Revolutionary Threads, from Akashic Books, by Washington DC based punk rocker Bobby Sullivan (lead singer of Soulside), attempts to provide readers with a view of history from an unfamiliar perspective. As a convert to Rastafarianism Sullivan looks at the world’s, and more specifically America’s, history that’s not committed to the European Centric vision of the world most readers are used to.
In Revolutionary Threads Sullivan looks at how history is perceived, America before European settlement, and the early development of global capitalism. Of course everything is filtered through his own Rastafarian sensibilities. He uses that culture as the basis for what, in some readers minds might, be revolutionary ideas on economics and society.
As the practice of Rastafarianism is central to his thesis and his ideas, Sullivan naturally spends some time introducing us to the history and evolution of the religion. While he does this in a straightforward manner, and explains things about the practices many readers won’t have known, his devotion to the religion is also problematic when it comes to his historical objectivity.
Using the Bible to justify the deification of a human Emperor, in this case Hallie Selassie who ruled Ethiopia until the 1974, does more to undermine his credibility as a historian or social/economic analyst than any of his ideas. I would say the same about anybody who referenced unsubstantiated secondary texts like the Bible as if they were primary sources.
Using a belief system for a basis of morality or to inform oneself on how to look at the world is perfectly legitimate. But to use it as historical reference material is both dangerous and unsustainable. For not only does it narrow a historian’s perspective on events down to a very specific focus, it means the conclusions one comes to from this study can not stand up to serious scrutiny.
What’s unfortunate about Revolutionary Threads is a great deal of the information Sullivan presents in the book is important and real. He has done the proper work of citing references and sourcing his historical facts about pre-European contact with North America and African history.
In fact most of what he talks about concerning non-European exploration of North and South America pre Columbus is accepted historical fact. That it’s not taught in history books in most schools is wrong and unfortunate. Sullivan has done a good job of presenting this information in an articulate and approachable manner, making it easy for almost anyone to comprehend.
Revolutionary Threads had the potential to be a good introduction to a history of North America, and the other parts of the world, that has been too long ignored as part of the colonial myth making that makes up ‘accepted’ fact. Unfortunately it undermines itself with its early reliance on questionable source material for religious purposes.
Sullivan might believe that his Rastafarian beliefs are an integral part of his cultural and historical perspective. However, by incorporating them into the Revolutionary Threads he’s only managed to undermine his own credibility as a historian and harm his own legitimate arguments.