February 23, 2012
Lost Hero: Stephen Biko.
Race fascinates me. The word itself stirs your emotions, brings in limitless amounts of other issues to expand upon, and to put it simply is emotional. The United States and South Africa get an unjust amount of flack for having previously been racialist regimes, but I think that resentment is ill-informed, since racists themselves exist in every corner of the world to this day. You only have to read a global news outlet to see "ethnic conflict" occurring somewhere in the world.Well what's 'ethnic conflict?' A code word for racialism and violence.
The United States, South Africa, Brazil and other countries have at least tried to resolve the issue in many ways. It's a point of interest that the most heated 'ethnic conflicts' occurring today are based on ethnic differences which are usually imperceptible to the people within the aforementioned countries. This is testimony to the fact that race is not simply a 'social construct,' as a white-american-liberal might say, but a real thing. Not in the sense that there are any inborn differences between races(besides the obvious,) but that race will always be a characteristic which is noticed by people and 'means something' to them.
Where a person goes from there... is everywhere. From predicting or advocating or participating in race war to advocating "a completely non-racial society," as Stephen Biko did for South Africa in the 70s, in this clip of an interview. [Longer audio clip of same interview here.]
If a picture speaks a thousand words than this video speaks a million(if you believe in multiplication).
What's so extraordinary about Steve Biko's position is the recognition of race and simultaneous indifference to it. He recognized racial struggle as something real and something that should and ought to be overcome all at the same time. It's the only entirely consistent and honest position I've found on all of the aforementioned matters since I've been interested in them.
In the same breath(give or take) he prophesied modern so-called 'post-racial' society(even though he didn't intend to.) What's so unique, is his proposition that racial distinction exists, but society is best off not recognizing those distinctions in any way. The idea clashes maybe-unexpectedly with the current liberal 'post-everything' culture of identity politics and special protection under the law. "Ahead of his time" would be a forgivable understatement of Biko.
Unlike Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Ghandi- Stephen Biko isn't identified as an explicit advocate of non-violence. This puts him in the muddy waters of characters like Malcolm X, Nat Turner, Bobby Seale and John Brown- further adding to his enigma. While never convicted of any violent crime, Biko saw political resistance as having to be as strong as the the ruling political system, which used violence. I suspect anyone who's on the fence about non-violence versus violence will find fellowship in a position like that.
Biko died by being tortured and killed by the apartheid government of South Africa in 1977. That ordinary occurrence cements Biko's martyrdom as well as his legacy. Stephen Biko is the originator of the phrase "Black is beautiful," which he said meant:
"Man, you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being."