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Spring 2004 Bruin Walk

Illustration of Boy Opening Book
Illustration by Gregory Christie
MY MOST INFLUENTIAL READ

Michael A. Stoll

Associate professor of policy studies and acting director of the Center for the Study of Urban Policy

The antiapartheid movement was in high gear when I transferred to UC Berkeley as a 20-year-old undergraduate. While this issue was new to me, it inspired great interest because its root cause race and injustice seemed very familiar.

So I read Steve Biko's I Write What I Like to gain awareness of the antiapartheid movement. Biko was a freedom fighter in South Africa long before Nelson Mandela was a household name. Many of his writings were banned by the South African government because they were deemed treasonous. This book is a collection of his writings that were smuggled out of South Africa before the South African police killed him in 1977 at age 30.

I connected with this book for many reasons, the most significant being my idealism at that time. This idealism, coupled with the political charge I received by being at Berkeley, led me to view things in the world in stark terms.

Ralph Ellison's and Richard Wright's books about black life in America books assigned in class before I arrived at Berkeley were complex and nuanced. They had raised complicated questions for me about what freedom meant for black Americans who had faced every imaginable injustice, even while the American creed espoused liberty and justice, and despite civil rights gains since the 1960s.

Not Steve Biko and not the South African experience. Biko's writings were uncompromising, piercing and truthful about and against the ills of a political and social system that was, unapologetically, still based in absolute terms on racial inferiority.

These writings appealed to my idealism at the time because they described a world that was either/or. And they continue to spur my desire to explore topics in intellectual, academic and public life that speak to issues of inequality and injustice in American life.


2005 The Regents of the University of California