Tag Archives: race

Fanon and the Theory of Race

Fanon 1It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others
– W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks

He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me
– Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary
— Malcolm X, Speech at the Founding of the OAAU

Frantz Fanon is one of the most important 20th century thinkers on race, and any serious theory and strategy dealing with the reality of race has to grapple with his work.[1] At the same time, Fanon remains one of the most misunderstood revolutionary thinkers. Part of the reason lies in the hybrid nature of his work, which draws from, among other fields of knowledge, philosophy, psychiatry, literature, anthropology and marxism. Another reason for the conflicting interpretation of his work may be the conditions under which his writings were produced, often addressing the immediate theoretical issues of the day, whether in France, Algeria, the Caribbean, or the anti-colonial struggles in Africa. Further, dying of leukemia at the young age of 36, Fanon was robbed of the opportunity to more fully develop and synthesize his diverse and fragmented work.

During his lifetime, Fanon was first and foremost known as an associate of the FLN, the leading party of the Algerian Revolution, a proponent of the Algerian Revolution as a model of anti-colonial revolution, and a critic of the emerging national bourgeoisie. In addition, Fanon fostered relationships with French intellectuals, most famously Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. However, Fanon’s work was never widely known in his lifetime in France, or, more broadly, in the metropoles.

It was not until Les Damnés del la terre was translated into English in 1965 as The Wretched of the Earth that Fanon reached a wider audience. The emergence of nationalist and Third Worldist movements, both globally and in the “Western” countries, meant new life for Fanon’s work, as these movements drew on his work in various ways. Wretched of the Earth was at the center of this Fanon revival, while other important works, such as Black Skin, White Masks, were relatively ignored. Later, after these movements subsided, Fanon was the subject of intense appropriation and critique within American universities. The different moments and places in the reception and interpretation of his work meant that Fanon has been interpreted in widely different, and contradictory ways.

The purpose of this essay is to briefly examine some of the core tenets of Fanon’s understanding of race, and it by no means provides an exhaustive account of his work.[2] Important areas of his writing are left untouched, as is most of the historical context. Instead, this essay explores some of the key categories and methodology Fanon uses in his analysis of race, with the aim of drawing out some of the lines in his thought. A particular emphasis is placed on his concept of racial alienation. The hope is to encourage others to take up Fanon, or engage with those who have already done so, as one step in the necessary reconstruction of a revolutionary theory of race and white supremacy for today.

The notes below approach the question primarily through a close reading of the important chapter in Black Skin, White Masks, “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” although other parts of his work are touched on. This chapter is important because it lays out his core concepts of racial alienation and its self-abolition.
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Park51 Raises Urgent Questions for Muslims

The struggle over the Park51 project — the Islamic center that will be known as the Cordoba House — in New York has presented a series of challenges to both Muslim organizers and the broader Left, but these challenges need to be understood as the culmination of deeper political and strategic questions that have so far gone unresolved.

Responding to white populism

In a period of growing white populism, it’s important to ask what strategies are necessary for the defense of our communities, and the defeat of both white supremacy and US imperialism.

The murder of Oscar Grant is only one of the most recent and better known cases of the ongoing police campaign to control and repress the Black community.  Since the death of Oscar Grant, at least seven more young Black men have been murdered in northern California alone.  Bloodshed at the hands of white violence — whether by slave drivers, lynch mobs, or the police — has been a consistent feature of the Black experience in the U.S.

In Arizona, Latin@ and undocumented peoples have been on the front lines of the fight against draconian forms of immigration control.  Sheriff Arpaio — who openly associates with neo-fascists — has become a national figure of the anti-immigrant movement conducting raids on immigrant neighborhoods, and holding many immigrant and undocumented people in tent cities that differ little from concentration camps.  This struggle, of course, has deeper roots in NAFTA and other imperial incursions by the U.S. in Latin America.

The passage of SB 1070 in Arizona needs to be understood as part of the success of a resurgent Right, that has been circling around the Tea Party, to capture state power in AZ.  While the ideological make-up around the Tea Party nation-wide is still being contested, fascist elements have entered the fray, and are attempting to both win individuals to their program, and influence the political direction of this milieu.

In this context, Park51 takes on new meaning and greater urgency.  Deepa Kumar has argued that anti-Muslim racism in the U.S. is in the process of changing.  While in the past, the U.S. ruling class treated the “Muslim terrorist threat” as a task to be tackled in the international arena, we have seen an increase in attacks on Muslim peoples inside the U.S.

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