Bob Marley, Barack Obama, shadism and the shackles of mental slavery.

Posted: May 11, 2012 in Blogs
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“EmancipateYourself  from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”                                                            Bob Marley – Redemption Songs

I’ve just recently seen the new documentary film on Bob Marley.  Usually when I see these kind of conscious docs, I put a review of it up on my blog, but since this film has had so much exposure in the mainstream media, I don’t think it’s necessary – after all the Blakwatch is supposed to offer an alternative to the mainstream, not follow it.

Never-the-less, it was a revealing film which I’d recommend.  Even for the long-time Marley fan like myself, there were plenty of tasty tit-bits of trivia.  Like the fact that when his white English father met his Black Jamaican mother she was just 16 and he was in his 60s! Or the fact that when he married Rita, he moved to Delaware the very next day, to work in a factory as a fork-lift driver.  Or the details of the time he spent in an exclusive clinic in Bavaria at the end of his fight with cancer.

But my favourite anecdote was about when he performed at the Independence Day celebration in Zimbabwe in1980. When the throngs outside the stadium forced their way in, tear-gas was let off and Marley’s band fled the stage.  But Bob remained, defiant and alone.  When the melee died down and the band returned, Marley apparently turned to them and said “now we see who the real revolutionaries are.” This nicely shows that Marley, like those other 70s musical icons James Brown and Fela Kuti, did not just regard himself as a pop star or an entertainer, but more a Black revolutionary.

But this film got me thinking on a deeper level (as all good art should do).  The early part of the film makes much of Bob’s mixed parentage, his white absentee father, and the stigmatisation, discrimination and ostracism he suffered for being the only ‘red-skinned bwoy’ in the district.  The suggestion of the film was that the ostracism that he felt, pushed him on a search for identity that eventually led him to embrace the philosophy of Rastafari.  But anyone who is familiar with Jamaican society knows that, far from being a handicap, being light-skinned or of mixed racial heritage offers immense advantages. As Malcolm Gladwell reveals in the epilogue to his excellent book ‘Outliers’.

Malcolm Gladwell – author of ‘Outliers’

“whites saw mulattoes – the children of those (mixed) relationships – as potential allies, a buffer between them and the enormous numbers of slaves on the island.  Mulatto women were prized as mistresses, and their children, one shade lighter in turn, moved still further up the social and economic ladder. ”

The same is still true today. You’ll be watching MTV Base a long time if you’re waiting to see a dark-skinned girl in a hip-hop video. From Josephine Baker in the 30s, to Lena Horne in the 40s, and Dorothy Dandridge in the 50s, to Pam Grier in the 70s, to Vanessa Williams and Lisa Bonet in the 80s, to Tyra Banks and Halle Berry in the 90s, to Beyonce today, when it comes to our Black beauties,  it seems the lighter the better. In this Eurocentric world in which we live in, mixed race is the acceptable face of Blackness.

Josephine Baker – toast of Paris in the 30s

Lisa Bonet – 80’s TV icon

Pam Grier – 70’s Queen of Blaxploitation

Those who are dark try their hardest to look as European as possible with hair weave and colour contacts. Black models with strongly African features like Alex Wek get no love.

Alex Wek – too Black?

Gladwell continues ……….

 “Mulattoes rarely worked in the fields.  They lived a much easier life of working in the ‘house’.  They were the ones most likely to be freed. It’s not surprising then, that the brown-skinned classes of Jamaica came to fetishize their lightness.  It was their great advantage.  They scrutinized the shade of one another’s skin and played the colour game as ruthlessly in the end as the whites did.”

It is a direct result of this process of racial hierarchy that, despite gaining independence in 1962, it was not until 1992 that Jamaica had its first dark skinned Prime Minister in the shape of P.J.Paterson.

P.J. Patterson – J.A.’s first ‘Black’ Prime Minister

And African-Americans are no better. Have you noticed that their leaders, no matter how radical and pro-Black they may be, from Elijah Muhammed, to Malcolm X, to Louis Farrakhan, to Martin Luther King, to Jesse Jackson, to Obama today, tend to be light-skinned?  It seems that African-Americans are unwilling to follow anyone darker than themselves.

Farrakhan – light enough to lead?

Such shadism occurs across the diaspora.  Wherever white slave masters plied their evil trade and propagated their wicked doctrine, the descendants of those slaves still carry the mental scars.

“Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs in me cold.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I remember on the slave ship, how they brutalised our very souls.”            Bob Marley – Slave Driver

Laws entrenching the separation of the races have been long repealed, and slavery long abolished, but sadly many in the diaspora still carry the shackles of slavery in their heads.

When the white boss of Island Records Chris Blackwell got white musicians to over-dub more instrumentation on the Wailers ‘Catch A Fire’ album and wanted to promote them like a Black rock act, founding members Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh weren’t as willing as Bob to compromise.  They eventually left the group, stayed in J.A. and joined the long list of roots reggae artists, while Bob toured the world and became an international superstar.

Bob with Bunny Wailer & Peter Tosh – The Original Wailers.

We see that same willingness to compromise from that other modern day, international superstar of dual heritage Barack Obama.  Recall that after a bitter campaign to be the Democratic Presidential nominee, Obama was quick to strike a deal with Hilary Clinton, offering her a top job as Secretary of State in his future government, in return for her endorsement.  And since becoming President, he has bent over backwards to compromise with his right wing opponents.

Barack & Hillary – enemies can become friends if you’re willing to compromise.

Was Bob’s international success due to Chris Blackwell favouring him over the other Wailers, or was their own relative lack of success down to their unwillingness to compromise?

Is it due to the advantages conferred on the light-skinned, or simply not being weighed down by the mental shackles, that has allowed bi-racial sporting heroes like Tiger Woods in golf, and Lewis Hamilton in F1, to break through barriers into sports previously the exclusive preserve of whites?

Do so many Black men in this country struggle to progress because of outright discrimination, or is it down to an unwillingness to do what is required to advance?

I really don’t know, but as a sign on the wall of the office of my old tele-sales job put it, “maybe the thing that’s holding you back is you?

Lee Pinkerton

  1. akinsankofa says:

    love it – the analysis of the “mixed race acceptable face of blackness” – keep em coming Lee

  2. leepinkerton says:

    Superrose says:
    May17th at 16.10

    Lee, Very good article,” Knowledge is power” Stay inspired & keep that fire in the belly burning.

  3. Interesting article Lee.
    It’s something that the mainstream don’t see and we rarely talk about.
    I do think we need to be careful about falling into the divide and conquer trap though.
    People of colour need to stand together (with all right thinking people) to break the chains of the past but if we point the finger at our brothers and sisters just because they are light skinned or dual heritaged we are doing the devil’s work for him.
    Look how accepting false divisions worked out for the Tutsis and Hutus!
    …and yes Marley was a well made and thought provoking film.
    Keep up the good work Lee.
    Maurice (@mowords)

    • leepinkerton says:

      True indeed Maurice. This whole shadism hierarchy was created by the slave master as a divide and conquer tactic. But is the mainly the decendants of those slaves that perpetuate it.

  4. […] British black social blogger, Lee Pinkerton, looks at all of this in more detail in his blog Bob Marley, Barak Obama, shadism and the shackles of mental slavery. […]

  5. Bridgette says:

    Claiming that African Americans refuse to follow dark-skinned leaders is bullshit. Although you put Dr. King in the mix, he was not mix-raced nor light-skinned. You are also factually incorrect when you say Obama struck a deal w/ Hillary for the Secretary of State position so that she would support him. Obama had already won the presidency when he asked Hillary. Quite frankly, I think that was a gesture to her supporters.

    You edit many of the civil rights leaders to make your point like actor Sidney Portier, A. Philip Randolph, Medgar Evers, the great writer James Baldwin, Dick Gregory, to name a few. But most importantly, the ppl who stood up during that time were self-selected. In Malcolm X’s case, it was Elijah Muhammed who made the decision to put him front and center because he was tall, charismatic and lighter-skinned, not the African American population. African Americans did not randomly select lighter-skinned ppl.

    Now certainly, colorism exists. It is a direct result of racism and white supremacy. One might call it intra-racial racism. Still, the Jamaican ppl didn’t choose Bob Marley because he was mixed-raced, that was the producer. Also, what you see as being “light-skinned” (for example Martin Luther King, Jr.) is very subjective. The term and the shades of ppl you put in that category are quite inconsistent. For example, Pam Grier is brown-skinned, Lisa Bonet is light-skinned, Alex Wek is very dark-skinned, and P.J. Patterson is dark-skinned (dark-skinned b/c he is not light-skinned, but not as dark as Alek Wek).

    I didn’t appreciate your implication that Black ppl were selecting leaders simply based on how moderately or heavily pigmented they were. Had Barack Obama not been mixed raced w/ the same charisma etc, I can bet that he would have still won. Black ppl chose him because he was the only option and to suggest otherwise is inaccurate. While I do agree w/ you that colorism is a huge problem, you need to be careful not to cloud your blog w/ the same shadism/colorism that you are struggling against.


    • leepinkerton says:

      Thank you for your comments Bridgette. But I think it is impossible to access if a particular lighter skinned leader would have had equal success if they had been darker skinned. Somehow I doubt it, but we can never know for sure. Our leaders may be successful and effective because they are charismatic public speakers, but they may have only become so, because their lighter shade meant that they suffered less discrimination and access to education, that their darker skinned peers may not have. One point where perhaps you are right, is that Black people are not choosing their leaders on the basis of skin tone, but the power structure is putting them forward into these positions, and the people merely follow, as in the example of Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell.
      Though I think we disagree on a few points, I thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      • Bridgette says:

        I think your argument would have been stronger had you lead with power structures/ causes of colorism/shadism, rather than effects. Anyway, as a dark-skinned parent of a lighter-skinned child (who is NOT mix-raced), I have no interest in perpetuating colorism. I think it is great that you are discussing it and it should be, but be careful of the tone and assumptions. I love our lighter-skinned brothers and sisters; they are victims of colorism as well, so we need to remember that at the end of it, we are all victims of the sociopsychopathic neurosis called racism/white supremacy and that colorism/shadism is one result of it.

  6. VeeVee Brown says:

    @Bridgette I agree as black people were are all victims of oppression. However, those with light skin do have privileges and are treated more favourable than those with dark skin. They have been social studies which suggest that dark skin defendants are more than likely to get longer sentences than light skin black people and dark skin blacks face discrimination in the work place. I was reading the blog Black in Asia about an African American male teaching English in Taiwan. His experience of racism was different from a light skin black woman who was also living and working there. The light skinned black woman acknowledged that her privilege buffered her from some harsher aspects of racism. Nina Simone got turned down from a music school because she was ‘too dark’ So even though we are all in the same boat it is important to recognise that there is colourism and light skin black people should acknowledge their privilege.

  7. Joshua Gonzales says:

    Colourism, even here in Africa, is a fact! I have seen light-skinned Angolans been hired to work in banks in Luanda (capital city of Angola) instead of his dark.skinned fellow countrymen.

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