Frantz Fanon

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Frantz Fanon Frantz Fanon

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    Frantz Fanon's work as a psychiatrist, helping people from different backgrounds overcome difficulties, was key in inspiring his political thoughts. He delved deeply into the psychology of racism and colonialism and helped to provide an intellectual case for Algerian Independence. In this article, we are going to get to know Franz Fanon's life, thought and works, and we will explore his theory on colonialism.

    Frantz Fanon’s early biography and political career

    Frantz Omar Fanon was born in 1925 into a middle-class family in Martinique, a French Caribbean island. Like many Martinicans, Fanon was of mixed heritage, and his father descended from African slaves. Fanon's racial heritage and experience of growing up in a majority-black society under French colonial rule were important in shaping his ideas later in life.

    Frantz Fanon Frantz Fanon representing the FNL at the Pan African conference 1960 StudySmarterFig. 1 Frantz Fanon representing the FNL at the Pan African conference 1960

    At the age of 18, Fanon left Martinique to join the Free French Army, fighting in the Second World War to resist the German occupation of France.

    After serving in the Second World War, Fanon went on to university in mainland France, where he studied medicine and psychiatry. Fanon’s experiences as a soldier inspired a paper he wrote titled Black Skin White Masks, which he intended to submit as his dissertation in his final year. However, the university viewed the thesis as too controversial, so he published it as a book after he had finished his studies.

    Aimé Césaire was a Martinique poet, author, and politician. He was Frantz Fanon's teacher and mentor, and another main influence in the development of anti-colonial and postcolonial thought. He coined the term Négritude, which can be translated as “Blackness”, or “the condition of being Black”. The term defines a movement in art, literature and critical theory that emphasises on raising black consciousness among Africans and the African diaspora in Europe and the Americas.

    Fanon began working at a hospital in Algeria in 1953, where he was responsible for treating the psychological traumas affecting French soldiers who were involved in the torture of Algerians fighting for independence. Fanon also treated numerous Algerian torture victims. This first-hand exposure to the realities of colonial violence had a profound influence on Fanon's political thought and political stance, and impacted Fanon's attitude towards France.

    As a result of this constant exposure to brutality, in 1956 Fanon decided he could no longer support the French state in any capacity. Fanon resigned from the hospital and was subsequently expelled from Algeria. He moved to newly independent Tunisia, where he was able to freely and openly support the Front de Libération Nationale - an Algerian nationalist and military organisation that sought independence.

    Frantz Fanon Frantz Fanon with the medical team at the Psychiatric hospital in Algeria where he worked StudySmarterFig. 2 Frantz Fanon with the medical team at the Psychiatric hospital in Algeria where he worked

    The Algerian War refers to the period beginning with the conflict initiated by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) in 1954 and ending with the establishment of Algeria as an independent and sovereign state in 1962. The Algerian War was one of the most monumental wars of the anti-colonial period. Algerian nationalism served as a unifier among all those who fought against the French. The Algerian War was also one of the most violent wars of the anti-colonial era and involved extensive use of torture and excessive violence.

    In Tunisia, Fanon became an editor of the FLN newspaper El Moudjahid, and contributed to it until the end of his life. He was diagnosed with leukaemia and sought treatment in the United States, where he died in December 1961. He was later buried in Algeria.

    Frantz Fanon Political thought

    Frantz Fanon's political thought developed directly out of this study of the psychology of colonialism and racism, the effect of colonialism on the colonised. Fanon is often regarded as a Marxist thinker because, like Karl Marx, he saw revolution by the oppressed as a natural consequence of capitalist domination. As he became more involved in the struggle for Algerian Independence, Fanon became increasingly supportive of violence as a means to achieve decolonisation. However, Fanon was never a supporter of needless brutality and argued that the struggle against colonialism should be won “cleanly, without brutality”1.

    Colonialism is the process of imposing political control over another country. It typically refers to European colonialism starting in the 15th century when European countries colonised many countries in the Global South and imposed their language, religion and cultural practices.

    Capitalism is an economic system characterised by a few people owning the country's industries and maximising profit at the expense of the people who work in those industries.

    Frantz Fanon anti-colonial theory key points

    Frantz Fanon's theory of anti-colonialism can be summarised by the following key concepts:

    1. Colonialism. Fanon writes that colonialism and the ideologies that support it are internalised by colonisers and colonised alike. The colonised individual accepts the idea that they are inferior and attempts to emulate the coloniser, by adopting their language and cultural practices.

    2. Consciousness. As a psychiatrist, matters of the mind influence Fanon's political thought. Fanon argues that the colonised are made to question their own existence and being. Fanon also addressed the idea of double consciousness, which was first theorised by W.E.B Dubois to critique the colonised elite.

    3. Capitalism. Fanon pushes the boundaries of Marxism to include the effects of race, as Fanon argues “Marxist analysis should always be stretched when it comes to the colonial issue”2. Capitalism to Fanon is not solely an economic project but a racialised project too where inequality is determined by one's race.3

    4. Role of violence. The theme of violence runs through Fanon's works and teachings. Fanon's sustained calls for the use of violence in the process of decolonisation reflect his belief that violence is a tool to decolonise.

    Double consciousness refers to an internal conflict of subordinated (colonised) people who live in a society that reinforces oppression.

    Frantz Fanon colonialism

    Fanon's thinking on colonialism and its effects is explored in his two main books; Black Skin White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth.

    Black Skin White Masks

    Frantz Fanon's work is particularly valued for this detailed scientific observation of the effects of colonialism on individuals and societies. His theories present an in-depth observation of what colonialism does to the psyche of the colonised person.

    Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks is a largely non-violent analysis of the effects of colonialism, cultural assimilation, and capitalism on people of colour and the colonised.

    During his time in France, Fanon observed how prevalent anti-black racism was in French society. This inspired his text Black Skin White Masks. Fanon realised that, although black people often had the same viewpoints and ideological positions as white Europeans, their voices were still perceived as different or inferior because of the colour of their skin. Fanon argued that colonialism projects the idea that the only way to be considered fully human is to be white. Therefore, black people are placed in an agonising psychological position in which they are forced to view themselves as less than human.

    Fanon’s approach and his theories are an amalgamation of his analysis of different fields such as Marxism, psychiatry, and the Négritude movement. Fanon also draws on Marxist ideas to argue that colonial racism is a socioeconomic issue and that the struggles against colonialism and capitalism have the same roots.

    The Wretched of the Earth

    The Wretched Of The Earth was Fanon’s final book. Here, Fanon lays out the key elements of a path towards decolonisation. A reoccurring theme throughout the book is the role of violence and an emphasis on the mental impacts of colonialism. Written during a period in which struggles for decolonisation were ongoing across Africa and Asia, Fanon presents his book as a guide for achieving successful and sustainable decolonisation. The Algerian struggle for independence from France is used as the setting of Fanon’s book, but its arguments can be applied to anti-colonial movements anywhere in the colonised world. Despite an emphasis on violence, Fanon speaks not only about the physical nature of liberation struggles, but also looks at the process of decolonisation from a psychological perspective. Fanon states that the psychological condition of colonised peoples needs to change, to achieve full decolonisation.

    Influence and impact of Frantz Fanon's works

    Fanon’s writings have had a direct influence on both anti-colonial and liberation movements. Fanon’s text The Wretched of The Earth influenced revolutionary leaders like Malcolm X and Che Guevara. The Black Power movement in the USA was also heavily influenced by Fanon's writings. Stokely Carmichael, the leader of the Black Panther Party, directly quoted Fanon's text in his book and used much of Fanon's theory as a framework for setting out his own cause.

    Fanon’s work has also been used to address contemporary issues that have arisen in the postcolonial period. In his texts, Fanon refers to the “curse of independence”. He argues that the political independence of a colonised country can still result in a system in which intertribal antagonism, racism, and chauvinism still feature. This is especially the case if the former colony attempts to maintain strong political and economic links with the former colonial power. Fanon suggests that, to achieve full decolonisation, the post-colonial society should reject European capitalism as a path to economic and social development.

    Frantz Fanon Banner quoting Franz Fanon at the Justice for all march 2014 StudySmarterFig. 3 Banner quoting Franz Fanon at the justice for all march, 2014

    This idea has influenced many critical perspectives on aid and international development. It also offers an explanation of how some countries in the postcolonial world find themselves in positions of poverty, underdevelopment and civil war. Despite having enjoyed decades of independence, they often experience high rates of debt and external dependence on former colonial powers.

    Frantz Fanon - Key takeaways

    • Fanon’s work and thinking are influenced by being born directly into French colonialism, by his education, time in the army and early work experiences as a psychiatrist.
    • Fanon’s experiences as a soldier in the Second World War inspired his text Black Skin White Masks, a non-violent analysis of the effects of colonialism, cultural assimilation and capitalism on black and colonised peoples.
    • Fanon later worked in a hospital in Algeria, where he was responsible for treating the psychological trauma of the French soldiers who were involved in torturing Algerians.
    • Fanon's experiences treating both victims and perpetrators of colonial violence helped him develop his theories on the psychology of colonialism and pushed him towards support for Algerian independence.
    • Fanon’s writings have had a direct influence on both anti-colonial and liberation movements.

    References

    1. Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, 1965, p.24.
    2. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p.5.
    3. Historical Materialism, A Revolutionary lifeline: Teaching Fanon in a postcolonial world, 2017.
    4. Fig. 3 Banner quoting Franz Fanon at the Justice for All March 2014 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Justice_for_All_March_-_Dec._13,_2014_(15399837383).jpg) by fuseboxradio (https://www.flickr.com/people/43334817@N08) licenced by CC-BY-SA-2.0 (https://spdx.org/licenses/CC-BY-SA-2.0.html) on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Frantz Fanon

    What is Frantz Fanon theory?

    Frantz Fanon is not a theory himself but he contributed heavily to anti and postcolonial theory as well as nationalism. 

    Who was Frantz Fanon and why is he important?

    Frantz Fanon was a Martinican anti-colonial theorist and worked as a  psychiatrist during the Algerian War of Independence. 

    What was the contribution of Frantz Fanon to decolonisation?

    Fanon’s writings have had a direct influence on both anti-colonial and liberation movements. Fanon’s text The Wretched of The Earth served as an influence to revolutionary leaders such as Malcolm X and Che Guevara.

    What are the key points of Fanon's anti colonial theory?

    A key point of Fanon's theory is the effects of colonisation on the colonised as well as the idea of consciousness.  

    Why did Frantz Fanon write the wretched of the earth?

    Fanon wrote Wretched of The Earth in response to his experiences of working in the Algerian War.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Where was Frantz Fanon born?

    Which of these texts did Fanon write in response to the atrocities of the Algerian War of Independence? 

    Who was Fanon’s mentor and teacher in Martinique?

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