Max Brown

There is no such thing as a black identity – as I have written before. Each individual has their own aspirations, and in pursuing these it is prudent to tailor your approach to the situation at hand. That is why each one of us needs to maximise their own freedom to think (as addressed in the first part of this series) but it is equally important to have the freedom to act.

Steve Biko seems to have understood the need for this freedom when he said:

“Liberation therefore, is of paramount importance in the concept of Black Consciousness, for we cannot be conscious of ourselves and yet remain in bondage. We want to attain the envisioned self which is a free self”.

In the time that Biko was writing, this oppressor was the apartheid government. It had expropriated the property of black people without compensation and limited their freedom of movement among many other sins. Therefore, the black individual’s ability to attain the envisioned self was severely constrained.

The oppressor is anyone who limits your own ability to act. The people who tell you that you can’t do something for whatever reason; but mostly because you are black.

This applies especially to uncritical Bikoism. The unnecessary categorization into authentic versus non-authentic black people by Biko stands as a contradiction to his stated goal of freedom, since a freedom that is constrained by the parameters of what one person considers to be true blackness is not truly worthy of the word. Whose envisioned self are we talking about, Biko’s or one’s own?

In his definition of ‘black’, Biko makes reference to a shared experience of discrimination, thus setting up black consciousness as a means to “… operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude”. So, being black or the imperative to act collaboratively to fix shared problems and pursue shared goals among a group of people can never be of greater importance than the individual. It is the individual who gives any group it’s direction and any attempt to suppress the individual cannot succeed unless force or the implied threat of its use is present.

Today, it seems as if various public intellectuals, political parties and individuals have set themselves up as custodians of what it means to be black. These people apparently know exactly what a black person should do for themselves, and it’s just a coincidence that these things also benefit the sages themselves. They know which businesses you should support (their own, under the auspices of ‘buy black’, of course), which party you should vote for, and what your opinion should be. These people throw around terms like Uncle Tom, house ni**er, etc. At least Biko could justify his similar categorization by making reference to black people collaborating with the apartheid government to employ force against other black people.

One only needs to state the view (backed up by tons of evidence) that property rights and the rule of law are the surest path to prosperity, to have the label of racial betrayal thrown at you. That is why black DA members are singled out for the worst abuse. Apparently black liberals have to either compromise on their principles and join a racial nationalist party, which also has strong Marxist influences, or refrain from collaborating with other liberals (the white ones) and thus make themselves less effective.

This kind of choice is false, and the person setting it up usually has a vested interest in shaming you into abandoning your own self-interest. As a rule, anyone that tells you that constraining your choices because you’re black is the way to go, is your enemy as a free human being. It is paternalistic and wrong. It is no different from racism by white people and it has largely the same effect on your freedom when these people seize power as it would if white racists became the government again. (It is not for nothing that we have failed to address education and poverty.)

A black consciousness, therefore, is good for getting a group of individuals to cooperate in pursuance of some shared goal, but it immediately becomes useless if it is used to take away choices from individuals in this group. Black consciousness is an aid to human flourishing when it helps the individual free himself from his mental and real-world bonds. Thus, this kind of black consciousness does not really concern itself with policing who is admitted into the club. This black consciousness is not one more prison for the black person; it is a tool that can be taken up and employed to assist in whatever the individual sees fit.

This black consciousness also brings with it the added value that everyone who has taken it up is open to voluntary cooperation. More on that later.

It would be stupid to assume that oppression started with racism, when in reality racism was just one more spin to the oppression story that has been going on for thousands of years. Yet, we are told by many would-be oppressors that there’s no way they could ever oppress us: Don’t we know that black people can’t be racist? We are told to forgo our agency and allow these paragons of black virtue to guide us to racial nirvana because they know all. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like any kind of consciousness to me.