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The black saint against white guilt For Frantz Fanon, respect and dignity were more important than performative anti-racism

Fanon was animated by a deep curiosity (Still from "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask")

Fanon was animated by a deep curiosity (Still from "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask")


March 29, 2021   5 mins

The Black Panther activist Eldrige Cleaver once claimed “every brother on a roof top” could quote Frantz Fanon. Another Black Power leader called him one of his “patron saints”. And you could see why: a prophet of the Third World revolution who fought for the wretched of the earth, and whose life ended before he turned 40. But St. Frantz is a mirage. As his biographer David Macey puts it: “there were other Frantz Fanons”, apart from his status as a prophet of Third World revolution.

On the very first page of Black Skin, White Masks — which has just been published as a Penguin Modern Classic, using Richard Philcox’s translation — Fanon states: “I’m not the bearer of absolute truths”. Which doesn’t sound very saintly. He was trying to emphasise his humanity instead of being seen solely for his race. The book is an investigation into neurosis and alienation; the crisis of a man who thought he was just a man, but discovers instead he is a nĂšgre. “Look Mummy, a nĂšgre,” a little child says and points to Fanon.

The text is often dense: Fanon mixes literary analysis of obscure novels with the jargon of phenomenology. He can be horny, sad, angry, introspective and playful — all on the same page. The sections that seem to be influenced by Hegel are particularly tough work. It is not entirely surprising that the book was a damp squib on publication. No major French newspaper or journal reviewed it; by the time Fanon died from leukaemia, at the age of 36 in a hospital in America, it had been out of print for many years.

Fanon did have aspirations to be a playwright. And the drama involved in the text is positively theatrical. He didn’t type the manuscript himself, but rather dictated it to his inamorata, Josie; this explains the sudden shifts in register and tone. This is not a contained book; it bursts with the energy of a young man.

Fanon was 27 when it was published, a Jacques the Lad who loved football, and as a teenager stole marbles and snuck illegally into cinemas with his friends. In a letter he sent to a friend about the book, which is quoted in Macey’s biography, he affirms: “I am trying to touch my reader affectively, or in other words irrationally, almost sensually. For me, words have a charge. I find myself incapable of escaping the bite of a word, the vertigo of a question mark.”

Another reason why Fanon can be called a saint was his strident moral universalism; but this universalism can be explained, at least partly, by his background as a black man from the French West Indies. As he puts it in the introduction to Black Skin, White Masks: “As those of Antillean, our observations and conclusions are valid only for the French Antilles”. The rest of the book is, indeed, very French.

Fanon was born to a middle-class family in the French West Indian colony of Martinique. His father was a civil servant and his mother a successful shop owner. The family were so well-off they could afford servants. They even owned a second house in the outer suburbs of Fort-de-France, the capital city. Martinique was an old colony: many of its institutions, such as its schools and courts, were modelled on metropolitan France. Fanon attended a fee-paying lycĂ©e, a privilege that poor West Indian blacks couldn’t afford — neither could poor whites in France.

One might think, on knowing that a white population lived in Martinique, that they were the emissaries of mainland France. They would be wrong. The BĂ©kĂ©s — as the Martinique-born white population was called — were opposed to Martinique being integrated as a French territory in 1946, and they supported the Vichy regime during the second world war,

They were a clannish, endogamous minority composed of landowning families. Interracial marriage here, unlike in metropolitan France, was completely taboo. In a documentary by Stuart Hall on the nations of the Caribbean, an elder Béké man, with a grin on his face, compared them to the mafia. They lived in a hill just above Fort-de-France: there was a rivalry between the landowning Békés and the rising urban black and mixed-race middle-class families in the capital city.

Fanon’s life was in many ways not just an embrace of republican France, but a rejection of the lifestyle and beliefs of BĂ©kĂ©s. He fought for de Gaulle’s Free France, and was decorated with a Croix de Guerre. He married a white woman. And, at a deeper level, his commitment to republican French universalism — which, of course, wasn’t fully practised in France, as he later found out when he moved there to study medicine — was in stark contrast to the American-style racial obsessions of the BĂ©kĂ©s in Martinique.

Fanon, in his book, is trying to affirm the universal brotherhood of man. In one passage, he states: “we must recall our aim is to enable better relations between Blacks and Whites”. It is no surprise, then, he is sensitive about anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism cuts me to the quick,” he writes. “They are denying me the right to be a man. I cannot dissociate myself from the fate reserved for my brother.”

He rejects being viewed as black person. He wants to be seen simply as a person: “The black man, however sincere, is a slave to the past. But I am a man, and in this sense the Peloponnesian War is as much mine as the invention of the Compass.” Later he lyrically adds: “It is not the black world that governs my behaviour. My black skin is not a repository for specific values. The starry sky that left Kant in awe has long revealed its secrets to me.”

Unlike many self-described anti-racists today, who engage in performative demands for white guilt, Fanon states: “I have not the right as a man of colour to wish for a guilt complex to crystallise in the white man regarding the past of my race”. What he wants, instead, is respect and dignity: “I, a man of colour, want but one thing. May man never be instrumentalised. May the subjugation of man by man — that is to say, me by another — cease. May I be able to discover and desire man wherever he may be”.

Yet Fanon is also often linked with the NĂ©gritude movement, a group of black Francophone intellectuals who wanted to cultivate a distinctively black consciousness. This is partly because the most famous NĂ©gritude intellectual was the poet and politician Aime Cesaire, who was not only a fellow Martiniquan, but also taught Fanon at the LycĂ©e Schoelcher.  However, Fanon was largely ambivalent to the NĂ©gritude movement, and in Black Skin, White Masks he expresses views that run contrary to their ethos: “In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a black civilisation unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past”. And he later states: “No, I have not the right to be black. It is not my duty to be this or that”.

What animates Fanon most was a deep curiosity. In the book’s conclusion, he asks: “Superiority? Inferiority? Why not simply try to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other?” Indeed, the final sentence is: “My final prayer: O my body, always make me a man who questions.” And so explicitly linking Fanon to his French colonial background has its pitfalls; it potentially blunts his wish to be free from his past, and to be, as he put it, “constantly creating myself”.

But while his background didn’t determine his views and attitude, it did, to a considerable extent, influence it. What can be more French — apart from the obvious things — than turning the act of asking questions into something sacred? On the front cover of the new edition of Black Skin, White Masks is a photograph of Fanon. He looks both proud and sceptical, embodying the most captivating features of French culture.

If Fanon was an icon of anything, it wouldn’t be Third World revolution, but rather republican France. But he was not an icon; he was simply a man. And his humanity was all the more transparent in the tragic gap between his universalist ideals and the reality of being seen as just a nùgre.


Tomiwa Owolade is a freelance writer and the author of This is Not America, which is out in paperback in May.

tomowolade

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Dee Frazier
Dee Frazier
3 years ago

To all naysayers claiming Fanon was some man of peace, in his book The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon called for blacks to engage in violent genocide of whites, he claimed doing some would “cure the ailments of blacks and unify them to build a new nation”.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

Nothing to the Censorship currently being carried out with reference to Andrew Doyle’s piece on BATLEY GRAMMAR.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago

All but one are gone, along with my original account. made maybe 4 – 5 comments there, all well-received judging by the uptick count, then when i looked a few hours later all pooofft!! vanished. And i couldn’t make any comment anywhere on any thread with that account (AllonsEnfants), so i logged in with this spare one which i forgot i even had (must’ve made it ages ago when i thought i’ll use facebook…)
It appears all the black-related topics are in the content-sensitive group, i recall the Markle comment section had the same severe pruning. So much for “white fragility”, heh.

Dee Frazier
Dee Frazier
3 years ago

Frantz Fanon was a black racist, he was a Marxist and was an inspiration for the fascistic “anti racist” BS. They use Fanon’s own terms, he blamed whites for blacks not achieving and advocated for oppression of whites, as well as white nations being forced to give blacks land within their borders and money, resources to build black nations which would use threats of violence to coerce more money etc from their white victims. Funny how black nationalists never want to emigrate to black nations. Unheard is Trotskyite propaganda, I felt as much when I saw Ed West wrote for it. it’s owners hate and despise ethnic British, Europeans, they despise Christians and yes even ethnically western atheists, though they will use them as useful idiots. Articles by African race hustlers who demand they be allowed to sack Britain. If Britain had a clue you’d remove Boris and replace him with someone who puts British citizens first. You need to stop electing parasites and tell those like those who run this site and all ethnic minority supremacists that they need to take their demands to Israel, Africa, the Middle East and China, a as they are not welcome in the Uk

Last edited 3 years ago by Dee Frazier
Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Dee Frazier

Unheard is Trotskyite propaganda,” and, in another comment, “Don’t you know that Marxists, those who run this propagandist site …”
I expect most of Unherd’s contributors, commenters and readers would be amazed by that and disagree quite strongly. But I suppose they’re all as unwelcome in your UK as those who run this site.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I expect most of Unherd’s contributors, commenters and readers would be amazed by that and disagree quite strongly. But I suppose they’re all as unwelcome in your UK as those who run this site.

I’m a foreigner (immigrant) here, and strongly agree with Dee Frazier. Yes indeed, most of the contributors i’ve seen thus far during my short time on Unherd do strike me as trotzers. (Not D. Murray of course, but he’s leagues above the rest anywhere he writes. And i’m somewhat curious about how the FĂŒredi kid turned out, i quite like his dad regardless of his disgraceful past forays into trotzery – still waiting for a Jacob F. article to turn up.)
So there. I expect it’s you most of the commenters would disagree with, not Frazier.
You don’t appear to be very observant.

Last edited 3 years ago by Johannes Kreisler
Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

You could be right. It does depend on what you mean by Trotskyist, but I get the very strong impression most Unherd contributors, and a fair number of its commenters, would self-identify as middle of the road, centrist or right of centre politically. Marxism, socialism and communism aren’t the most popular ideas here, and Trotsky is rarely mentioned.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

‘Middle-of-the-road’ is not the same as ‘centrist’ or ‘balanced’. If the road is skewed to one side, the middle of it is the main thoroughfare of that side. The ‘road’ being the (any) current prevailing orthodoxy, aka “the mainstream” = the stuff relayed by the media, education system, policy making, etc. – the “tone”. Overton window & all that. And currently “the tone” is skewed so much to one side (“left”) that those who relatively to it are to the other side (“right”, such as many of the tories) would be perceived as raving loony lefties in a truly neutral sterile political environment.
I may be more acutely aware of (sensitive to) the “tone” because i recognise its rapidly intensifying vocabulary, word by word, phrase by phrase, from the not-so-distant past of state communism where i happened to live half my life. Those seemingly innocuous words (compassion, solidarity, community, humanity, you name it) are loaded with poison.
Of course Marxism, socialism, communism, trotzkism are not on the menu, these are too embarrassingly obsolete, disreputable fossils in the 21st century to peddle them openly in polite, educated arriviste circles. (The “loony fringe” who embrace them with gusto are generally frowned upon by the mainstream ‘left’.) They got replaced by a set of contemporary, trendy items like Critical Race Theory, “universalism”, gender ideologies, various factions of feminism, intersectionalism, “humanitarianism”, equityism, etc. etc. (unfortunately environmentalism ended up on this scrapheap too) – the collective term for all that is “wokery”. Even the left’s #1 hate figure Priti Patel has to pepper her speeches with large doses of wokeish; one simply cannot hold public office of any sort without applying oneself to the language.
The problem is not the forlorn bunch of motheaten old SWP pensioners handing out dogeared leninist pamphlets; they are harmless like Jehova’s Witnesses. The problem is with the “mainstream” trampling ahead unabated, wrecking everything in their path. Not a uniquely British problem, mind you.

Last edited 3 years ago by Johannes Kreisler
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Dee Frazier

weird

William Johnston
William Johnston
3 years ago
Reply to  Dee Frazier

Unheard (sic) is Trotskyite propaganda.” I actually laughed out loud when I read this.
I read Unherd articles because, as a committed socialist, I think it important to read things that oblige me to step outside what is otherwise potentially a socialist bubble, containing only those things that I can agree with.
My own view of Unherd is that most articles tend towards a right-of-centre viewpoint, and are generally well written and well argued. If I am going to disagree with them, then I need to be damned sure of my facts.
Reading Unherd articles has not made me less left-wing. But, then, I do not necessarily regard left-wing as a hard-and-fast ideological position, and I do not mind being challenged.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago

I am not a socialist, but I agree with you, it was just a ludicrous comment.

Unherd is a free thinking site giving a space to often unorthodox views. The pieces the writers contribute are almost always well argued and informed, of course you should not expect to agree with everything every one say. Most of the comments also provide interesting angles on the topics.

Unfortunately however, there seems to be a raucous minority of totally unhinged far Right people posting on the site. Anyone who doesn’t agree with their extreme racialised views is damned as a Marxist or Trotskyist, cultural or otherwise. They simply can’t abide reading any view they don’t 100% agree with and don’t do subtlety, understanding or context.

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago
Reply to  Dee Frazier

Shall we leave the decision of who governs us to the British people?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Well I did say that this site might as well be the Guardian…

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

At least in the Grun they tack on the “this comment has been moderated for […]” – not always, but usually.
Doesn’t reflect too well on Unherd’s image.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

He seems to have been a rational, brave, smart and useful person before a bunch of race grifters got to him.

Chris Sirb
Chris Sirb
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I read that Franz Fanon said, that it is morally acceptable to kill a White no matter if he/she had anything to do with slavery.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
3 years ago

Yes, they really should take that Adekoya article down, shouldn’t they? How is it that a site named Unherd has the temerity to publish views you disagree with? And the failure to match their output exactly to your priorities (where oh where is the piece on pregnant fighter pilot uniforms?) is an absolute disgrace!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

The point is that views such s those expressed by Adekoya are ubiquitous across most of the rest of the media. We have ‘heard’ them all a million times. It is the reason why so many of us no longer fund or engage with the rest of the media. The point of UnHerd is surely to offer an alternative to there groupthink and idiocy of the rest of the media.

M Dibley
M Dibley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Well said. I get the sense that some come here just to confirm their own pre-held convictions. Which is the polar opposite to why the site was set up in the first place.

Mark Preston
Mark Preston
3 years ago

Surely ‘Jacques the lad’ should be ‘Jacques le mec’?

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago

Africa will look back to European Colonialism with nostalgia once they get the Chinese version.
It will be utterly brutal.
🙂

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard E
Mark Preston
Mark Preston
3 years ago

I’m 57 but can I identify as a 22 year old and still get the freebie? If not then they’re bigots.

VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
3 years ago

I wonder, is there a contradiction between the early and the late Fanon, did he degenerate from principled universalist into a genocidal racialist, did his interaction with European communists turn him mad?

What did liberation ever do for Algerians or Zimbabweans?

Last edited 3 years ago by VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
Sidney Falco
Sidney Falco
3 years ago

Always thought they could get Thierry Henry to play him in a film.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

The implied transfer of white wealth to the black community within the USA? I haven’t read much of Fanon, but I thought he was mainly concerned with colonialism and what used to be called the Third World.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Oh yes. We have it in the USA as well, via the call for ‘reparations’ – for people who never owned slaves to give money to people who have never been slaves. It’s lunacy. The Great Shakedown.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

What did you see in this article that implied such a call?

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

 what used to be called the Third World.

It is still called the third world. Not the best moniker IMO, i prefer to call it ‘the undeveloping world’.

Last edited 3 years ago by Johannes Kreisler
eleanorhazleton
eleanorhazleton
3 years ago

It is now called the Majority World (which it is) and we are the Minority World (which we are)

Hannah Cohen
Hannah Cohen
3 years ago

Your apparent illiteracy is morally repugnant, since you either didn’t read the article or didn’t understand what you were reading.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Hannah Cohen

Eh? You mean you don’t like what Cathy Carron wrote, and now you are frothing at the mouth at her.
Rest assured that Carron did read and perfectly understood the article. Stop throwing your toys out of the pram and grow up. Or try, at least.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Hannah Cohen

Hannah dear, you are absolutely correct. My assistant placed the comment under the wrong article. Please see the Remi Adekoya article. Apologies. That said, the content of my comments are factually correct on the current condition of NYC black education and students.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Wokeism is the reutilisation of scientific racism to create hierarchies of racial worth based on the intersectionality between skin colour, political beliefs and gender.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

Great article… Fanon was a contempory but not a follower of the protoype woke – the post modernist French. For all their pomposity and nonsense the modern #mob version is far worse than the original. Fanon’s universalism places him aside from the “lived experience” crowd. Some of his more bilious national liberation stuff needs to be put in the contaxt of the time, and also in the personal context of someone young, often angry, ill and far from home.

Dee Frazier
Dee Frazier
3 years ago

Don’t you know that Marxists, those who run this propagandist site censor inconvenient truths. Despite the title they view you as sheep they will herd into the slaughterhouse

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago

What a shame he died so young. The world could do with more of his kind of antiracism today, instead of that which is just the old racism dressed in a new suit.
If you wonder what I mean, just run a search for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture list of the traits of “whiteness”. If you took the opposite in each case, and called it a sign of “blackness” you’d find a welcome in the KKK, but probably nowhere else.

Chris Sirb
Chris Sirb
3 years ago
Reply to  David Brown

He wasn’t as anti-racist as it seems from this eulogy. Franz Fanon argued for killing Whites no matter if they had anything to do with slavery/colonialism. Which would make me, a White person who lived in a part of the world where we’ve been enslaved (by the Turks), the same treatment. So, I say, thanks no thanks Franz Fanon and its ilk!

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

More racist tosh on Unheard.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

‘He fought for de Gaulle’s Free France, and was decorated with a Croix de Guerre.’
“we must recall our aim is to enable better relations between Blacks and Whites”
“The black man, however sincere, is a slave to the past. But I am a man, and in this sense the Peloponnesian War is as much mine as the invention of the Compass.”
What’s tosh, or racist, about that?

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Perkins
Sean L
Sean L
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Nothing ‘wrong’ in and of itself with a man asserting his inherited identity, only it’s now verboten for Europeans.

Personally I’d much prefer a return to the time before arriving in London forty years ago when I had no sense of myself as ‘white’. But proximity between such visibly divergent groups given sufficient density is bound to generate collective consciousness of those differences irrespective of innumerable others relating to cultural disparities.

The basis of Powell’s case against non-white settlement was no different to the ban on political uniforms or even away fans in pubs on match days. He argued that shared physical characteristics would come to operate as a “political uniform” giving rise to separate political constituencies.

He pointed to the American experience which was bound to be reproduced here. How could it be otherwise? In spite of that we were so brainwashed by “anti-racism” that we ignored him and are now paying the price.

I’ve gone full circle myself from being “anti-racist” to concurring with Jamaican folk hero Marcus ‘Back to Africa’ Garvey on the necessity of separation certainly between Africans and Europeans.

But while Marcus is officially celebrated with public buildings named in his honour, any member of the group from whom he sought partition daring to publicly voice their agreement risks political persecution even imprisonment.

If the truth were better known about the extent of inter-group crime and violence and official complicity in it, the policy of assisted repatriation of immigrants and their descendants would return to the statute book. But it’s covered up. Africanisation/Islamisation isn’t happening by accident but a concerted campaign sponsored by global plutocrats. Erasure of Europeans from mass consumer advertising perhaps it’s most glaring manifestation.

Even Crimewatch type shows on TV have been discontinued. But as the scapegoating of Europeans intensifies with people becoming ever more conscious of their numerical advantage, and those whom Powell referred to as agents provocateurs more prominent not least in Parliament it’s only a matter of time before people come to their senses.

The best we can hope for is a peaceful parting of the ways. A “multi-racial society” is a contradiction in term. Even where populations are racially and visibly identical society is a rare achievement. We know or ought to know that from our own history.

Last edited 3 years ago by Sean L
Hal Lives
Hal Lives
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean L

“…Erasure of Europeans from mass consumer advertising perhaps it’s most glaring manifestation…”
Are you effing delusional? Today is junk mail day in my area; I received 3 local county magazines, and 4 flyers.
Out of hundreds of adds there was only one that included a non-white/caucasian face, and it was for a local girls prep school.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Hal Lives

We don’t get much junkmail – well, nowhere to the tune of your haul -, and the measly few we get go to recycling without being looked at, so i cannot comment on that. Maybe your local county magazines remained enviably sane.
We however have the TV switched on at times, and if i was to locate the channel going by the ads, my best guess would be Burkina Faso. Bames, bames everywhere. And some more bames. Very occasionally a hapless, bumbling white bloke rescued from some domestic accident by a valiant female in shining armour. It’s really vomitous.

Sean L
Sean L
3 years ago
Reply to  Hal Lives

Yeah that’s why I said *mass consumer advertising* as distinct from local. Thanks for the reaffirmation.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

That’s not apparent from the article. But comments seem to be all over the place today. Maybe we should go back to Disqus 🙂

Dennis Lewis
Dennis Lewis
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

That’s simply not true. Based on that silly assertion, I’m certain that you’ve never read a word of Fanon’s.

Chris Sirb
Chris Sirb
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

That is one quote from his work. He was more racist than you would imagine. This author, just selected and whitewashed the image of a very corrupt activist. Read for yourself Fanon.

Dee Frazier
Dee Frazier
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

He was trying the tact of saying what he thought his white audience wanted to hear to gain an advantage

Dennis Lewis
Dennis Lewis
3 years ago

It might help if you took the time to actually read the article in question before spouting off, old boy!