The embracing of formal independence and its eventual flaws and failures in Third World countries make Fanon and his concept, on individual freedom, social emancipation, true culture, native literature, colonization, authentic decolonization, neo-colonialism, still relevant in all aspects..
The contradictions of being a black French citizen
In socio-political cultural and economic context in which the world of today seeks to hold the unprivileged under the burdening fate of their life, a retrospective look at Frantz Fanon’s work will enable see the importance of self-determinism and the necessity to stand and fight for a better world. More than fifty years after his death, Frantz Fanon remains one of the great black African thinker whose works enable us to see the importance of self-definition of the oppressed wherever they are. As an anti-colonial black writer, Fanon has always devoted his life to helping oppressed individuals. His published works in the Algerian political movement FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) lead us to witness that he possessed a great sympathy and worry for the oppressed and colonized people of the world. Though making him the voice of the world deprived and oppressed irrespective of their backgrounds. Fanon has become through his writings the world‘s leading authority on oppression related to colonisation.
Even though his approach, the psychology of colonialism, racism, and oppression is primarily applied in Northen Africa, countries colonised by European power, it does not only offer a productive method explaining French colonisation system in Algeria, it also provides a deep insight into the psychology of colonialism as a whole. The essential of Fanon’ thought lies in four major pieces of discourse.
Frantz Fanon was a literary scholar, author, philosopher, Marxist, psychiatrist born on July 20, 1925 in Martinique. Brought up by an upwardly movable middle-class family, Fanon lived a childhood typical of his background, but his talent and ambition gradually took him to the elite educational paths through which French colonialism hoped to encourage cultural and political assimilation. Student of the then struggling poet and teacher, Aimé Césaire, Fanon has gathered enough maturity and intellectual substances that will obviously lead him in to the path of the fight against black oppression by the French colonial oppressive system.
During the Second World War, Fanon joined the liberation forces fighting fascism in Europe. After the war, Fanon decided to pursue psychiatric studies in Lyon, thanks to then, new legislation that offered free school tuition to former soldiers of the SWW. There, he first opted to study dentistry before gearing towards psychiatry few weeks after his was enrolled. During his study in Lyon, Fanon was confronted with racism and the contradictions of being a black French citizen. This racial experience strongly shaped his revolutionary thought. He then moved on to experience with psychiatry to counter racial boundaries. It was in this context of racial discrimination that Fanon wrote Black Skins, White Masks in 1952.
The book greatly focusses on what he referred to as “the inferiority complex”. In this book, he shows how education and social life within the colonial system have shaped the image of heroic white figures to the detriment of the black figures. Consequently, as hinted by Fanon (1952), this has led the black life to a life of wishing to look like or resemble the colonizer, and an inferiority complex that grows on every occasion in which they are confronted with the fact that they are not.
Within the context of the struggle for Algerian revolution, Fanon became representative to Ghana for the provisional Algerian government.
In 1953 after his degree in psychiatric Fanon chose Algeria, instead of the metropolitan French, for professional reasons and lived there for three years, witnessing the outbreak of the Algerian war. In fact, he arrived just as the long-smouldering Algerian Revolution entered a new phase. Having previously made contact with native Algerian and the pieds-noirs in France, Fanon knew the disastrous impact of colonial domination on the Algerian sub-consciousness, though his progressive political involvement in the national liberation struggle. This is ultimately materialised through his claim that “psychiatry has to be political”. His positioning against the French colonial will drive him into exile in Tunisia in 1956.
In 1960 he was diagnosed with leukaemia. After a brief improvement of his health condition in 1961 Frantz Fanon relapsed died December 6, 1961. In his last year, he wrote what is considered as his most achieved work The Wretched of the Earth.
Frantz Fanon‘s has published a total of four essays apart of articles published in L’Esprit and the FLN newspaper. His first book, Black Skins, White Masks, was published in 1952. After this first essay, his writing, as his life, became more pragmatic and politically oriented within an international scope. In his second Dying Colonialism writen in 1959, Fanon justified the FLN struggle. Involving both men and women fighting all together. His third and possibly most prestigious literary work, The Wretched of the Earth, was published not long before he died in 1961. His fourth book, Toward the African Revolution, was published posthumous in 1964.
Fanon’s two most influential books, Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, evoke the concrete and contrasting worlds of colonial racism as witnessed in metropolitan France in the 1950s and throughout the anticolonial Algerian war of liberation in the 1960s. Written in an eclectic style, the two books present race as social construction to overcome.
In Black Skins, White Masks, Fanon posited that blackness is defined by the perception of the other; racism creates races, and impacts people’s sub-consciousness. Fanon, subsequently proposed to overcome the colonial eternal black-versus-white dialectic. Through this theory based on the deconstruction of the “inferiority complex” materialised here by the aspect of dominant culture through which the black value his culture depending on the parallel with the master culture (the new dominant culture). It is the case with language as exposed by Fanon as far as the creole is concerned. In fact, he was discouraged from using the language because its prestige was low in the eyes of the master. Therefore Fanon suggested that blackness it was all about assuming one’s culture.
Published in 1961 weeks before his death, Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth 1961, blurs the line between the colonised and the colonizers. Since his publication, The Wretched of the Earth has been subject to conflicting views supporting as well as condemning Fanon’s justification of collective violence for the complete empowerment of the oppressed people. In fact, Fanon believed that the only reasonable and most effective solution to free the oppressed from the Manichaean world, which is the world of colonialism, cultural uprooting, and dehumanisation instigated by the oppressor, is the act of violence to unify the oppressed. The true and authentic decolonisation cannot be achieved is such situation or made concrete in the eye of Fanon. This evidently lead us to question the real nature of African post-colonial society and political structure in which the veiling cape of colonialism influence is still peddling on governments, though continuing to afflict people mentally and psychologically. The true liberation is still to come, freedom may be at the end of the fight.
By Daouda Njipendi
Faculty of Sciences of Education
University of Yaoundé