South Africa : "Black Man, You Are On Your Own!": Making Race Consciousness in South African Thought


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Omowale Jabali

The Cosmic Journeyman
Sep 29, 2005
Temple of Kali, Yubaland
Creative Industrialist
A closer reading of one of Biko's essays helps illustrate this point. In August 1971 he delivered a paper to a group of African ministers in which he picked and chose his way through various meanings of "Africa" to arrive at one more appropriate for the political challenge facing his black South African community. He opened with the observation that "African" culture need not mean "pre- Van Riebeeck." Africa still existed, he reasoned, and African culture per force did as well. His subject, Biko continued, was "the modern African culture," which was "a man-centred society ... we believe in the inherent goodness of man. We enjoy man for himself." African society was humanistic; it was therefore in keeping with the dialectics that held "true humanity" as his philosophy's end. Yet although "humanistic" African culture contrasted with Western "technological" culture, the former was not to supplant the latter. The dialectics still ruled here and in his envisioned future "Africans can comfortably stay with people of other cultures and be able to contribute to the joint cultures of the communities they have joined." Africa had take part in the broad processes of global history and humanism would show the way: "we believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationships. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa- giving the world a more human face." This essay critiqued the West and celebrated an aspect of an imagined African culture. In doing so, however, Biko envisioned "Africa" as moving from the particular to the universal, through the historical present into the envisioned future.41

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