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Black Consciousness as Overcoming Hermeneutical Injustice

Journal of Applied Philosophy

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The ideas of the South African Black Consciousness Movement developed as an intellectual response to the situation of black South Africans under apartheid. Though influential, Black Consciousness ideas about how the injustice of apartheid was to be conceptualised, and what form resistance to it consequently needed to take, have always awoken controversy. Here I defend the original Black Consciousness theorists, Bantu Steve Biko and Nyameko Barney Pityana, against charges of racial inherentism, espousing a prescriptive conception of black identity, and racism. I argue that, on Biko and Pityana's account, a central aspect of the injustice of South African apartheid was a hermeneutical injustice – at first deliberately perpetrated, but structurally self‐reproducing – against the oppressed groups. Thus illuminated, I argue, the ideas of the original Black Consciousness theorists have great plausibility, connect interestingly with contemporary thinking about race and justice, and are of practical relevance today both in South Africa and elsewhere.