Rhodes and Bowe on Biko

Christian Rhodes ’17 – Steve Biko was an anti-apartheid activist in the 1960’s and 70’s. He is considered a martyr because he was killed while in police custody in 1977. He was 30 years old when he died, and in his short life, he started a movement that is integral in the anti-apartheid movement. He brought the idea of black consciousness to the forefront of peoples’ thoughts by starting the grass roots movement to empower his black brethren to stand up and fight for what was right.  Biko references the Idea of black consciousness continuously throughout his book I Write What I Like. The idea of black consciousness is an idea that is hard to quantify because of the ever changing world we live in. It is essentially the self-awareness of identity and place in the world as a black individual. The ideas of “race” and “ethnicity” are turned on their head with Biko’s writing. “Ethnicity” is the belonging to a certain social group that has similar natural or cultural tradition. “Race” is someone’s physical characteristics. Biko argued that being black has nothing to do with one’s color. It is a state of mind, which goes hand in hand with his idea of black consciousness. Biko would be proud of the progress that has occurred in South Africa since his murder. There have been elections, and a new constitution was passed to make the Republic of South Africa truly a republic. But despite the progress in his nation state, there is still so much further to go.

Evan Bowe ’17 – Biko talks about how it is impossible for white men to identify with black men because of the former’s privileged perspective on life. Furthermore, white liberals are not necessarily insincere but subconsciously support Apartheid and do not want to give up their position at the top of society. Biko says that they have fooled themselves into thinking their part of the solution, and they have fooled blacks too. In You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, Frieda’s mother has a high opinion of Mr. Weedon, calling him a “gentleman” repeatedly. She says that “these Boers could learn a few things from him” (Wicomb 3), setting him in contrast to the oppressive status quo. However, her mother and father both fail to recognize his role in the oppression. Mr. Weedon owns a mine in which blacks are exploited for cheap labor. And, as he tells Frieda’s parents about his wife’s asthma, they sympathize with him when he explains how she has to spend time in the Bahamas during the winter because of the cold. Until both Frieda’s parents realize that Mr. Weedon is neither their friend, nor someone to be admired, their Black Consciousness cannot begin to take effect.