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Is Vybz Kartel Guilty Of (Other) Crimes That Impact Black Self Worth?

Is Vybz Kartel Guilty Of (Other) Crimes That Impact Black Self Worth?

Posted by Dalton Higgins on March 16, 2014

With recent news of Vybz Kartel (Adidja Palmer) and three of his acquaintances getting charged for the 2011 murder of Clive “Lizard“ Williams, I’ve had Kartel on the cranium. For Kartel enthusiasts, this news was not that earth rattling as he had faced another murder allegation in the death of  Barrington “Bossy” Burton that same year and was found not guilty.

Art has a funny way of imitating life, given that Kartel’s Gaza crew spend enough time glorifying violence in song, when not directly meting out acts of violence in real life (i.e. Kartel once viciously beat up DJ Gaza Kim, a female member of his crew). Who’s to say whether Jamaica’s questionable justice system (or “injustice  system” as its been dubbed) was on a mission to suppress some of the strong critical anti-status quo voices that emanate from low income communities like Portmore that birthed  Kartel.  

Either way, when you even have world famous Toronto bred rappers like Drake asking the world to “Free World Boss” (“World Boss” is one of Kartel’s aliases) and you see t-shirts bearing that mantra becoming some of the hottest merchandise to hit urban streets - much like “Free Buju (Banton)” tees lit up the streets a few years, as another one of the Caribbean’s musical hero’s was being incarcerated – it says something about how celebrity prowess trumps political processes in the court of public opinion most of the time.

As a dancehall artist, Kartel’s talents are unparalleled. Never mind the fact that he’s recorded with American R&B and pop heavyweights like Rihanna and Pitbull, or that he is one of the greatest wordsmiths in contemporary urban music, whether you love or loathe dancehall. I honestly can’t think of too many rappers or dancehall artists who can seemingly invent new rhyme flows, forms of slang and wordplay at the pace at which Kartel does. Likewise, as a long time lover of Clarks brand shoes - I still proudly wear a black leather pair – there’s no question that his infectious anthem and ode to the popular shoe of the same name, “Clarks” might've done for the Clarks shoe brand what rapper Nelly’s “Air Force One’s” song did for Nike, or Run-D.M.C’s “My Adidas” song did for Adidas – ignite sales of their shoes globally.

So when arguably dancehall’s biggest star gets convicted of murder, that’s one thing. And then there’s that whole other skin bleaching fashion statement thing that Kartel actively promotes, that almost feels like he’d committed another crime, for which there are no court room charges available. Simply put, when Vybz Kartel started looking more like a Whitez (White) Kartel, mutating from a handsome dark complexioned black dude to a light skinned Michael Jacksonesque appearing guy, it was quite disturbing. Still is. And this had nothing to do with Kartel treating any form of vitiligo, like the late MJ had claimed. Kartel not only sung about why he loved bleaching his skin on “Cake Soap”, he even developed his own brand of skin bleaching soaps of the same name. While talented reggae artists like Kiprich recorded songs like “Cyaan Get Brown” to counter this disturbing trend, for anyone who travels throughout different parts of the African Diaspora, including the Caribbean, you can see the disturbing after effects of this bleaching fashion phenomena, which ranks right up there in its grossness alongside rampant plastic surgery in North America or the double eyelid surgery that some Asian girls undergo to look like Caucasian women.   

During Kartel’s recent murder trial, while pleading his case to the judge and jury, he actually referenced his bleaching practices, perhaps acknowledging some of its impacts on his country’s citizens and how he is viewed by society at large: “My Lord, I bleach my skin and I am heavily tattooed, also,” he said. “My Lord, that is merely superficial; that is the persona of Vybz Kartel, not Adidja Palmer.”

Sadly, Kartel’s wholesale and troublesome promotion of this idea around darker complexioned black people aspiring to have lighter complexions is nothing new in the world of reggae, or society in general. Fellow convicted felon and reggae icon Buju Banton sung about how he loves lighter complexioned women on his early 90s hit “Love Me Browning” which fully exposed some of the deep psychological scarring that some members of post-colonial black societies still endure, while aspiring to more closely resemble their former European oppressors. The dark cloud of  colorism, a “practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favourably than those with darker skin” just wouldn’t seem to go away, and honestly still hasn’t to this day where black and brown communities reside, including many parts of south Asia and Latin America. After critics and outspoken community members created an up roar over these offensively ignorant lyrics, Banton went on a tear, recording songs professing his love for black women of all complexions (eg. “Love Black Woman”), but it felt like the damage had been done at the time.

While some more progressive dancehall voices on the scene like Nardo Ranks released “Dem A Bleach” in 1993 challenging these distorted color complexes that many colonized minds still carry, still others like Lisa Hype, a female Kartel protégé, right up until recently, actively continues to promote the skin bleaching trend as heard on her 2009 underground anthem “Proud A Mi Bleaching”.

Certainly, Kartel has other bigger things to worry about, and this particular (self) hate crime that he might’ve committed against those citizens of a darker hue cannot go to trial, nor can it be prosecuted by an impartial judge in a court of law, but these (fashion) crimes may carry vivid long term physical and psychological effects that might last way beyond his own prison sentence. In my humble opinion, the speech that the lovely and talented dark complexioned Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) delivered after winning at the 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon should be required viewing for all people to rid themselves of all traces of this recurring, nauseating anti-black beauty myth. 

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