2004 Bruin Walk
Illustration by Gregory Christie
MY MOST INFLUENTIAL
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
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