A deconstructed consciousness


Black Consciousness (BC) – as a theory, philosophy and way of life – has been the site of much contestation in contemporary South Africa. In a week when we remember the murder of Mr Steve Biko – one of its most astute proponents – and witnessed Dr Angela Davis paying tribute to him, the following ten point BC refresher from MR EBRAHIM FAKIR comes at an opportune time. 

Black Consciousness may have suffered organisational attrition – and even decline – but its influence can be felt everywhere: in institutions, through policy and in some of the activities in society. It has been slower to take root in the economy, but it is coming. The private sector, however, appears to have remained impervious to its influence – but then money knows no colour, mos.

Some of its most profound influence can be felt in the new activism and the new mood of protest against the domination of what are perceived to be “white values” and the continuing conditions of privation, marginalisation and inequality because of an objective (and objectionable) white supremacy intrinsically tied to a rapacious capitalism. While this is encouraging, some of the black consciousness ideas in contemporary currency – informing some of the new modes of activism – are ill-informed, misapprehended, crudified, bastardised and culturalised.

Frequently, these ideas have been used to serve personal advancement, petty bourgeoisie interests and the interests of adventurists and would-be demagogues, charlatans, tricksters, turncoats and thieves. Let me re-iterate what I think black consciousness is and is not:

1. It is not by definition anti-white (the philosophy is not premised on a simplistic hegelian negation). It is not essentialist and is in fact dialectical, dynamic in addressing new challenges as they arise in simultaneous, rather than linear and singular ways.

2. It is not sexist or misogynist either (though in practice it may have appeared so – one of its weaknesses).

3. It is not racist, nor does it work for white annihilation. Where it is discriminatory, it is so periodically in order to address a specific historical condition. As such, it is contingently prejudiced, engaged in affirmitory positive discrimination in order to mainstream the marginal.

4. It does not pretend to “black supremacy” or overt domination, oppression or suppression of others. It attempts to gain power through influence. It uses force only when necessary.

5. It has core principles – pride, protection, preservation, self-help, mutual aid and assistance, education, community and care.

6. It is based on an inclusive cosmopolitan humanism based on the ideas of freedom, equality and liberty – in which ideas – because of the contingencies of history, blacks are foregrounded.

It does not pretend to ‘black supremacy’ or overt domination, oppression or suppression of others. It attempts to gain power through influence. It uses force only when necessary.

7. It does not create an artificial distinction – as the post structuralist marxists do – between the ‘scientific’ and the ‘humanist’. It recognises both approaches as necessary for addressing different types of problems.

8. It is not separatist and exclusivist in concept, content and approach and to the extent that it is, is so in order to deal with the disentangling of conditions shaped by specific historical, political, economic and social processes.

9. It cannot be universalised either in thought or in practice. Informed by the values of its core principles, as a practice it will take on particular and specific types of action – depending on the nature and character of the conditions it is responsive to. Which is why it has a specific relevance and genesis in South Africa (Azania).

10. It is not a static, fixed and ossified “political thought”. It is dynamic and fluid, evolving, as it responds to the changing conditions and needs of the people.

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