One Love/People Get Ready

Positive vibin’ songs like this are the foundation of Bob Marley’s popularity. From a very simple song can be drawn a universal happy message about love and inclusivity. That’s a hard message to argue with, yet it’s only one side of Marley’s writing, and it’s disappointing that it’s the only part of his message that most people ever really hear. Marley had a lot to say about love, and he was, of course, all for it, and people respond to that in droves. Hearing what he had to say about suffering and injustice is a bit less of a mellow groove. Perhaps if Bob Marley was still alive he would object to being made a toothless and sanitized icon of peace and love. Or perhaps he’d be happy enough to take the money and keep the good vibes coming. The process of lionization started when he was still alive, and snowballed hard after his death. Observe the posthumous music video that shows a dreadlocked young boy exploring a diverse London and watching happy people dancing on television. You’ll notice that a prominent number of the happy dancing people are white, and that many are celebrities, including Paul McCartney. This is a testament to Reggae’s universal appeal, but it’s also an example of the whitewashing of Bob Marley’s legacy. It’s the most simplistic interpretation of his words, an erasure of the real issues he cared about. There’s nothing political here; nothing that would make white record buyers uncomfortable; nothing to remind them that the multicultural society they’re enjoying was fought for with blood and violence; no reminder that in the long (ever ongoing) battle for equal rights and justice, they’ve mostly been on the wrong side. Reggae music is a potently political art form, a deeply spiritual one, and inescapably topical; it speaks about the Rastafarian experience, the Black experience, the identity of people descended from slaves, people whose lives have been affected by poverty and institutionalized injustice, people who have built a unique and vibrant culture in spite of everything the white world set against them, people who want to be respected and treated with dignity by the rest of the world. It was never meant to make middle-class Paul McCartney fans feel warm and fuzzy or reinforce their naive platitudes. Love is not all you need to solve all of your problems and peace is not going to magically occur if you just give it a chance to. One love is not a given reality to be taken for granted; it’s a hard won reward that comes from terrific sacrifice.


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