When considering the usefulness of any idea or set of ideas, it is obviously counter-productive to have as your premise the notion that the originator of the idea is an infallible messiah. That kind of approach is the exact opposite of rational thought and is useless to any earnest truth-seeker. I feel I have to say this because I have set myself the task of understanding black consciousness and highlighting the good it can still do for black people in South Africa, but to do that I also have to put a spotlight on Bikoism’s destructive side, lest we fall into the trap of thinking that Biko is infallible.
Bantu Biko himself made almost the same point for rationality when he said:
“… our originality and imagination have been dulled to the point where it takes a supreme effort to act logically even in order to follow one’s beliefs and convictions”.
He said this in reference to the black students he had met while touring campuses and their looking up to him to set the direction of a newly-formed SASO. I would like to think that he would approve of any critical examination of his own ideas in order to determine their fitness for resolving the problems he so masterfully spoke and wrote about.
There can be no doubt that black people face disproportionately more of this country’s social ills than would otherwise be the case if problems were randomly distributed to every citizen. This is essentially because of successive governments both past and present taking a paternalistic approach to black people. The apartheid government was certainly worse than the current lot, but the hated bantustans are still a thing under this government and they are used to deny the property rights of millions of our fellow citizens by trapping them in a feudal system some 300+ years after Western Europe rejected it due to its detrimental effect on human flourishing.
Given this context, I believe we should take charge of our own destiny as individuals, in particular black individuals, to break out of the poverty trap that successive governments have condemned us to because of their greed for power. We need to adopt an attitude of figuring out solutions to our own problems rather than waiting for government to think for us, and where government is an obstacle to our prosperity we should use our political freedoms – including the right to vote and free expression – to oppose the government while ignoring any appeals to our skin colour.
Each one of us needs to understand what exactly their interests are and rationally pursue those interests, and to do that, we need to develop the confidence within ourselves to initiate the process of thinking about and trying to solve our own problems. That is where black consciousness comes in.
You see, I believe that Biko identified correctly the problem that now allows politicians to get millions of black people to make political choices that are opposed to their own stated interests. I believe that the inferiority complex Biko identified and sought to address with black consciousness is still alive and well. I know from my own experience that I used to be incapable of rational political thought when it came to the ANC because in my mind they were the black government and we had to make it work otherwise it would just confirm my inner suspicion that I was somehow less.
This is Biko on the inferiority complex:
“From this it becomes clear that as long as blacks are suffering from inferiority complex — a result of 300 years of deliberate oppression, denigration and derision — they will be useless as co-architects of a normal society where man is nothing else but man for his own sake”.
Not only is the inferiority complex being reinforced by current black politicians through their failure to provide our children with a quality education, even black consciousness as a tool to fight this has been corrupted and replaced with Bikoism. It might seem strange to the reader to make a distinction between black consciousness and Bikoism, but it has to be done if we are to separate the wheat from the chaff of Biko’s intellectual output. Black consciousness was an original idea created to solve a specific problem in South Africa while the rest of Bikoism is a regurgitation of collectivist ideas from mostly European thinkers.
Black consciousness is about the individual. It must be; otherwise it makes no sense to say it is an inward process as Biko does repeatedly in his writings. Here is Biko on black consciousness (in case you don’t believe this anarchist):
“’Black consciousness’ therefore seeks to give positivity in the outlook of the black people to their problems. It works on the knowledge that ‘white hatred’ is negative, though understandable, and leads to precipitate and shot-gun methods which may be disastrous for black and white alike. It seeks to channel the pent-up forces of the angry black masses to meaningful and directional opposition basing its entire struggle on realities of the situation.”
This positive outlook to problems is the key to solving them. It frees the rational mind to exercise itself to the task at hand, and it cannot exist in a mind paralysed by fretting over its worth. Biko suggests studying the history of other black people as well as a change in attitude. I can confirm that studying history helped deal with my own inferiority complex.
The first step to dealing with the inferiority complex (apart from studying history) involves being honest with yourself, it requires self-examination and the acceptance of the brutal truth that some people will hate you for your skin colour and that you have been an accomplice in your own oppression by giving in to racial political mobilisation as opposed to rational self-interest. It requires accepting that you are worthy of the opportunities and challenges of liberty, that you are good enough to possess property rights instead of having them exercised for you by some official, that you should work with others who share the same goals as you, that you will succeed in your chosen path no matter what.
There’s more to black consciousness than what I have written here, but I hope to have in some small way, begun to separate what I consider to be a brilliant idea by Biko from the trash that is Bikoism.