This essay is perhaps one of the finest compositions I have come across while I have been in college. Steve Biko, a native of Graaff-Reinet,delves into the truths of the Black Consciousness Movement. He is of course, the founder of this very movement. I encourage you to take the time to read this powerful piece.
Black Consciousness and The Quest For a True Humanity
by Steve Biko
It is perhaps fitting to start by examining why it is necessary for us to think collectively about a problem we never created. In doing so, I do not wish to concern myself unnecessarily with the white people of South Africa, but to get to the right answers, we must ask the right questions; we have to find out what went wrong -where and when; and we have to find out whether our position is a deliberate creation of God or an artificial fabrication of the truth by power-hungry people whose motive is authority, security, wealth and comfort, in other words, the “Black Consciousness” approach would be irrelevant in a colourless and non-exploitative egalitarian society. It is relevant here because we believe that an anomalous situation is a deliberate creation of man.
There is no doubt that the colour Question in South African politics was originally introduced for economic reasons. The leaders of the white community had to create some kind of barrier between blacks and whiles so that the whites could enjoy privileges at the expense of blacks and still be feel free to give a moral justification for the obvious exploitation that pricked even the hardest of white consciences. However, tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and to accept it as normal that it alone is entitled to privilege. In order to believe this seriously, it needs to convince itself of all the arguments that support the lie. It is not surprising, therefore, that in South Africa, after generations of exploitation, white people on the whole have come to believe in the inferiority of the black man, so much so that while the race problem started as an offshoot of the economic greed exhibited by white people, it has now become a serious problem on its own. White people now despise black people, not because they need to reinforce their attitude and so justify their position of privilege but simply because they actually believe that black is inferior and bad. This is the basis upon which whites are working in South Africa, and it is what makes South African society racist, The racism we meet does not only exist on an individual basis: it is also institutionalized to make it look like the South African way of life. Although of late there has been a feeble attempt to gloss over the overt racist elements in the system, it is still true that the system derives its nourishment from the existence of anti-black attitudes in society. To make the lie live even longer, blacks have to be denied any chance of accident” ally proving their equality with white men. For this reason there is job reservation, lack of training in skilled work and a tight orbit around professional possibilities for blacks. Stupidly enough, the system turns back to say that blacks are inferior because they have no economists, no engineers, etc. although it is made impossible for blacks to acquire these skills.
To give authenticity to their tie and to show the righteousness of their claim, whites have further worked out detailed schemes to “solve” the racial situation in this country. Thus, a pseudo-parliament has been created for “Coloureds”, and several “Bantu states” are in the process of being set up. So independent and fortunate are they that they do not have to spend a cent on their defence because they have nothing to fear from white South Africa which wilt always come to their assistance in times of need. One does not of course; fail to see the arrogance of whites and their contempt for blacks, even in their well-considered modern schemes for subjugation, The overall success of the white power structure has been in managing to bind the whites together in defence of the status quo. By skillfully playing on that imaginary bogey – swart gevaar — they have managed to convince even diehard liberals that there is something to fear in the idea of the black man assuming his rightful place at the helm of the South African ship, Thus after years of silence we are able to hear the familiar voice of Alan Paton saying, as far away as London; “Perhaps apartheid is worth a try”. “At whose expense. Dr. Paton?” asks an intelligent black journalist. Hence whites in general reinforce each other even though they allow some moderate disagreements on the details of subjugation schemes. There is no doubt that they do not question the validity of white values. They see nothing anomalous in the fact that they alone are arguing about the future of 17 million blacks-in a land which is the natural backyard of the black people. Any proposals for change emanating from the black world are viewed with great indignation. Even the so-called opposition, the United Party. Has the nerve to tell the Coloured people that they are asking for too much. A journalist from a liberal newspaper like The Sunday Times of Johannesburg describes a black student-who is only telling the truth-as a militant, impatient young man. It is not enough for whites to be on the offensive. So immersed are they in prejudice that they do not believe that blacks can formulate their thoughts without white guidance and trusteeship. Thus, even those whites who see much wrong with the system make it their business to control the response of the blacks to the provocation……………………………..
(towards the end of essay):
Hence we must resist the attempts by protagonists of the Bantustan theory to fragment our approach. We are oppressed not as individuals, not as Zulus, Xhosas, Vendas or Indians. We are oppressed because we are black. We must use that very concept to unite ourselves and to respond as a cohesive group. We must cling to each other with a tenacity that will shock the perpetrators of evil. Our prepardness to take upon ourselves the cudgels of the struggle will see us through. We must remove from our vocabulary completely the concept of fear; Truth must ultimately triumph over evil and the white man has always nourished, his greed on this basic fear that shows itself in the black community. Special Branch agents will not turn the lie into truth, and one must ignore them. In a true bid for change we have to take off our coats, be prepared to lose our comfort and security, our jobs and positions of prestige, and our families, for just as it is true that “leadership and security are basically incompatible”. a struggle without casualties is no struggle.
We must realise that prophetic cry of black students: “Black man, you are on your own” Some will charge that we are racist but these people are using exactly the values we reject. We do not have the power to subjugate anyone. We are merely responding to provocation in the most realistic possible way. Racism does not only imply exclusion of one race by another-it always presupposes that the exclusion is for the purposes of subjugation. Blacks have had enough experience as objects of racism not to wish to turn the tables, White it may be relevant now to talk about black in relation to white, we must not make this our preoccupation, for it can be a negative exercise. As we proceed further towards the achievements of our goals let us talk more about ourselves and our struggle and less about whites. We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible-a mom human face.