Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fanon, Algeria, and the United States: 1961

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Frantz Fanon was busy making a name for himself in France and Algeria.  He was born in Martinique, a former French colony.  However, while at school in France, he started to develop a hatred for the colonial structure.  He found the system to be ripe with racism and inhumane treatment.  By 1961 he was an influential intellectual and avid militant for Algeria.  In this year, the year of his death, he published the Wretched of the Earth.  As a critique of the conditions of colonialism and revolutionary manifesto for the colonized, this book offered African Americans an analysis of their situation as the “colonized” and how to respond to the “colonizer.”
            Growing up as a black man in the French colony Martinique, Fanon considered himself equal to the French.  During World War II, Fanon decided to fight for his brothers in France and join the Free French Forces.  While fighting against the racist Nazis, Fanon experienced racism from his own French brethren.  After the war, Fanon went to school in France and studied psychiatry and philosophy.  He joined the up and coming existentialist movement in France and wrote Black Skin, White Mask, a psychological and existentialist analysis of the black experience in a white world.  In 1953, he was appointed to the head of a psychiatric hospital in Algeria.  He then spent the rest of his life trying to become an Algerian and fighting for them against the French.
            Fanon wrote the Wretched of the Earth near the end of the Algerian War for Independence.  Despite being on the other side of the world, Fanon’s description of the colonial structure resonated with many African Americans in the 1960’s.  Early in the book, Fanon describes how the “colonizers” and “colonized” live in different worlds.  The “colonizer’s” world is nice and safe, whereas the “colonized” have no access to this world and live in dangerous and broken down areas (5).  Much like the separation between the white and black segregated world of the United States.  Later on in the book, Fanon details how the “colonizer” uses the police, secret service, and violence to keep the “colonized” down, for instance, “opposition candidates see their houses go down in flames” (125).  This is very similar to the treatment of blacks in the South during the Jim Crow Era.  The Wretched of the Earth is a complex and insightful manifesto, so to sum it up is a difficult task.  However, the closest I can come to a conclusion is that Fanon argues for a violent overthrow of the colonial power and the establishment of a new society.  This idea struck at the hearts of many African Americans, and in fact the Wretched of the Earth became a very influential text for the Black Panther Party and many others who started looking towards violence as the only solution.
            Although Fanon was born in Martinique and spent his life over in Europe and Africa, his Wretched of the Earth analyzed the effects of colonialism that many blacks in American felt.  The description of violence and intimidation of the “colonizers” on the “colonized” especially resonated with the African Americans in the South.  Fanon’s solution to the colonial system was violence.  This idea, while already used in some areas, started to inspire many African American leaders, like Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party.

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