Painting a Dread-full-picture: Rastafari, Misogyny and Homophobia 

By Afro-Planet

Painting a Dread-full-picture

The thought of Rastafari can summon feelings of admiration as well as contempt from the general public; but usually it’s that of confusion. Questions like: Is ‘Rastafarianism’ a religion? Is Haile Selassie their god? have been commonly raised throughout the history of the movement.

To finally put these common queries to rest, you must first answer this question: Does Rastafari have any scope outside of its Neo-Christian characteristics?

The answer? Well, to begin with, think of it like arriving in the middle of a painter laying his craft onto the canvas, you have yet to witness the master piece in its completion. Rastafari, as with life, is in transition.

Painting in Red[1]

Self-righteous and misogynistic behaviour?

One has to acknowledge the fact that Christian dogma is deeply entrenched in the Rastafari way of life. So in some sense, it is safe to say that Rastafari is now in its Neo-Christian phase. What is tragic about this transition is that Rastafari seems to be stuck in this phase indefinitely.

I need to point out why religious doctrines are no good for a movement as encompassing as Rastafari. The problem with doctrine-like thinking in a movement that is meant to be a reflection of life, is that life changes. Life is constantly transforming and recreating itself, whether it’s a new sunrise or new cell growth; whereas a doctrine remains unchangeable throughout time. In a doctrine, there is no room for processing new information, gaining new perspectives, and developing broader outlooks; everything has already been decided – you don’t have to think any more. In life, there is no day that is the same as the day that came before it; in a doctrine the same ideas from thousands of years ago will apply today and tomorrow for those who believe it.

Rastafari is Life!

Painting in Yellow[2]

Is Haile Selassie a Rasta god?

To its well-deserved credit, Rastafari has moved a tremendously long way away from the spiritual captivity of traditional Christianity, but the shackles are not completely broken. So it is no surprise that despite the fierce condemnation of all things “Rome”, certain Christian ideologies and traditions still penetrate the Rastafarian psyche. Jamaica has long been engulfed in Christianity, with the island having the most churches per capita on the planet. It is safe to say that no matter how poor a family was, there was at least one Bible in the house. Pioneering Rastafari elders in the early 20th century began to read and reinterpret the books of the Bible compiled by King James. Their mentality was of one that perceived everything they read from an African lens, and rejected all things that were of the enslaver, the very same ones that translated and bestowed the book unto them in the first place. No easy task, but within its time and context, a reinterpretation was necessary and completely logical. This began the journey towards our spiritual liberation.

Now the story of the divinity of His Imperial Majesty (H.I.M) Haile Selassie I (King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Elect of God, Lion of Judah) is an interesting one. In Revelations 5:5 it talks about the unworthiness of anyone anywhere to fulfil a particular task, (which was apparently of immense importance), until lo and behold, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of Judah arrived on the scene to carry out this important task. Then on November 2nd 1930, at the pinnacle of the colonial era, lo and behold an African King with an established lineage that dated back to important figures from the very same Bible, is coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia, the only country in Africa completely untainted by colonialism; and given the same titles that were mentioned in the biblical story. Anyone can acknowledge the connection was uncanny.

So herein lies the duplicity: the gift and the curse. Whilst the connection did put HIM as the central figure of the Rastafari movement (hence the name “Ras Tafari”); it also, in a sense, created an indefinite union between Rastafari and Christianity, via their common relationship with the Bible. So, Rastafari may well be a free, enlightened and majestic way of life, but to the average onlooker, it can appear little more than a sub-sect of Christianity, where God is replaced with Jah, and Jesus is replaced with Haile Selassie I.

Now obviously, I’m writing this from a very privileged position. I’m privileged in the sense that I bore witness to the full life and reign of HIM as Emperor. I have read his words, I have seen the results of his efforts, and I have feasted on the fruits of his labour. Haile Selassie, by his actions has lived up to the reputation given to him by Rastafari as “Earth’s rightful ruler”, having been the moral conscience of the world for well over 50 years. Established institutions like the United Nations, ideas of collective security, not to mention Africa’s total political decolonisation, are merely a sample of his work for which he receives extremely little credit. I’m sure if the elders were around (and some of them are) to witness the work of HIM, they would no longer need to rely on the Bible to justify his divinity. It’s a shame the young ones still do.

When Rastas continue to present Haile Selassie to the public as Jesus Christ in Black face, it’s no wonder that decades of his work and achievements are overlooked – some people just see him as the “Rasta god”, while others as people can’t get past the audacious comparison of “just a man” to such a divine (and possibly fictional) character as Christ.

In addition to the lack of respect or even acknowledgement the African world has for the contribution of Haile Selassie towards putting Africa on the path towards its liberation, the Christianized version of Rastafari also comes with other problems, namely misogyny and homophobia.

Painting in Green[3]

            Are there any Rasta womxn?
Just left a Rasta group chat with about 200 men
No womxn!

So where are the womxn?
Especially in Africa?

Only place where womxn really represent is in South Africa.
And they have a shit load of horror stories!
but that’s another story…

I credit the misogyny to Old Testament ideas like “A woman can only come to the Lord through her husband”; and that “women must be silent and submissive”. So in a sense, Rastafari was bound to display elements of patriarchy as books expressing patriarchal themes were used as the main spiritual reference. Thus, despite the rhetoric of “equal rights and justice for all”; women (wherever you can find them) are often playing a subservient role.

It has even reached the point where there is a feminist backlash reaction to the misogynistic nature of the movement. Hence the need to elevate the divinity of Haile Selassie’s wife Empress Menen, as a way to patch things up. If only women were allowed to embrace their equality, they might have been able to see themselves in Haile Selassie, and therefore not have to shift the focus away from his plan of action and work ethic, to an issue of gender.

 And homophobic behaviour
Whatta gwan?

Some of the stigma attached to homosexuality in the Caribbean stems from the history of sodomy being used as a form of punishment to disobedient enslaved Africans. Our African ancestors held in captivity in the Caribbean and Americas were anally raped by their enslavers, often in front a crowd including their spouses and children.  However, most of the homophobia that exists today stems from conservative Christian ideologies. This of course spills over into Rastafari, which is one of the reasons why Rastas are so vehemently opposed to the lifestyle.

Books like Leviticus are commonly used to condemn gay people; ironically enough that same book was used to justify the enslavement of our ancestors, along with isolating women whilst on their period and not wearing clothes made from two different types of fabric. Even worse than that, is that it makes the movement seem rigid and unsympathetic.

Now critiquing homosexuality is one thing, but using religious doctrine to do it and questioning people’s morality because of their sexual preference is something completely different. It undermines the entire argument. There are many negative issues within the homosexual community that gets completely overlooked even by gays themselves because they are too busy fighting for their right to exist as free and equal human beings. So, while gays and their supporters are out flying the rainbow flag, issues like the sexual grooming of young boys and the high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and cancers within the gay community go unaddressed.

If you’re going to be in any way critical of the lifestyle, those should be some of the key talking points instead of condemning someone to moral and spiritual damnation because “the Bible told me so”. Plus, being so passionate about what takes place between consenting men in a private setting is absurd and a bit weird. It doesn’t really sound like the “Equal rights and justice stands for all” ethos of Rastafari, but more of an overzealously religious and fundamentally judgemental way of thinking.

That energy could and should be directed towards something that can actual have a positive and favourable impact on the movement and on the people we claim to represent. And we’ve all seen the backlash to the onslaught of homophobic lyrics in reggae music during the 90s. Artists’ careers have been destroyed, the music heavily censored and closely monitored, and now gay people have a bigger platform more than ever. Rastafari people should know more than anyone that whatever you fight against will only grow stronger.

Letting the Paint Dry

The Rastafari Elders that founded this movement set us out on the journey towards our total liberation. They established a solid foundation based on the pillars of peace, love, equality and justice. They also instilled in the movement a resilient desire to seek a greater knowledge and understanding of life and how to live it the best way possible. It would be a great dis-service to these elders if the Rasta of today chooses not to seek or use their knowledge and understanding to advance the movement; and instead remains stagnant and inactive as Rastafari is continued to be perceived as “Rastafarianism”, a cult-like sub-sect of Christianity; and Haile Selassie’s militant work-ethic and tireless efforts continue to be undervalued and ignored.

Those that came before us used the tools available to them and built the structure we see before us today. It’s only right we use the tools available to us to expand that structure to its fullest potential.

“The temple of the most high begins with the body which houses our life, the essence of our existence. Africans are in bondage today because they approach spirituality through religion provided by foreign invaders and conquerors. We must stop confusing religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of rules, regulations and rituals created by humans, which was suppose to help people grow spiritually. Due to human imperfection religion has become corrupt, political, divisive and a tool for power struggle. Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as was given by the Most High of Creation. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other…”

― Haile Selassie I

 [1] In Rastafari signifies The blood shed of the African people

[2] In Rastafari signifies The Sunshine of  the African land

[3] In Rastafari signifies the lush Greenery of the African continent


AfroPlanet was a cabinet minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the time of independence. After the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, he fled into the forests to escape capture. While there, he ingested a rare precious metal, which gave him immortality. He has since been on a one man mission throughout the African continent, contributing in any way he can. He currently writes for Afreecan Read.