Andre and Sodipe on Biko

Derek Andre ’16 –  Throughout this semester, with nearly all of our engagements with South African literature, a common theme of madness has permeated our readings. We’ve dealt with a woman descending into a schizophrenic mania, a daughter committing patricide and acquiring a strange form of Stockholm Syndrome for her rapist, and general disjointedness to the prose that indicates that this theme of hysteria may run deeper than just these two examples. For the first few weeks of the course, I struggled to understand where this psychosis stemmed from; of course it’s understandable that the insanity could be driven by the authors’ individual reactions to the Apartheid regime, but to see such a pervasiveness caught me off guard initially. After reading Steve Biko, however, this ubiquity makes much more sense. In his book I Write What I Like, Biko continually returns to this concept of Black Consciousness. While it’s difficult to put a precise definition on the idea, Black Consciousness is, essentially, the perspective of the black individual, formed by the circumstances in which black people often find themselves. Often, this consciousness involves an inferiority complex and Biko explicitly states that being ‘black’ is a matter of thought, not one of skin color. Ultimately, Biko contends, the goal of the Black Consciousness movement is to create an environment where black people can view themselves as independent and important beings. He says “what Black Consciousness seeks to do is to produce at the output end of the process real black people who do not regard themselves as appendages to white society.” With this concept of a specific Black Consciousness in mind, it seems, at least in my opinion, that much of the insanity we have seen in our other readings is emblematic of the characters’ internal conflicts between seeing themselves as unnecessary attachments to the white, male hegemonic society and seeing themselves as sovereign beings capable of asserting their own place in that society. While it would be convenient for the characters to simply be able to achieve this new level of consciousness without descending into a sort of madness, I think this descent is representative of the difficulty of ascending beyond the hegemony. Biko even seems to have these signs of conflict in his own writings; however, he also seems to have moved beyond the desire to ‘fit in’ for the most part. In sum, I feel that Steve Biko’s writings speak to something significant about not only the black consciousness, but also the South African consciousness.


Immanuel Mitchell-Sodipe ’18 – When reading Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, I couldn’t help but draw connections between his philosophy of Black Consciousness and my own personal experience in a modern day liberation struggle — the Black Lives Matter Movement. Black Consciousness, in sum, is the view that black people’s liberation is connected deeply to their appreciation of blackness. In fact, that it was key to their liberation. This philosophy influenced some famous names such as Malcolm X, Charles Hamilton, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) who later developed it into the philosophy of Black Power. This past summer, I attended a conference in Cleveland, OH called the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). It was like any other conference but instead it was specifically tailored for Black activists, organizers, and Black people. One of the prevailing themes of that conference was the notion that our liberation was tied directly to recognizing and appreciating our blackness. Not only were there workshops on policy formation and direct action training (items that one would expect at a conference tailored for organizers) but also there were workshops that were explicitly tailored to the history of Black arts, Black literature, and things of that nature. One gripe I do have with Biko’s analysis was that he didn’t include a space for queer folks – but I imagine one must consider the times in which he was writing. M4BL did, however, and I think it is necessary to include such a space — a space for queer folks, women, and poor folks — in any analysis for Black liberation. For the liberation of Black people (abroad and domestically) must include a space for the liberation of the most marginalized in that group.