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Frantz Fanon’s Call to Anti-Colonial Violence
(Released October 2011)

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  by Erin McCoy  

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Césaire remained a profound influence on Fanon throughout most of his life. His poetry is quoted at length in The Wretched of the Earth as evidence of the capacity of violence against the colonist to heal the colonized. The play-like excerpt of a poem depicts a rebel who kills a slave driver, his former master — “My family name: offended; my given name: humiliated; my profession: rebel; … My race: the fallen race” (Wretched of the Earth 44).

“Violence can thus be understood to be the perfect mediation,” Fanon writes. “The colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end. Césaire’s poetry takes on a prophetic significance in this very prospect of violence” (44).


Moi laminaire

Cover of Aimé Césaire's work, Moi, laminaire (1982)

Fanon’s study of the colonized minority’s conflicted inner self in Black Skin, White Masks hearkens, too, to prominent American activist W.E.B. Du Bois’ writings on African Americans’ “double consciousness” (Reyes). Du Bois contended that despite their emancipation, African-Americans still faced so much oppression and racist violence in the first half of the 20th century that “the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land” (56) — an observation in line with Fanon’s later argument that freedom must be taken by force, not granted by a white benefactor.

“The Negro [who has been freed from slavery] knows nothing of the cost of freedom, for he has not fought for it,” Fanon writes in Black Skin, White Masks (221).

In his own time, Fanon was acquainted with two prominent French existential philosophers of the day, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre, in fact, wrote the preface to The Wretched of the Earth, along with the controversial essay “Black Orpheus,” the preface to Negritude movement poet Léopold Sédar Senghor’s Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache. Though an avid proponent of decolonization, Sartre still sometimes found himself at odds with the black thinkers of his day: Senghor himself even rejected many of Sartre’s contentions in “Black Orpheus,” in which Sartre calls the Negritude movement an “anti-racist racism” and a means to an end, rather than how Senghor saw it, a cry for independence, revolution, the humanization of the black — not just a negation of all that is white.

Fanon, too, rejected “Black Orpheus,” “in which, much to Fanon’s dismay, Sartre had reduced the assertion of ‘Blackness’ in the work of Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor to a minor (or particular) term in an unfolding dialectic that necessarily moved through labor (a universal) toward a new raceless synthesis” (Reyes 123). The black man who rises up against his colonizers must make meaning for himself, build his own new nation, rather than adhering to pre-existing political systems, Fanon argues.

Still, Sartre’s introduction to The Wretched of the Earth echoes Fanon’s call to violence, taking it even further, by some people’s estimations, than Fanon had intended. Hannah Arendt, who wrote a manifesto strongly rejecting much of Fanon’s violent prescription, “readily acknowledged that it was really Sartre’s preface that glorified violence beyond Fanon’s words or wishes,” and indeed, Homi K. Bhabha agrees in his own foreward to The Wretched, “Sartre fanned the flames” (xxi).

“Let us fight,” Sartre declares. “Failing other weapons, the patience of the knife will suffice” (Sarte xlviii).

Go To Black Skin, White Masks

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