Rebirthing of the Visionaries: A Look at Black Consciousness

Posted on February 26, 2012 by


By Amenseph JP Wks              

 The term “Black Consciousness” is one that is used prevalently amongst men and women who travel in Afrocentric circles. But what is Black Consciousness and the Black Consciousness Movement? Where did the term come from? And what does it mean for today’s Black and African People worldwide? 

A proper analysis of Black Consciousness should begin with an adequate and comprehensive definition of its historical reality, which would serve as a context where we could then begin an examination of the philosophy and ideology, which are the basic tenets of Black Consciousness.


Our authentic historical reality, according to Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango, is rooted in the rites, practices and way of life of Black and African people which serve as the essential connections and points of view that give rise to intrinsic Black Consciousness.  Barashango observes that in the colonial and post-colonial world that we have too often been constrained and driven by the conditions and environments in which we exist that we “look at things in a fantasy manner or as in a fantastic way, rather than the viewpoint of reality.” He goes on to state, “The objective of the whole African Centered movement is (to bring) forth accurate information, not only in terms of history, but in every other field of discipline . . . to be certain that we as a people are able to be confronted with, made to deal with and to have the tools, the powerful weapons of reality.  Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant we must be able to deal with reality in order to be rational and sane”.


Historically Blacks and Black Africans have been defined as those who are by law or tradition subjected to political, economic and social discrimination as a group, and who identify themselves as a unit in the struggle towards the realization of their aspirations. Being Black is not a matter of pigmentation but is a reflection of a mental attitude and a way of life, whose basic tenet is that the Black must reject all value systems that seek to make one a foreigner in the country of birth, separated from their culture, and striped of their basic human dignity.

 Merely by describing yourself as Black you have started on a road towards 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. Black Consciousness is in essence the realization by the Black man of the need to rally around the cause of their oppressions, the blackness of their skin and to rid oneself of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. 


The term Black Consciousness stems from American educator W.E.B. DuBois’s evaluation of the “double consciousness” (inner turmoil) of American blacks being taught what they feel inside to be lies about the weakness and cowardice of their race. Du Bois referenced “double consciousness” as a world which yields him no true self- consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is the peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. Within this viewpoint there is a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others in the mirror, this longing to attain self- conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.

 Double consciousness has three manifestations. First, the power of white stereotypes on black life and thought, as seen in the forced context of misrepresentation of one’s own people while having the knowledge of reflexive truth. Second, the racism that excluded black Americans from the mainstream of society, being American or not American. Finally, and most significantly, the internal conflict between being African and American simultaneously….

 Double consciousness as it alludes to Black Consciousness is an awareness of one’s self as well as an awareness of how others perceive that person. The danger of double consciousness resides in conforming and/or changing one’s identity to that of how others perceive the person.

 Du Bois echoed the Civil War era Black Nationalist Martin Delany’s insistence that black people take pride in their blackness as an important step in their personal liberation.  We must make an issue, create an event, and establish a position for ourselves. It is glorious to think of, but even more glorious to carry out.”  — Martin Robison Delany

 This line of thought was also reflected through Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey who encouraged African people the world around to be proud of their race and to see beauty in their own kind. A central idea is that African people in every part of the world were one people.  They could never advance if they did not put aside their cultural and ethnic differences and contrasts.

  This motivation continued with the Father of the Harlem Renaissance, philosopher Alain Locke, whose philosophy was grounded in the concept of race-building.  The most important component is overall awareness of the potential black equality; this idea was based on self-confidence and political awareness. No longer should blacks adjust themselves to or comply with unreasonable white requests. Although in the past the laws regarding equality had been ignored without consequence, Locke’s philosophical idea of The New Negro allowed for real fair treatment. Because this was just an idea and not an actual bylaw, its power was held in the people. If they wanted this idea to flourish, they were the ones who would need to “enforce” it through their actions and overall points of view.

 The inspirational understanding of these great thinkers was further shaped through the lens of post-colonial thinkers such as Leopold Senghor, and Aime Cesaire and the Nardal Sisters as in the writings of Negritude, the literary movement that was born out of the Paris intellectual environment, a product of black writers joining together through the French language to assert their cultural identity. Negritude responded to the alienated position of blacks in history. The movement asserted an identity of black people around the world that was their own. It told of the frustrations arising from the loss of their motherland and focused on the virtues of African traditionalism. This aspect of the Black Conscious was an important aspect to the rejection of colonialism emerging at the cusp of African independence movements, and made an impact on how the colonized viewed themselves. It also sparked and fed off of subsequent literary movements that were responding to global politics.

 This conscious reality was also furthered with Frantz Fanon, whose pschoanalyses explained the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that Black people experience in a White world. He spoke of the divided self-perception of the Black Subject who has lost his native cultural originality and embraced the culture of others. As a result of the inferiority complex engendered in the mind of the Black Subject, he will try to appropriate and imitate the cultural code of the colonizer. This behavior, Fanon argued, is even more evident in upwardly mobile and educated Black people who can afford to acquire status symbols originally formulated to combat (disguise) the oppression of black people.  For African Americans and others, in their struggle for cultural and political autonomy, Fanon presented both historical interpretation and underlying social indictments.

 In South Africa, Steven Biko saw the struggle to restore African Consciousness as having two stages — psychological liberation and physical liberation. Biko believed that before there can be a United Black anything, Blacks must first be psychologically liberated, and only then could we be physically liberated. Specifically, there are two forms of psychological bondage that that Blacks specifically face:

 Psychological Misorientation: a mental condition in which any African proceeds from or negotiates the environment with a conceptual base in which African-centered psychological and behavioral elements are not the operative ones. An African so afflicted manifests an orientation to reality that does not promote the maintenance of his or her race, but instead promotes the maintenance of the non-African group and;

Mentacide: systematic workings that deplete an African’s psychological Blackness/African self-consciousness or preclude it’s development and produces mis-orientation by alienating the African from his or her correct orientation.   



The aim of this global movement of black thinkers was to restore black consciousness and African Consciousness, to provide the concern for the existential struggle of the black person as a human being, dignified and proud of his blackness, in spite of whatthey felt had been suppressed under colonialism, oppression, and racism.

  The challenge of Black Consciousness today for any Black individual – Continental or Diaspora — is the need for a new and incisive redefinition, re-identification and reappraisal of the Black totality in and through indigenous knowledge. 

Further implications for Black Consciousness is to deal with correcting false images of ourselves in terms of Culture, Education, Religion, Economics. The importance of this must not be understated. There is always an interplay between the history of people i.e. the past, their faith in themselves and hopes for their future. We must be aware of the terrible roles played by mis-education and religious indoctrinations in creating amongst us a false understanding of ourselves. We must therefore work out schemes not only to correct this, but further to be our own authorities rather than wait to be interpreted by others.

 At the heart of Black Consciousness is also the realization by Blacks that the most potent and effective weapon of oppression and exploitation in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. The basic logic inherent in Black Consciousness is that no man – no people — can wage a meaningful war of liberation unless and until they have effectively eradicated the slave- mentality and accepted themselves as full human beings who have a role to play in their own salvation.

 Black Consciousness therefore forces Black people to see themselves as full human beings, complete, full and total in themselves, and not as extensions of others. There cannot be anyone to claim to have self pride, if they lose race pride. Therefore it is important to promote the knowledge of self and Black and African history based on primary research; in doing this you are living the ideals of Black Consciousness and waking up to the truth of your blood inheritance.


Black Consciousness aims for the overthrowing of the elements of fear and mis-education in the minds of black people. Black Consciousness produces self confident blacks possessing the type of character needed for the liberation struggle as a whole.  This attitude and mindset also promotes the level of change that aids in the transformation of their own culture within an African context.

 The influence of Black Consciousness can be seen as comprising two layers or parts:

 Its influence on African liberation as a whole;

Its influence in achieving the specific goals it sets out to realize.

 In order for the influence of this concept to endure, we must have the courage to confront truth with the vision to see via the African Spirit and to become disciplined warriors for our people, our ancestors and our culture.  As reminded by Dr. Marmba Ani – “When we choose to be born African, we also choose to fulfill the promise that we made to ourselves as we were being criminally kidnapped and separated from everything that we loved.  We promised to engage in victorious struggle against our collective enemies and to reconnect Africans with each other wherever we are.  As our ancestors reborn, we have a mission and a sacred purpose to be African and sovereign.”

 It is one thing to know the path and another to walk the path.