Every generation has to discover its mission and either fulfill it or betray it. As the first generation who does not live under Apartheid in South Africa anymore, the youth and black community in general are still faced with injustice worldwide. Past experiences, resources, dangers and their own consciousness shape their behavior in a world which is never not moving or changing.1 Therefore, the fight for equality continues and determines the lives of many people. This is why reading and including main characters of post- colonial theories in present discussions is still important. The two writers which will be included in this essay are Biko and Fanon. It is necessary to not just look at their overall opinion on reformism and liberalism but to also consider the dangers they see on these.
First of all, it is important to explain what reformism and liberalism is to understand the dangers that Biko and Fanon have seen in it better. The thought behind liberalism is that liberty, equality and freedom in speech, religion and market is granted to every individual within the society. So, modern liberalism defines the commons far more broadly and in accordance with the constitution.
In contrast, reformism is not just advocating or getting some new reforms. Reformism is the belief that all efforts should be directed at the situation that needs to be changed. This includes the economic system, society, the state or a political party
Biko´s thoughts about reformism and liberalism
To start with, integration is the main goal and can only work with the agreement of both parties, but this has to be done on a same level and not with the whites negotiating from a superior position. True and real integration means the uplifting of every group and its members. Justice, respect and the fusion of two cultures usually comes with a real integration. But as long as the society is set up in hierarchical structures between whites and blacks there is no real integration possible. Therefore, if it stays this way the black population cannot be an integrated part of the South African society. Further, if the black population cannot be integrated, there is no real liberalism nor reformism possible according to Biko.2
The pre condition for reformism for Biko is either a change in white behavior towards Blacks or the total change of the present system in South Africa in the 1950’s without the white system. To add to this point, it is significant for Biko that Black reformism is not made by Whites for Blacks. Black people have to be in control of their revolution and their reformism. Otherwise, there will not be any changes they wish for. The danger seen here is the continuation of the childlike treatment of black people which has been there since colonialism. Black people have to break out of system that has been an oppressing prison for their personal improvement and enfolding as a nation. While Steve Biko is strongly against the white domination in the case of black reformism, he still believes in th"e form of liberalism in which black people have to be self- determining without exception.
As if intimating a critique of post-apartheid society, he argues that the liberal’s idea of integration „…is an integration in which black will compete with black, using each other as rungs up a stepladder leading them to white values. It is an integration in which the black man will have to prove himself in terms of these values before meriting acceptance and ultimate assimilation, and in which the poor will grow poorer and the rich richer in a country where the poor have always been black.“- Biko3
White liberals do not believe that blacks can formulate neither their thoughts nor their behaviour without white advice. Instead of real help, they make it their business to control the response of the blacks to the provocation of oppression.4
For Biko, liberalism has two sides. On the one hand, we have the liberalism which liberates the system from the segregation of Whites and Blacks but does not really change the racist system itself. Further, this case of liberalism sees the white values and behaviors as a standard which has to be followed by every member of society to fulfill the idea of liberalism. This is one major threat to black identity, self determination and creativity because the black population would fail by simply being black and the given white standards. On the other hand, the white perspective on liberalism plays an important role. The white population has seen the black population as inferior for more than hundreds of years. This thinking is hard to change for Biko. Equality of both parties can be compared with the slave system in which the slave asks his master for freedom.
Fanon’s reaction to reformism and liberalism is harsher. Reformism is not an option for Fanon because he does not believe in a change of white people. The treatment of black people have been inhuman and bad for a long time and white people felt comfortable in their superior position they created. Because of this giving black people more rights with reformism would not benefit to the lives of the white settlers. There is simply no profit for them in it. That is why Fanon calls for a radical and violent revolution to bring out a new nation of back people with dignity.
„ Decolonization never goes unnoticed, for it focuses on and fundamentally alters being, and transforms the spectator crushed to a nonessential state into a privileged actor, captured in a virtually grandiose fashion by the spotlight of History. It infuses a new rhythm, specific to a new generation of men, with a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is truly the creation of new men. But such a creation cannot be attributed to a supernatural power: The 'thing" colonized becomes a man through the very process of liberation. “5
So, the danger of reformism under white governance is to remain inferior no matter what reforms are brought up. The chance of no change and of not achieving the goals of independence is strongly given. A solution for this threat is the radical rearrangement of the country in which reforms should be made by black people for black people.
In addition, the argument below can be transferred to the term of liberalism as well. A liberated black state is only possible without white guidance. The white settlers have to leave the black man alone. Only alone is he able to discover his whole potential to free his people. This self guidance is a necessity but can also cause a danger. The danger that can be caused by the self guidance is the situation after the end of colonialism. „ It wasn’t worth while, then, our becoming independent …“6 sums up a possible reaction of the black population. People might expect a direct change and a direct good state. They also might expect problems like poverty and corruption to disappear after decolonization. But change and especially positive change takes time. So, growing impatience of the natives left with a state that has to be reconstructed is a danger. Because of the already tensioned situation, new tensions can rise and lead to new violence. The possibility of a chain reaction concerning violence represents a big threat to black liberalism.
The final danger Fanon mentions is the danger of international acceptance. International acceptance is in danger because the public opinion is guided by Western media. Their interest is not to praise the new independent state. Their interest is to show how bad they are doing without white people as their masters who decide on important topics for them. Therefore, the deepness of the superior-inferior system in the minds of European people can be seen again. It goes so far that it even prevents decolonized countries to establish themselves in the international community by creating again an undeveloped image of the natives.
All in all, white liberals must leave blacks to take care of their own business while they concern themselves with the real evil in black society – white racism. Freedom and a happy living is not possible as long as racism is still present and does not let black people determine about their own destiny.
Biko thinks that reformism is possible if real integration is given. Due to the oppressing system the conditions for a reformism lead by both parties, settlers and natives, reformism is not realizable. Reformism can only work in a black state which has already been independent before and tries to change some points of the political agenda. Since this is not the case, reformism in the South Africa of the 1950’s could not help black people to rise and become independent. The danger of a black lifestyle dominated by white norms and values is in the eyes of Biko too high. In addition, Fanon agrees with Biko’s point and adds the justification of violence. For him colonialism and the presence of white people were already mentally and physically violent for black people. That is why peaceful reforms are not going to help. Fanon suggests to fight fire with fire. Transferred to the political behaviour, this would mean that the danger of reformism is failure which would further mean the continuation of the struggle, poverty and exploitation of the black men. Besides, reformism is not enough. Only violence and direct confrontation can free the black community.
1 Nigel C Gibson;
2 Biko, Steve;
3 Biko, Steve (1978; Page 91, my emphasis
4 Biko, Steve; 1973: „Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity“
5 Fanon, Frantz: „The Wreched oft he World“
6 Fanon, Frantz: „Black Skin, White Masks“
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- Freie Universität Berlin
- Biko Fanon African political thinking Essay