Sep
05

A Dying Colonialism - Fanon (1959)

Fanon is well known for his Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and Wretched of the Earth (1961). Another of his works, A Dying Colonialism (1957), seems less spoken about (originally titled L'An Cinq, de la Revolution Algerienne). The first chapter reminded me of Said's Orientalism, which was written much later (1978). Going back to Orientalism, none of Fanon's work is cited, although Edward Said cites a work about Fanon. Fanon certainly enabled the type of work that Said did in Orientalism, but it seems he did not attribute the connection directly (although there are many direction connections in Chapter 1). Some notes from Fanon's A Dying Colonialism (1957):

"In the colonialist program, it was the woman who was given the historic mission of shaking up the Algerian man. Converting the woman, winning her over to the foreign values, wrenching her free from her status, was at the same time achieving a real power over the man and attaining a practical, effective means of destructuring Algerian culture." (p. 39)

"Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and breached. Every veil that fell, every body that became liberated from the traditional embrace of the haik, every face that that offered itself to the bold and impatient glance of the occupier, was a negative expression of the fact that Algeria was beginning to deny herself and was accepting the rape of the colonizer. Algerian society with every abandoned veil seemed to express its willingness to attend to the master's school and to decide to change its habits under the occupier's direction and patronage." (p. 42-43)

"Before 1954, a radio in an Algerian house was the mark of Europeanization in progress, of vulnerability. It was the conscious opening to the influence of the dominator, to his pressure. It was the decision to give voice to the occupier. Having a radio meant accepting being besieged from within by the colonizer. It meant demonstrating that one chose cohabitation within the colonial framework. It meant, beyond any doubt, surrendering to the occupier." (p. 92-93)

"The tactic adopted by French colonialism since the beginning of the Revolution has had the result of separating the people from each other, of fragmenting them, with the sole objective of making any cohesion impossible." (p. 118)

"This stay in France turned out in the end to be very profitable. It confirmed for me what I already sensed: that I was not French, that I had never been French. Language, culture - these are not enough to make you belong to a people. Something more is needed: a common life, common experiences and memories, common aims. All this I lacked in France. My stay in France showed me that I belonged to an Algerian community, showed me that I was a stranger in France." (p. 175)

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Aug
04

Black Skin, White Masks

Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (1961) is essential reading for anyone interested in anti-colonialism, de-colonialism and post-colonialism. Fanon's "Black Skin, White Masks" (1952) was his first work, from which a few exerts are given below. For those unfamiliar with Fanon, his writing has influenced revolutionary struggles around the world and his works continue to offer valuable insight today.

  • "We are wary of being zealous. Every time we have seen it hatched somewhere it has been an omen of fire, famine, and poverty, as well as contempt for man." (p. xiii)
  • "All colonized people - in other words, people in whom an inferiority complex has taken root, whose local cultural originality has been committed to the grave - position themselves in relation to the civilizing language" (p. 2)
  • "To speak gobbledygook to a black man is insulting, for it means he is the gook. Yet, we'll be told, there is no intention to willfully give offense. OK, but it is precisely this absence of will - this offhand manner; this casualness; and the ease with which they classify him, imprison him at an uncivilized and primitive level - that is insulting." (p. 15)
  • "He's an idealist, they'll say. Not at all; it's the others who are the scumbags. I always make a point of speaking to the "towelheads" in correct French and I have always been understood. They answer as best they can, but I refuse to indulge in any form of paternalism." (p. 16)
  • "As long as the black child remains on his home ground his life follows more or less the same course as that of the white child. But if he goes to Europe he will have to rethink his life, for in France, his country, he will feel different from the rest. We said rather too quickly that the black man feels inferior. The truth is that he is made to feel inferior." (p. 127)
  • "I find myself one day in the world, and I acknowledge one right for myself: the right to demand human behavior from the other." (p. 204)
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Sep
11

Violence, Justice and Decolonization

If you are looking for a tour de force of colonialism, anti-colonization struggle and decolonization, Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (1961) should be high on the list. Fanon is a unique voice; in style, content and argument. This work has influenced revolutionaries from Palestine to Sri Lanka and South Africa, as well as the United States. In his day – and undoubted in our times – Fanon was a radical. Fanon is probably most well known for his promotion of the use of violence, which comes out clearly in the first chapter of this book. He begins: "decolonization is always a violent event" (p. 1).

Will people will power – who use that power to entrench severe inequalities and enrich themselves – easily give up that power? Would they do so voluntarily? Fanon suggests not. "In its bare reality, decolonization reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists. This determination to have the last move up to the front, to have them clamber up (too quickly, say some) the famous echelons of an organized society, can only succeed by resorting to every means, including, of course, violence" (p. 3).

Violence is not a means that is sought for its own sake, according to the author. For Fanon, violence is an expression of equality: "If, in fact, my life is worth as much as the colonist's, his look can no longer strike fear into me or nail me to the spot and his voice can no longer petrify me. I am no longer uneasy in his presence. In reality, to hell with him. Not only does his presence no longer bother me, but I am preparing to waylay him in such a way that soon he will have no other solution but to flee" (p. 10). The colonized person "is dominated but not domesticated. He is made to feel inferior, but by no means convinced of his inferiority" (p. 16). "Over the years I have had the opportunity to verify the fundamental fact that honor, dignity and integrity are only truly evident in the context of national and international unity. As soon as you and your fellow men are cut down like dogs there is no other solution but to use every means available to reestablish your weight as a human being. You must therefore weigh as heavily as possible on your torturer's body so that his wits, which have wandered off somewhere, can at least be restored to their human dimension" (p. 221).

There have been tens of books, and hundreds of academic articles, published on the importance of strict non-violence in mass action, citizen movements. For the last decade, efforts have been made to show that violence does not work, and that only strict non-violence should be used. Fanon might suggest that this trend is not, in fact, novel: "At the critical, deciding moment the colonialist bourgeoisie, which had remained silent up till then, enters the fray. They introduce a new notion, in actual fact a creation of the colonial situation: nonviolence. In its raw state this nonviolence conveys to the colonized intellectual and business elite that their interests are identical to those of the colonialist bourgeoisie and it is therefore indispensable, a matter of urgency, to reach an agreement for the common good" (p. 23). However, the author argues that "the underprivileged and starving peasant is the exploited who very soon discovers that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possibility of concession" (p. 23). Furthermore, the control and exploitation need not be direct to be subject to violence, economic domination does also (p. 27). Fanon foresaw the real issue of the day being inequality: "What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a distribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be" (p. 55).

For all his original contributions, however, I found some aspects of Fanon's writing challenging – even self-contradicting. In many ways Fanon speaks for the people – for example: "what the colonized people want…" (p. 13); "the youth of Africa should not be…" (p. 137). This is a disempowering narrative for the people. Rather than advocate for the people to have their voices heard, and for their ability to create their own forms of governance, Fanon speaks on their behalf. Undoubtedly, Fanon argues in favor of governance by the people (e.g. p. 130), but his writing does not always reflect this (e.g. "the government must serve as filter and stabilizer" (p. 137)).

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