Born in the French territory of Martinique in 1925, Fanon’s father was a customs inspector, while his mother was a proud French citizen. Their income enabled Fanon and his siblings to attend a lycée, a type of school few black Martiniquans were able to afford (Zulfiqar 16). There, Fanon was taught by Aimé Césaire, a prominent poet in the
Négritude movement whose 1955 Discourse on Colonialism declares that colonialism has led to the destruction of whole civilizations and must come to an end, along with its constant counterpart, racism (Césaire). Fanon would later work for Césaire’s campaign to become a parliamentary delegate (Zulfiqar 16).
Fanon left Martinique in 1943 to fight with the French in World War II (Poulos). After three years, during which time he was stationed for a period in North Africa, Fanon went to France to study medicine at the University of Lyon (Martin 165).
As a psychiatrist, Fanon came to realize the profound emotional and psychological toll colonialism can have on the psyche of the colonized — a realization that led to the 1952 publication of his Black Skin, White Masks. The next year, Fanon moved to Algeria to head the psychiatry department at Blida-Joinville Hospital — a post that profoundly impacted his outlook on what can, and what he felt must, be done about colonialism.
“During his tenure in Blida, the war for Algerian independence broke out, and Fanon was horrified by the stories of torture [about which] his patients — both French torturers and Algerian torture victims — told him. The Algerian War consolidated Fanon's alienation from the French imperial viewpoint, and in 1956 he formally resigned his post with the French government to work for the Algerian cause,” states a biography of Fanon on Emory University’s Postcolonial Studies Program website (Poulos).
Fanon had already been collaborating with the Algerian resistance, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). After leaving the hospital, he was expelled from Algeria after participating in a strike led by doctors with FLN sympathies, but he continued to work as a propagandist and supporter for the FLN in Tunisia (Zulfiqar 18).
In 1960, at the age of 35, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia. He resisted doctors’ recommendations to go to the U.S. for treatment, disgusted as he was with American racism, until at last he flew to a hospital in Maryland, where he spent his last days.
Earlier that year, “in a feverish spurt between April and July of 1961” (Bhabha), Fanon had written his response to colonialism and the Algerian War, a call to the colonized people of the earth to take up arms in violent revolt against their oppressors: The Wretched of the Earth.
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