The Black Consciousness Reader


Written and compiled by BALDWIN NDABA, THERESE OWEN, MASEGO PANYANE, and RABBIE SERMULA, and JANET SMITH

With a new foreword by DIAMOND J. SHARP

The revolution is still unfolding, it is beautiful and it is black.

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About the Book

There is a current revival of Black Consciousness, as political and student movements around the world – as well as academics and campaigners working in decolonization – reconfigure the continued struggle for socio-economic revolution. Yet the roots of Black Consciousness and its relation to other movements such as Black Lives Matter have only begun to be explored.

Black Consciousness has deep connections to the struggle against apartheid. The Black Consciousness Reader is an essential collection of history, culture, philosophy and meaning of Black Consciousness by some of the thinkers, artists and activists who developed it in order to finally bring revolution to South Africa. A contribution to the world’s Black cultural archive, it examines how the proper acknowledgement of Blackness brings a greater love, a broader sweep of heroes and a wider understanding of intellectual and political influences.

Although the legendary murdered activist Steve Biko is a strong figure within this history, the book documents many other significant international Black Consciousness personalities and focuses a predominantly African eye on Black Consciousness in politics, land, women, power, art, music and religion. Onkgopotse Tiro, Vuyelwa Mashalaba, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Assata Shakur, Marcus Garvey, Neville Alexander, Thomas Sankara, Malcolm X, Don Mattera, Keorapetse Kgositsile, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter Rodney, Mongane Wally Serote, Ready D and Zola are among the many bold minds included in this amalgam of facts, ideas and images.

360 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-171-2 • E-book 978-1-68219-172-9

About the Authors

Written and compiled by political journalist Baldwin Ndaba, culture writers Therese Owen and Masego Panyane, digital journalist and poet Rabbie Serumula, and author and political analyst Janet Smith, the book is complemented by photography and videography by award-winning photographer Paballo Thekiso.

Diamond Janese Sharp is a poet and essayist from Chicago whose work has been published, among other places, in the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Vice, Pitchfork, Lenny and PANK.

Read an Excerpt

“Beware those who think liberation comes/ through noisy discussion:/ we must prepare ourselves,” wrote Karen Press in her1990 poem “Priorities.” A signal to the new nation, the words circle, then wrap themselves around and hoist up the meaning of Black Consciousness. In 1990, when South Africa started to be free with liberation movements unbanned and the prospect of negotiations between black people and the white oppressors, “priorities” were everything. What were the priorities of Black Consciousness? Through love, it said black people had to redefine their entire outlook. Steve Biko said it was “the realization of the need to rally together around the cause of oppression, to rid ourselves of the shackles that bind us to perpetual servitude.

“It is a manifestation of a new realization that by seeking to run away from themselves and to emulate the white man, blacks are insulting the intelligence of whoever created them black.

“Black Consciousness therefore takes cognizance of the deliberateness of God’s plan in creating black people black. It seeks to infuse the black community with a newfound pride in themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion and their outlook to life.”

So much politics has happened since Biko spoke those words in the 1970s. Indeed, South Africans are free inasmuch as apartheid is over. The laws have changed to lay down the groundsheet of equality and we have had four black presidents. But have we achieved Black Consciousness – an internal transformation – and do we know the history sufficiently to understand why that matters more than a political solution in order to reach radical and intrinsic liberation? In this book, we examine the history, culture, philosophy and meaning of Black Consciousness through the voices, art, religion, music, writing, politics, solidarity and dreams of some of those who developed it.

Since it is not an ideology like its enemy, capitalism, but a state of mind, the way its history is approached will be subjective – merely, as Karen Press said, a way to prepare ourselves. Many others created it, many more are still moving its shining particles in patterns in the sand.

The revolution is still unfolding, and it is beautiful and it is black.