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Frantz Fanon

February 24, 2010

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a writer, psychiatrist, revolutionary, and pioneer of anti- and post- colonial thought. He was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was then, as it still is today, an overseas department of France. He received a middle class education and while on the island studied under and befriended Aimé Césaire (pioneer of Négritude Movement). His experiences with the racism of Vichy France soldiers sent to occupy the island during World War II compelled him to leave Martinique and fight with Free France forces. During the war he served in North Africa and in France before returning home to the Caribbean. He would soon leave for France, and eventually North Africa, where his life as a revolutionary doctor and scholar began in earnest.

His first published work titled Black Skin, White Masks explored the psychology of dehumanization, dependency, and de-masculinization of colonial subjects. Much like Dubois’ earlier analysis of black men’s double consciousness and the effect of internalized dehumanization, Fanon analyzed the impact of a cultural inferiority complex on colonized individuals. He studied the relationship between colonized and colonizer and explored aspects of psychological denial, self-loathing, rejection of “homeland culture” and the embraceme of the colonizer’s culture, which both reflected his personal experience as a student and soldier professional in Martinique and France, and in his clinical and scholastic studies. He came to the conclusion that in order to function normally in a hypocritical, racist society black men essentially don white masks and mentally alienate themselves from their dark skin.

A later work by Fanon, and perhaps his most well known, is entitled Wretched of the Earth and is truly one of the most revolutionary works written. His final work and composed as he died from leukemia, it is a comprehensive explanation for the need for violence in dismantling colonial regimes, an explanation of the inevitable and necessary steps towards politicization of the peasantry. Wretched of the Earth also emphasizes the importance nationhood and nationalization in the former colonies for the peasantry and identifies other dynamics in the struggle for freedom and liberation. Fanon argues that violence and peasant participation in the violent destruction of the colonial regime is the only way to rid the colonized of the mental disease of colonization; that intertribal tensions that were exploited during the colonial period fall away during the war for liberation; that nationalism and not abstract nationhood is desirable for the period of reconstruction; and in a way both summarizes the methodology and progression of international struggles for liberation and forecasts what is to come (both in terms of their successes and failures).

What is perhaps most important to note is that physically, Fanon was very active in the struggle for liberation and did not resign himself exclusively to intellectual and scholastic work. In many ways (as a black man) he could not. He was originally appointed Head of the Psychiatry Department at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria but as violence in the Algerian Civil War escalated and he heard first hand reports of torture, he resigned on principle.  He published his work in revolutionary journals and newspapers and was even active in establishing a supply route southern Algeria for liberation forces.

He died in Bethesda, Maryland (small world huh?) but his body was flown to Algeria where he was eventually buried in Ain Kerma.

-Ayobami Laniyonu

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