On Steve Biko

As was discussed in earlier engagements with Pan Africanism, Pan Africanism’s purpose is the formation of a United States of Africa and for greater co-operation between the different peoples of the African Diaspora to be achieved.  It is a dynamic political philosophy in the words of George Padmore designed to achieve social justice and human equality.  In order to gain a deeper understanding of Pan Africanism, it is important to engage with its many sub-categories that have developed throughout the years.  Today we shall engage with one of its more, in my opinion, least talked about branches, namely, Black Consciousness. 

Black Consciousness was developed in the midst of Apartheid South African rule by Steve Biko, the black South African freedom fighter in the mid 70s.  Due to his outspoken criticisms of the Apartheid government and revolutionary rhetoric, he was firstly silenced and then later murdered by the white South African government for his beliefs.  Biko believed that the way to free black South Africans from the chains of injustice and oppression was to learn about how being black was to be strong, beautiful and smart.  He realized, as I have quoted many times before, that "the greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."  So in order for a system such as Apartheid to work black people had to be trained to believe themselves to be inferior to whites.  They had to believe that the civilizations we created, the wonders we built, and the triumphs we achieved either did not exist or were nothing in comparison to those of the whites.  Thusly all we were good for was to be the servants, laborers, and slaves of the whites. 

            Black Consciousness is influenced by the rhetoric of black power and black empowerment written about by numerous authors, intellectuals and political leaders prior to Biko.  Strands of this thought can be found as early as David Walker (1829), Nat Turner (1831), Booker T. Washington (1895), Marcus Garvey (1917), and Malcolm X (1964) to name a few.  It was a philosophy that stated that being black was something to be proud of and the accomplishments we as blacks have made can not be forgotten.  Biko believed that blacks had become dependent on whites to solve their problems and needed to learn to take matters into their own hands in order to find solutions to problems that affected them. 

Biko believed for example that instead of begging for the white South African government to build them schools or allow them to attend their better schools, black South Africans should build their own institutes of learning and teach their children what they believed needed to be taught.  He believed in one South African with blacks and whites living side by side but not in a South African where blacks were dependent on whites for their survival or social advancement.  Biko’s Black Consciousness preached that the power to make social change was imbedded in the will of the people and that the oppression of the white South African’s hurt them as much as it hurt the blacks and thusly was an unsustainable system of oppression.  Biko organized, with some help from local Churches and funding from poor black South Africans in his area, the building of a school and printing press to help service the community.  Why wait for the whites to do this for the blacks when all black people needed to do was organize themselves and build it themselves?  Black Consciousness also preached that education was the key to freedom and that it was in the best interests of the Apartheid government to keep the blacks in a state of illiteracy and backwardness in order to continue their racialist political practices. 

After this brief overview of Black Consciousnesses it becomes clear the link it shares with Pan Africanism and its philosophy.  Black people worldwide were finding inspiration from each other in their struggle against white oppression.  Booker T. Washington preached a similar rhetoric at his influential peek.  He believed that blacks needed to learn how to take care of themselves and start economically developing their own communities instead of lobbying whites to apologize for slavery and their economic disenfranchisement and begin creating their own forms of capital.  By doing this blacks could uplift themselves from their financial destitution and equality would follow.  W.E.B. Du Bois, the Founding Father of Pan Africanism and Steve Biko shared in a belief that a multi-racial and multi-cultural society could be created in their respective countries.  Biko never advocated that whites should be kicked out of South Africa and/or killed upon blacks gaining power and Du Bois never supported blacks leaving the United States because whites would never treat them equally (although he himself did leave to become a citizen of Ghana in the twilight of his years).  This all goes to show us that Pan Africanism is a creative and inclusive philosophy that preaches justice, equality, and appreciation of difference.  It also shows us that no matter what people think, there is an imbedded similarity and unity of thought and action amongst the various peoples of the African Diaspora worldwide.  It further strengthens my conviction that it is through Pan Africanism as a political philosophy that we can resist oppression and gain equality for ourselves and others and it is to that goal that all races, cultures, religions and sexes must work towards. 3828524643?profile=original

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