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Campbell and Artis on Biko

Ty Campbell ’16 – One of the topics that interested me the most from Biko’s I Write What I Like is the concept of Black Consciousness. The term is one that I’ve only recently heard of through my senior seminar class, focusing on The Black Arts Movement. In our class focusing on BAM, Black Consciousness and the Movement are forms of expression and self-identity within the United States. Although sharing many similar ideals, Black Consciousness in South African has a slightly different meaning and goal. Martin Delaney is credited with the beginning of Black Consciousness in the United States. Delaney promoted, “…the view that black people’s appreciation of blackness was a key dimension of their eventual liberation” (Biko ix). Later, W.E.B. Du Bois is credited with further promotion of Black Consciousness concepts in the United States. However, in South Africa, after Apartheid, Black Consciousness focused more on political awareness. As stated by Dr. Marshall during one of our classes, “Black Consciousness language incorporates political based terminology, especially in South Africa.” With Black Consciousness starting as an organized movement in South African during the mid 1960s, this would explain why Biko references several different political topics in I Write What I Like.

Ian Artis ’16 – Before this class, I had never read any South African literature. I had hardly read anything from African authors, let alone ones from this particular part of the continent. I read very little related to apartheid, racial consciousness, or government sanctioned racism. Going into this class, I was tremendously excited to see what would unfold in my study of this literature. Certain themes have presented themselves, one being the collective consciousness and self-perception of the oppressed. This theme is discussed in Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, and is called black consciousness. From the reading: “In essence, Biko’s black consciousness was “an attitude of mind and a way of life” (91). It was a new way in which a black person, previously with low self-esteem, began to look at him or herself.” I found this idea pretty interesting, since in the novels we’ve been reading, the perception of self plays quite a central role. In You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, the main character is constantly evaluating herself, critiquing herself, and defining herself according to her skin color and shade (which happens to be light, giving her a sense of comfort and ease of access in obtaining an abortion). Black consciousness sought to elevate the profile of blacks and heighten the black experience by changing the attitudes and self-perceptions of blacks. This idea was also the precursor to the black power movement, which instilled blackness as a point of pride rather than shame. As the readings continue, I’m looking forward to reading more about this idea and how it affects the characters in the novels.