Throwback: Lessons from Steve Biko on being Black and Proud


Steve Biko once said, “The Black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.” This was why he started the Black Consciousness movement: to “infuse people with pride and dignity”. Steve Bantu Biko was a thinker, freedom fighter and maybe even a prophet. His words were unmatched and his thoughts on the state of the black man unparalleled. He saw more than what the ordinary eye saw and would not be hoodwinked into believing the hype of token liberation. Biko saw the inconsistency and fragility of African “independence” and even commented that, “If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday.”

Here was a man who knew that having black masters did not solve the problem of oppression or put to an end the misery of the black man. Considering that many African countries are either remotely controlled by Western powers or a few white citizens, Biko’s words of wisdom have become the running narrative of modern Africa. However, he left black people nuggets of wisdom to reassert themselves in a world that consistently undermines their worth.

Describe yourself as Black!

In his evidence given at the SASO/BPC trial in 1976, Biko said, “The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity. By describing yourself as Black you have started on the road to emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”

If the black man is to be respected by the world, he needs to accept that he is black and be proud of it. Self hating blacks are the whole reason other races are not challenged to respect blacks. If the black man cannot respect himself, it is foolhardy to expect respect from whites. 

Blackness is a Mental Attitude, Being non-white is a matter of pigmentation

In The Definition of Black Consciousness, Bantu Biko wrote, “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” He went on to assert that, “…we can see that the term black is not necessarily all-inclusive, i.e. the fact that we are all not white does not necessarily mean that we are all black. Non-whites do exist and will continue to exist for a long time. If one’s aspiration is whiteness, but his pigmentation makes attainment of this impossible, then that person is a non-white.”

Black people who choose to sell their people out are therefore non-whites. In contemporary Africa, dictators sponsored by the West would qualify as non-whites as would ordinary blacks who idolise everything white. Blackness therefore transcends skin colour and packages itself as the whole experience of fighting to have a voice and understanding how the global wealth system is rigged against the black man. Denial of such facts is denial of the black man’s identity and blackness itself. 

Blacks are human…not inferior.

In the Boston Globe issue of 25 October 1977, another of Biko’s nuggets appeared and it read, “So as a prelude, whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.” Choosing not to forget the self-haters, the revolutionary in 1978 then wrote, “It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself…to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.”

He appreciated that it is not only the whites who are to blame for their misguided and fictitious superiority but also the blacks that believe in the fallacy of their own inferiority. To drive the point home, one of his most famous quotes says, “The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” 

Biko’s words are eternal. Biko himself is immortalized in his legacy of sound philosophy and sound resistance of a system that physically killed him but could not douse the fire he started. The fire still burns bright and proud. Empowerment of the black man will not remain a distant hope. In Stephen Bantu Biko’s own words, “ The blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves.”



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