see how my awareness about everything in life changed once I started to delve in to the back story of who I was, and where I’ve been coming from. We have a rich history that deserves to be taught, embraced and celebrated.
Fast forward to 2013, where it seems like nothing matters any more. Many of the young people that I meet, have no desire to learn or know their past, there is little desire to contextualize their lives based on their culture, and for some, our history is actually a joke, which started with slavery.
Now enter, Kanye West, who makes several references to Black history on his latest album, Yeezus, but often flipping their meanings in to sexual, misogynistic imagery, where the meaning and significance is lost, and in some cases even disrespected.
Joining Kanye in this fiasco is Jamaican Dancehall artist, Vybz Kartel. For the past two years, Vybz has been in prison on conspiracy to murder charges, which he has been denying since day one. Since he is still waiting for his trial to begin, Kartel has made himself a martyr, claiming that he is the defender of the ghetto people in Jamaica, and the government has locked him up, because they don’t want him to mobilize the people to rise against the system.
Some may not be familiar with Vybz Kartel and his lyrics, however, they stand directly opposite to his current jailhouse rhetoric. Over the past several years, Kartel has been bleaching his skin, promoting the process as a way to look better, and raising many discussions about shadism, racism, and self-hate in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Kartel is also known for having the most sexually vulgar lyrics in the dancehall today. There is no topic or sexual act off topic for Kartel, which is nothing new in dancehall, but he has the ear of the youth, and these messages don’t coincide with his claims about why the government has him locked up.
To make matters worse (to me), Kartel has recently published a book and produced an album (from jail), that speaks out about the system, and his reasons for why he believes that the government is trying to silence him. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. I do take issue with the cover of the book and album, which finds Kartel in the iconic Malcolm X pose, in black rimmed glasses, thinking.
For someone who has said the things that Vybz Kartel has said, to compare themselves to a Civil Rights leader like Malcolm X is beyond nauseating. When we don’t know or respect our history, it is easy for these things to happen. Anyone with basic internet skills can listen to his music and lyrics on YouTube, and instantly question the implied connection that Vybz Kartel in some way embodies the commitment and love for his people that Malcolm X did.
Sadly, as a community, these things won’t bother us. The meaning of Malcolm X, the Civil Rights Movement, and those involved in it, will be clichés and marketing ploys for this generation, until we demand that their lives and efforts be respected, taught, and embraced by our young people.
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