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Franz Fanon, A Postcolonial Figure

Frantz Omar Fanon was a revolutionary political philosopher from the French colony of Martinique. His many works are highly influential and acclaimed in the disciplines of Post-Colonial Studies, Critical Theory and Marxism.

Readers of Fanon will easily recognize his coining of the term "a psychology of oppression", which refers to Fanon's fearless examination of how life events and experiences negatively effect the formulation of black and colonial subjects psychology from youth to adulthood [1].

Fanon was an extraordinary thinker and a true intellectual outlier. He was an outstanding and dedicated physician as well as a philosopher and political activist. Fanon has made many enormous contributions to civilization, as he challenged Western scientists to consider their role in creating and perpetuating racism and colonialism that is a direct result of rampant Eurocentricity in all domains of life.

Born in Fort-de-France, Martinique, in 1925, he was buried in Algeria in 1961 — which is three months prior to Algeria's independence from France.

He died young, at only thirty-sex, but his influence remains as strong as ever — since in the history books, his rebellious persona has become synonymous with revolutionary decolonization [2].

Fanon's rich life creates complex work that is the stuff of myth and legend. Fanon was a fearless native from the colonies who refused to behave like a colonized man that would cause him mental slavery, yet he does not feel himself to be above the struggle against Western Colonialism in all its forms.

He is an authentic, fiery, eloquent, and passionate advocate for the colonized, but it is his thought that is his real and most dangerous weapon.

Upon qualifying from one of the most progressive psychiatric trainings in France, he takes up a senior appointment in Algeria, where a vicious but revolutionary War of Independence against the French was about to assume form [3].

By day, Fanon was a clinical director of the largest mental hospital in Algeria, where he spent time passionately treating, among others, French soldiers; but at night he treated the victims of French colonial brutality.

Fanon becomes emotionally and physically involved with the controversial and radical revolutionary liberation movement and resigns his post to join the struggle of a life time that would ultimately lead to Algeria's independence from France on July, 5, 1962.

Fanon becomes a leading member of the FLN (the Algerian National Liberation Front), edits their newspaper, and is a roving ambassador in the campaign for national liberation across Africa.

His short life on this earth evokes nostalgia for African unity between North, East, West and South that came as a result of collective barbaric Western colonizing that yielded collective trauma and pain on this culturally rich and diverse content.

Two unsuccessful attempts are made on his life, but within six years, at the age of 36, it is leukaemia that finally kills him. This martyr of the struggle was given a hero's burial in ‘free Algeria’ near the Tunisian border.

His legacy is three books and numerous editorials and articles which are rapidly recognized as the authentic voice of an oppressed Third World desperate for dignity and freedom. His influences rage from Jean Paul Satre and Jacques Lacan.

Perhaps Fanon's greatest source of originality as a critical theorists lies in his combination of psychology and politics [4]. This seamless overlapping of the political and psychological realms creates a fruitful approach that will help solve the problems of national liberation and social revolution from a vantage point of psychopathology, and the problems of personal identity through a sustained focus on the violence of the oppressive colonial encounter, dynamic and social structure.

Fanon's works have had an enormous influence on the field of post colonial theory and criticism. In his magnum opus, Black Skin, White Mask, Fanon is highly attuned to the time and place of the objects of his analysis — from the colonial era of French controlled Martinique circa the Second World War.

Fanon's discourse on the politics of racial identity is a highly intriguing and fruitful one. For instance, in the book, Fanon is crystal clear that if we are to understand the disruptive or psychopathological nature of racial identity, we will need to understand it as the outcome of a double process.

The point of Fanon’s ‘psycho-politics’ is to take into account both the psychological and the political dimensions of identity – and their reciprocal and combined effects. Fanon emphasis how personal psychology may repeat, internalize and further entrench such political effects at the level of personal identity.

Fanon’s project in Black skin, White Masks, then, seems to be about tracing the interchange between personal psychology, on the one hand, and social-political forces of influence, on the other.

It is quintessential to note that the unique challenge of this task lies in not separating these these two points of analysis – too far. The objective is to blur these boundaries in some ways, to discern the effects of the political within the psychological, to understand how the psychological might be a gateway to the political.

One of the reasons that Fanon prioritizes race in his analysis is that it comes to act as the essential and determining quality of identity within colonial contexts. European existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, a prodigious influence on Fanon’s writings, famously announced that ‘existence precedes essence’, meaning to suggest, amongst other things, that one should not tie one’s identity, or that of others, to predetermined qualities, prejudices or stereotypes.

The experience of living as a minority – racial or otherwise – within a dominant or racist culture, is to live the reverse of this maxim – it is to live the experience of one’s ‘essence preceding one’s existence’.

Perhaps the closest that Fanon comes actually to naming or qualifying the intrapsychic violence suffered by the black subject in the colonial situation is the idea of a socially induced inferiority complex. If one is overwhelmed by the wish to be white, Fanon (1986) argues, it is because one lives in a society that makes a racial inferiority complex possible.

Fanon utilizes personification and describes the psychological violence and collective trauma of colonial subjects and Blacks in the following passage:

"In a society that derives its stability from the perpetuation of this complex, in a society that proclaims the superiority of one race; to the identical degree to which that society creates difficulties for him ... [it is to that degree that] he will find himself thrust into a neurotic situation’".
Fanon works beautifully illustrates the unbearable plight of Black people as the other. Specifically, Fanon references the role of cultural representation and how this leads to the formation of the black child’s subjectivity.
Throughout his or her upbringing the black child has been exposed to, and so identified with, a white culture that has been put together ‘by white men for little white men’, as Lebeau thoughtfully paraphrases Fanon.

This culture has diverse forms and is evident in systems of education, as well as in literature, and in the films, the comics and cartoons of children’s entertainment. In as much as the black child or adult does not think of or experience themselves as black – in so far as they have identified with white culture, and have come to think and act subjectively as white – they then come to experience themselves as a ‘phobic object’. As Lebeau emphasizes about Fanon’s text: the result of this is the effect of hatred coming both from inside and outside – a racism stemming both from within and without.

Fanon's prolific and multidisciplinary approach to scholarship is remarkably prescient as we live in a post-colonial society where the remnants of White Supremacy and Eurocentricity still haunt our societies that are supposedly "meritocracies" and "post-racial". Fanon's pan African visions and metamorphic nature of thought artfully painted the colonial struggles of Algerians under the French.

As a black psychiatrist and intellectual, Fanon documented the psychological plight of blacks in a society that sees them as the other. As Fanon once said in Black Skin, White Masks: "The prognosis is in the hands of those who are willing to get rid of the worm-eaten roots of the structure".


[1] Bulhan, Hussein Abdilahi. Frantz Fanon and the psychology of oppression. Springer Science & Business Media, 2004.

[2] Cherki, Alice. Frantz Fanon: a portrait. Cornell University Press, 2006.

[3] Davids, M. Fakhry. "Frantz Fanon: The struggle for inner freedom."Free Associations, no. 38 (1996): 205-234.

[4] Hook, Derek. "Frantz Fanon, Steve Biko,‘psychopolitics’, and critical psychology." (2004): 84-114.


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