freedom is a state of mind

Among political-minded circles of Black people, in Facebook discussion groups,  on college campuses, street corners, study groups, community centers, workplaces and everywhere else we congregate, you will come across the term “consciousness.”

Those of us to whom the term applies (accurately or otherwise) use this term so often, widely, and with such variation that it has become cliché and has therefore lost meaning, I aim in this article to bring more clarity to the expression although I must confess at the beginning that “consciousness” is more fluid and dynamic than it is static, and my attempts to define or describe it are just that – attempts. Moreover, I enthusiastically welcome your own comments on this subject; indeed, Teamwork makes the dream work.” Join me then in this ambitious journey to define perhaps the most overused term in the English language.

Literally Speaking

In a literal sense, people that are conscious are awake and aware, as opposed to being “put to sleep” by societal propaganda. “Conscious” folk are presumed to be more knowledgeable than most about certain conspiracies or information than most of their peers who are more likely to believe what they’re told by establishment agents. For example, conscious people refuse to believe the murders of Malcolm X, Dr. King, and John Kennedy were “coincidental or arbitrary acts of deranged lone gunmen, but rather carefully orchestrated assassinations ordered by government elites to protect various self-interests.

Being conscious implies that one connects themselves to the larger community and does not see him/herself as separate from other Black folk. Such people are aware of how they are oppressed, the forces responsible for their oppression, and  their obligation to do something about this scenario to advance and protect themselves and their people. But we are not conscious by default or only in response to oppression.Brother Malcolm X brilliantly summarized this with his call for Black people to “Wake up, Clean up, and Stand up.” In other words, we raise consciousness in ourselves and others, identify ad work to eliminate our self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, and do the things necessary to empower ourselves and our community. You will find those who are conscious engage in all three of these tasks consistently.

Being conscious implies that we are proud of our history and heritage, we value learning and teaching others, and we are not idle consumers of information. We always attempt to find meaning in images, news, politics and culture.

You will find that conscious people tend to process information in certain ways. Our research and understanding of  powerful societal institutions naturally makes us distrustful of mainstream news outlets, which is understandable given that six corporate giants own and control most of our news that American citizens hear and read. That’s right, Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal, own almost all the radio stations,television stations, magazines, books and movies from which we make most of our decisions!

The Power Behind the Power

Conscious people attempt to identify the power behind the power we see everyday and make connections between various corporate/power interests. Just examine the monopoly power of the big six corporations:

How does a person become “conscious?”

Everyone’s path to consciouness is unique; some experience and are personally affected by injustice or discrimination. Others become conscious as a result of his/ her studies. Many reach a level of consciousness from a combination of these factors or by observing/participating in an incident that profoundly moves them.

Consciousness has analytical and corrective dimensions

A brother or sister that has become conscious in  a particular arena will by definition become analytical of people and developments in that arena, and ultimately, become involved in improving conditions, articulating the problem, exposing those

Malcolm X- A staunch proponent of Black Consciousness, he challenged Blacks to reexamine their standards of beauty and truth.
Malcolm X- A staunch proponent of Black Consciousness, he challenged Blacks to reexamine their standards of beauty and truth.

responsible for oppression, or organizing the oppressed. There are many roles to play,and room enough to accommodate people with different skill levels interests and opinions. Everyone is empowered to become involved as they deem fit and to become agents of change in his/her community. We must also recognize that all analyses are not accurate, all strategies are not effective, and all conscious people or projects are not genuine!!

A good way to think of consciousness is to think of it as a keen vision or ability to see power and oppression clearly and the willingness to become active in movements, projects or organizations to produce constructive change and social justice. The movie clip from”They Live” below provides an excellent scene for our purposes. Notice the glasses the character finds and how they change his vision, causing him to literally “see things differently” from many people around him. When he wears the glasses, he can see how propaganda influences everything in his world. This is similar to how one feels as he/she develop consciousness and begins to see with new eyes….. In fact, consciousness leads people to change eating, spending, and other habits due to the new ways they see themselves and the world..

I hope this was helpful…


Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s