We refuse to be what you wanted us to be
We are what we are
That’s the way it’s going to be.
You don’t know
You can’t educate I for no equal opportunity:
Talking ’bout my freedom, people freedom and liberty
Yeah, we’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long
Yes, we’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Babylon system is the vampire,
Sucking’ the children day by day,
Me say de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
Sucking’ the blood of the sufferers,
Building church and university,
Deceiving the people continually,
Me say them graduating thieves and murderers;
Look out now: they sucking the blood of the sufferers
Tell the children the truth/ Tell the children the truth;
Tell the children the truth right now!
Come on and tell the children the truth;
Cause – ’cause we’ve been trodding on ya winepress much too long/ Rebel, rebel!
And we’ve been taken for granted much too long/ Rebel, rebel now!
Trodding on the winepress/ Got to rebel, y’all!
We’ve been trodding on the winepress much too long
From the very day we left the shores of our Father’s land, we’ve been trampled on.
Bob Marley and The Wailers – Babylon System
Babylon features heavily in reggae music, and it is usual to hear Rastas blame things on the Babylon System, as did Bob Marley and The Wailers. In my years of listening to reggae music, the only other words that feature as heavily are “Jah Rastafari” and “Haile Selassie.”
To understand the origin of this reference, we need to look at scripture – the Bible mentions Babylon 260 times, second only to Jerusalem. Babylon was a city of great wealth, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It grew through agriculture and trade, and developed a bureaucratic system to manage this growth, making the people even more materialistic. In many ways, Babylonians originated capitalism. This led to much of the behaviour the book decries, including slavery. While Jerusalem is viewed as a holy city, Babylon is seen to be a place of depravity. Seemingly everything bad that can happen according to the people who wrote the book happens in Babylon. It is not just a place, it is a system of evil.
Babylon, according to the Bible, seeks to take away the promised land from God’s chosen people, the Israelites. This land was their right. Marcus Garvey made this reference when he likened the presence of Afro-Caribbean people in the West to the exile of the Israelites in Babylon. Just like the Jews were captured and enslaved in Babylon, so were Afro-Caribbean people captured from Africa and enslaved in the West (the subject of yet another Bob Marley and The Wailers song, Buffalo Soldier.) Rastas rightfully recognize the similarity between this biblical story and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Remember, similar tactics were used during slavery and colonialism – the same way we were stripped of our culture, identity, and rights, and allowed to read mostly the Bible was the same way Afro-Caribbean people were – hence the biblical references in reggae music.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade may officially be over, but black people in the Caribbean still suffer from racism and poverty, which went hand in hand with slavery. Likewise, colonialism may officially be over, but black people on the African continent also continue to suffer from racism and poverty. This Babylon System so well described by Bob Marley and The Wailers remains.
Our global economic system is built on the coerced and unpaid labour of slaves (most of them black due to the racialization of slavery) and Africans, and on the theft of resources from Africa and other colonies. It capitalizes turning a profit at whatever cost, be it human lives (the diamonds from Sierra Leone, for example), human rights, animal rights or the environment.
It reduces human beings, with all their rights and freedoms, to a factor of production – labour. Thus is becomes a priority to effectively and efficiently use this labour. To eke out as much as one can from it for as little as possible. This is why we create free content on Facebook and Twitter all day, every day, get paid nothing (we are “sharing” with our friends after all) while these services sell advertisements against our content and make millions of dollars. Even friendship, it turns out, can and will be commoditized.
This is why Uber and its driver partners are constantly at war. Kenyan Uber drivers even protested against being Uber slaves. The rise of the gig economy sees tech companies that act as platforms and not employers drive down the cost of professional services while attaining billion dollar valuations. What is this, if not wage slavery? Yet, as Karl Marx would say, labour is a fictitious commodity that should not be included in market exchange because it cannot be produced on market demand.
The Babylon System is alive and well. It co-opts all of us – the Nyabinghi, for example, say that both white and black people can be downpressors (oppressors). Anyone can be a part of the Babylon System, so how does one get out? As Bob Marley and The Wailers point out in the song, it begins with historical and identity awareness. Once we are aware of all the ways we remain oppressed by this system, we must resist its effort to re-shape us in its image. The global economic system is supposed to serve and create value for us, not the other way around. We make this system, and we must be careful not to allow it to make us instead. Human rights and dignity have to be centered if we are to see a better world.
Now and always, chant down Babylon!