What Is Black Consciousness?
What Is Black Consciousness? Blackness, secondly, is a conscious mental attitude expressed in political practice, social organizations, and commitment to the group. It is embraced by those who by law or custom experience racial discrimination and identify themselves as a group in the struggle toward the realization of their aspirations. Black consciousness is also concerned with the consequences of defining oneself as black. It forms the basis for a transnational politics and subjectivity that creates relationships between Africans in Africa and the African diaspora.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries black consciousness was expressed in slave revolts and runaway slave communities known as “maroons.” Free blacks organized against slavery as well as struggled for their rightful place in society. After slavery ended, black consciousness took many forms that were grounded in an affirmative black identity. In the postbellum U.S. South, black towns emerged to form self-sustaining communities that remained relatively free from the harsher elements of Jim Crow society. But in this segregated world, the act of choosing separation and becoming economically independent invited the very violence that blacks sought to avoid. By the 1920s not only was lynching commonplace, but inhabitants in all-black towns and the “black backside” of white towns were targets of white terror. The allblack section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was leveled in 1921 by angry whites who destroyed black businesses, churches, banks, and all signs of black independence. In the same decade, the black inhabitants in Rosewood and Ocoee, Florida, were massacred, their homes and businesses destroyed. Black consciousness that resulted in economic and political parity was not to be tolerated. This racial violence and the discrimination that it supported were key elements in forging a black consciousness and a sense of group affiliation and pride that led to an activism characterized by black self-help and political formations that spoke to needs of the black underclass. Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Nation of Islam, the United Negro Improvement Association, the African Blood Brotherhood, the black women’s club movement, black unions, and many more fought for black rights and achievement in the early part of the century.
This assertive black mentality found expression in the modern black freedom struggle and the black power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In the United States, with boycotts of segregated institutions, freedom marches, and political activism, blacks achieved the removal of the most egregious forms of segregation, if not complete economic and social parity. These movements were possible in large measure because of the deep sense of historical and cultural separateness blacks feel as a people. Pride and a commitment to the freedom struggle underpinned a race-based black nationalism that had been evident in the nineteenth century and flowered dramatically in the twentieth century.