Black Consciousness

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Black Consciousness as international movement

The notion of black consciousness as a means of identity, pride and self-empowerment gradually developed into an enormously influential imperative in the cultural struggle of the 1970’s and 1980’s in South Africa – yet it is exceedingly difficult to define and explain.

Besides being a direct response to centuries' long privations and frustrations and a rejection of hard-line white attitudes and actions, it clearly it derives from a wide range of sources and an international movement dating as far back as the 1880's. These include such diverse matters as the writings of Frantz Fanon (an analysis of the colonial mentality) and Paolo Freire (the notion of the pedagogy of the oppressed); concepts of Négritude as outlined by Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas; the Pan-Africanist ideas of African leaders such as Ahmed Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah and Muammar Gaddafi, and various writers and academics; as well as the various concepts of black consciousness, black empowerment, black theology and black power generated by the American racial struggles. The names of individuals such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Leroi Jones, and Mae Mallory are particularly significant of course, as are the writings of Ngugi wa Thiongo, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and others.

Black Consciousness in South Africa

In South Africa many of these ideas were drawn together in a specific action programme, generally referred to as the Black Consciousness Movement (or BCM) in the 1960s. Specific interpretation of the notions "black" and "the community" were defined by this movement, with the most prominent spokesman, Steve Biko, arguing for an inclusive definition of "blackness", based not on pigmentation so much as mental attitude and thus a defining characteristic of a large and widely spread "community" with shared needs and ideals. The BCM stressed black independence of white collusion and conscientization became a central tenet of their cultural political programme.

For the role of Black Consciousness in South African theatre, see the entry on the Black Consciousness Movement


Boonzaier and Sharp, 1988: 35

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