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Essays Political Theory

Frantz Fanon: Négritude, Decolonisation and the Politics of Friendship (Part One)

by Omar Chowdhury
“Therefore, to reconcile a reading of Fanon, we must read and analyse all his writings holistically because through this we garner only a better understanding of what Fanon’s aims were.”

Introduction
In a time where race, history and politics have become increasingly intertwined, it is easy to become lost within definitive narratives that seek to separate people as opposed to bringing them together. We can be forgiven to think that this issue is one that is new, however, it has been a pressing concern for centuries on end with it gaining increasing significance during the postcolonial era that gripped the world post-1945. One person is perhaps emblematic of this narrative: Frantz Fanon. For decades, Fanon’s literature has been a cause of great debate amongst historians. He is either a psychologist who preached violence against the coloniser as a necessary tool in cleansing the soul of the colonised; a black nationalist who saw the world as being built upon anti-black solidarity; or a Manichean thinker who viewed the world as being separated into two absolutes: black and white, coloniser and colonised. Indeed, the historiography of Fanon’s work can be a metaphor for the politics that surrounds us today. The historiography interprets Fanon to be a divisive separatist who wanted nothing more than to divide the world into isolated spheres. This paper goes against this dominant mode of thought instead arguing that Fanon wanted to do the opposite. Fanon’s anticolonialism was one which sought to unite people and rid the world of the inferiority/superiority complex that it remains plagued by. To understand this, the paper will use Jacques Derrida’s theory of the politics of friendship as a framework from which we can understand Fanon’s writing.

Frantz Fanon: Négritude, Decolonisation and the Politics of Friendship

For the nations that were victorious during the Second World War, the years following 1945 were not ones of peace and stability. Particularly in the non-Western world, countries which had fallen victim to colonisation were now beginning to rebel against the Western colonial powers for independence. The ensuing period, characterised by uncertainty and at times violence, helped birth several era-defining political tracts ranging from Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on a Dying Colonialism to the poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor. However, no texts were arguably greater and more important to the post-colonial world than the works of Frantz Fanon.

A psychologist, Fanon published four texts with only one gaining immediate traction: the posthumously released Wretched of the Earth. But it was the popularity of this book that precipitated readings into Fanon’s previous works, namely, Black Skin, White Masks, A Dying Colonialism and Toward the African Revolution. Subsequently, this body of work has resulted in great debate amongst scholars participating in ‘Fanon studies’. In this thesis, I aim to expand on an already extensive historiography arguing that despite being written three decades after his passing, Fanon’s writings are best understood through the framework of Jacques Derrida’s politics of friendship. This is not an appropriation of Fanon, rather I propose that Derrida’s politics of friendship provides the best model for historians to understand his work.

This paper argues that to properly capture Fanon’s thought, we must look at him through the framework of Derrida’s politics of friendship. This is not to say that Fanon’s work is free from other classifications. Indeed, this paper will show that Fanon was a thinker that possessed universalist tendencies, yet to label him as a universalist would be inadequate. But before we go further, it is imperative that the term ‘politics of friendship’ is defined and understood within the context of Fanon’s post-colonial thought. According to Derrida, friendship can be established on multiple grounds. The ‘first meaning of friendship, which is also the highest if not the universal meaning, is friendship founded on virtue’. This is a relationship that is not built upon exploitation and expropriation, rather on goodness and love. Simultaneously, ‘there is also friendship founded on equality and [thirdly] pleasure’, but Derrida notes that the third form of friendship is unstable. Most importantly, unlike the relationship between governor and governed or parent and child, ‘these three friendships imply equality’. It is a ‘friendship that commands [the person] to love the other as he is’ and upon full realisation is ‘what is proper to man’.[1] It is a friendship that is befitting of humanity as it is built upon our key characteristics: virtue, love and equality. Although Derrida’s politics of friendship generally applies to relationships amongst individuals, it can be extrapolated to Fanon on a worldwide scale. This thesis will demonstrate how Fanon yearned for the relationship between nations to not only be founded on virtue and usefulness, but also equality and love.

Although Derrida’s thought has not previously been applied to Fanon, in his commentary on Rabindranath Tagore, Michael Collins labelled the Indian poet’s theory as one based on a politics of friendship. Per Collins, Tagore believed that ‘building friendships and communicating ideas from East to West was a method—if not a model—for achieving political change and progress’.[2] Collins’ understanding is useful to us because it echoes Fanon’s work. As the thesis will show, Fanon wanted there to be a constructive relationship between all nations whilst also allowing enough room for such relationships to centre on the specific needs of each country. This paper will focus on Fanon’s critique of Négritude and identity in an attempt to underscore his belief in the politics of friendship. To prove this, the thesis will be structured into four chapters. The first chapter will contextualise Fanon within his own work whilst tackling the appropriations historians have made of him to discern what his aims were. The second chapter will then focus on Fanon’s belief that Négritude was a necessary component to overcome the inferiority and superiority complexes which the colonised and coloniser suffered from. Chapter three will proceed to discuss the limitations Négritude has in the eyes of Fanon focusing on how it enabled the existence of neo-colonialism. Chapter four will centre on Fanon’s belief that Négritude prevented the decolonisation of the mind through the maintenance of Otherness.

Remembering Fanon?

To best understand Fanon, we must first recognise what he aimed to achieve. After all, one of the biggest issues within ‘Fanon studies’ is the tendency for historians to appropriate his work to deal with the contemporary issues they face. It must be said that there is nothing wrong with appropriating Fanon, however, his voice can go missing within these circumstances. This is best exemplified by Homi Bhabha’s poststructuralist reading of Fanon.

Fixated by his criticisms of English socialism, Bhabha ‘regrets aloud those moments in Fanon that cannot be reconciled to the poststructuralist critique of identity’.[3] He condemns Fanon for turning too quickly away ‘from the ambivalences of identification to the antagonistic identities of political alienation and cultural discrimination’.[4] Nevertheless, Bhabha labels Fanon as a universalist, a term which has numerous implications implying that Fanon believed the issues plaguing society could be solved using the same ideals and that his texts provided the universal blueprint.[5]

Nevertheless, this is not the only appropriation made of Fanon’s work. Laura Briggs, Gladys McCormick and J. T. Way interpret Fanon to be a transnationalist and in doing so infer that he accepted the multitude of definitions that surrounds transnationalism. Their implications state that Fanon was comfortable with the postcolonial world being one which could criticise capitalism whilst also accepting its realisation.[6]

The most recent appropriation of Fanon, and perhaps the most relevant to the issues we face today, is Afropessimism. Annie Teriba describes the Afropessimist seeing ‘the world as structured by a non-Black solidarity preventing the ontological possibility of Black life’.[7] This has been propagated by historians such as Frank B. Wilderson and Jared Sexton who use Fanon to assert that slavery had instituted a breach of humanity within all people. This breach established the ‘fundamentals of a negrophobic society’ which the Black person feels is set against their ‘actual being’.[8] Sexton and other Afropessimists use Fanon to support their view that the world is structured around an anti-Black consensus. That a unified Black consciousness is thus required to combat the anti-Black world so that the Black individual may create one for themselves. Reiland Rabaka similarly construes Fanon but pays closer attention to his writings as opposed to appropriating Fanon for the twenty-first century. Rabaka perceives Fanon to be occupied with ‘developing a critical theory of radical disalienation’ in which Négritude serves ‘as a means to an end’. This was not an end as envisioned by Afropessimists, rather it was to create ‘more revolutionary, more radical forms of blackness’.[9]

Nonetheless, there are two crucial issues with the appropriations and interpretations of Fanon. Firstly, the historians named above are more interested in using Fanon to support their own political ideologies which results in inaccurate evaluations of his work. Secondly, such interpretations are based on limited readings. If we take Bhabha, Sexton and Wilderson, their appropriations are mainly based on readings of Black Skin, White Masks. As already mentioned, this text was a psychological thesis primarily concerned with the alienating effects of colonialism which Fanon’s was attempting to solve. Moreover, Rabaka, Briggs, McCormick and Way base their interpretations of Fanon on The Wretched of the Earth, a text which was written to inspire revolution throughout the Third World.

Therefore, to reconcile a reading of Fanon, we must read and analyse all his writings holistically because through this we garner only a better understanding of what Fanon’s aims were. Indeed, in his introduction to Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon explicitly states what these aims are. Believing that Black people had to be extricated, Fanon strove for ‘nothing less than to liberate the black man from himself’. Simultaneously, with ‘the white man locked in his whiteness, the black in his blackness’, Fanon’s sole concern was to put an end to the vicious cycle where ‘some whites considered themselves superior to blacks’. A cycle which resulted in ‘both the black man [becoming a] slave to his inferiority, and the white man a slave to his superiority’.[10] Initially, these aims seem contradictory as Fanon wanted to liberate the Black individual from their inferiorised self-conscious whilst wanting to end Blackness and Whiteness. One seemingly wants to preserve the division of humanity by providing the tools for the Black person to love their Blackness, whilst the other wants to see the destruction of a person being defined by the colour of their skin. The former has resulted in the Afropessimism of Wilderson and Sexton whilst the latter is responsible for Bhabha’s universalist interpretation of Fanon. But these goals should not be isolated from each other because they are interlinked. Fanon thought that the liberation of the Black man from himself could help facilitate the end of the vicious cycle that revitalised Whiteness and Blackness.

For what Fanon meant by humanity being locked in this cycle was that the mindsets of both groups were colonised. Expanded further in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon noted that the settler continuously ‘paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil’. The native is ‘declared insensible to ethics’ whilst also personifying ‘the negation of values’. In this way, the native is ‘absolute evil’ resulting in the settler consistently referring to them in ‘zoological terms’.[11] Accordingly, both the native and the settler, the Black person and the White, suffer from a colonised mindset. A mindset which sees the native and the Black man perceive themselves as inferior with the settler and the White man believing they are superior. In his own words, Fanon’s true wish was:

to get my brother, black or white, to shale off the dust from that lamentable livery built over centuries of incomprehension.[12]

By wanting to help his brother, Black and White, Fanon’s goal was to liberate humanity from the prison that was colonisation. He did not view the world as being built upon anti-Black solidarity, rather it was constructed to subjugate humankind. Fanon wanted to bring an end to this subjugation by desirung the liberation of all, Black andWhite. It is why he wrote that ‘decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon’.[13] It is not, as Macey suggests, solely violence in terms of armed struggle, but also violence in the mental sense.[14] Decolonisation had to be an attack on the subconscious. To understand Fanon’s insistence on the necessity to decolonise the mind, we must turn towards Derrida’s politics of friendship.

Derrida writes that within responsibility exists two dimensions of respect. Together, ‘their co-implication is at the heart of friendship’ because no friendship can exist without ‘respect for the other’. This is not respect that is purely moral, rather something greater because in its perfection, ‘friendship supposes at once love and respect’. Respect is not strictly defined by what is good and bad because it works with love to help create and sustain a friendship between people. ‘It must be equal and reciprocal’ with the two feelings making the friendship worthy of happiness.[15] According to Derrida, love and respect cannot exist between two people unless there is equality and reciprocity for the other. For if there is no equality, it entails that one is better than the other which makes it difficult for respect between people to blossom and this is the very essence of Fanon’s theory of decolonisation.

Fanon wanted a world where people went beyond identifying themselves or the other as Black and White. He acknowledged that so long as this continued, equality amongst people could not be established as there was always a means of division. Friendship could not be born. It was only through the eradication of Blackness and Whiteness that nations could treat each other with equal virtue, love and respect. When writing on the outcome of the Algerian Revolution, Fanon said as much: ‘the independence of Algeria is not only the end of colonialism [but] a defeat for racism and the exploitation of man’.[16] It is why Said wrote that Fanon’s main message was to ‘liberate all mankind from imperialism’.[17] For this liberation to occur, it could not be based on a universalist culture or system, but had to be constructed around the universalist tendencies of love, equality and respect. Fanon mentions ‘that an individual must endeavour to assume the universalism inherent in the human condition’.[18] However, this universalism entails each person seeing the other as equal because as he writes in The Wretched of the Earth, ‘there [are] no two cultures which can be completely identical’.[19] Therefore, to improve the relationships between people and nations, the implementation of the politics of friendship had to be specific to the needs of each country. To go into this deeper, we must turn towards Fanon’s commentary and critique of the Négritude movement.

Defeating the Inferiority Complex

Though his opinions on the matter have long been an area of debate, Fanon undoubtedly recognised Négritude as being a necessary phase in the movement towards decolonisation. Whilst there are different concepts of Négritude, Fanon identified the movement as one which recaptured and affirmed a unified Black past whilst possessing the potential to snowball into a unified Black culture.[20] To appreciate the importance Fanon places on Négritude, we must first understand his conception of the Self and the Other.

Unlike previous historiography on the topic, Timothy Brennan notes that ‘it was [in] Hegel—not Freud or Lacan—that Fanon found the other and where it became a philosophical problem for him’. Brennan continues, stating that Hegel demonstrated how the consciousness ‘moves from seeing itself as an object and only later as a subject [before] recognising itself in other subjects’.[21] By this, Brennan means that the Self only recognises itself through how it saw the Other. A person’s self-conscious only recognises who they are and what characteristics they possess through their relation to others. A person understands what actions are good by acknowledging the reaction of others to said action. Using this, Fanon tackles how the Black person sees themselves in his essay ‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’.

Borrowing the Hegelian concept of Self and Other, Fanon attempted to defeat the inferiority complex that had developed inside the minds of the colonised. According to Fanon, the Black man existed as a ‘being for others’. Whether they lived in the colony or the metropole, as colonised peoples, the Black man was an impure and flawed creature that was beyond any ontological explanation. Worryingly, ‘not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man’. Consequently, the Black man has no ontological resistance against the White man facilitating the destruction of Black culture and agency ‘because they were in contradiction with a new civilisation that imposed its own’.[22] The eradication of Black history resulted in its fabrication with cannibalism given a place of pride so the Black man would never forget his “roots”. With his “roots” historically tied into cannibalism, ‘black magic, primitive mentality, animism and animal eroticism’, it typified that the Black man was one who had not kept pace with the evolution of humanity. Speaking as the Black man, Fanon concludes damningly that:

I cast an objective gaze over myself, discovered my blackness, my ethnic features; deafened by cannibalism, backwardness, fetishism, racial stigmas, slave traders.[23]

The characterisations of the Black man were made in comparison to the White man. The Black man was the antithesis to all that was good, virtuous and beautiful: characteristics personified by the White. Whatever the White man was, the Black man always stood as the opposite. He was evil ‘for the reason that he [was] black’.[24] The implications of this are explored by Seunghyun Song who states that ‘identity-based oppression restricts individuals to the extent that their capacity to imagine their identities becomes fixated on an unreachable ideal, i.e. the white, hegemonic masculine subject’. This develops a racial epidermal schema, a pattern of behaviour where one is racialised because of their skin colour: the equivalent to ‘being pushed into the position of inferiority’. Hence, ‘Fanon notes how black individuals internalise [this] racism’ giving birth to the inferiority complex.[25] This complex creates and sustains the vicious cycle that Fanon wanted to break. It prevents any friendly relations between White and Black individuals from developing because, as Derrida states in his analysis of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘woman has not acceded to friendship because she remains either [a] “slave” or “tyrant”’.[26] This is significant as Derrida implies that the woman in Thus Spoke Zarathustra could not develop friendships because whatever relationship she attempted to begin, it was always based on inequality. She would either be a slave in the friendship, being viewed by the Other as inferior, or she would be a tyrant, perceiving herself to be superior in relation to the Other, thereby dominating the relationship. There was no reciprocity.

Whereas in Derrida’s assessment the relationship the woman has with others is fluid, in the colonial world, the relationship between the Black person and the White is fixed. For Fanon, the Black person exists solely as the slave and the White as the tyrant. The Black was believed to be ugly in accordance to the White world. Fanon says such proclaiming that ‘I am not a “slave” to the ideas others have of me, but to my appearance’. The moment Fanon was born, ‘the white gaze, the only valid one, is already dissecting me. I am fixed’.[27] Wherever the Black man goes, he is fixed by all who view him because of his skin colour. All of the negative connotations surrounding the Black man that was taught from a young age: being a cannibal, the fetishisms and the fear one has of him, are blanket conceptions that create the inferiority complex within all Black people. They consistently feel secondary in comparison to the White person who in turn is plagued by a superiority complex. This prevents any successful friendship from developing because the Black person feels envy and hatred towards the White person for subjecting them to this whilst the White person feels powerful. The same way Derrida interprets the relationship of the woman to others in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Fanon sees the relationship between the Black person and the White as one where the former is a slave and the latter a tyrant. Because of the way the White man discriminates against the Black man, the Black man ‘will try quite simply to make [himself] white’.[28] Due to the racial epidermal schema, no equality exists that would allow for friendship to grow. This position is further enlightened by Derrida who, when discussing the first of three ways that a person can answer a question, states that ‘one answers for oneself, for what one is, says or does’. The “self” ‘supposes the unity, in other words, the memory, of the one who responds. This is often called the unity of the subject’.[29]

It is paramount that we dwell on what Derrida says here. When a person answers a question solely for themselves, Derrida believes they answer ‘for what one is, says or does’. In other words, they answer truthfully for what they are, what they are trying to say or what they are attempting to do. This truthfulness creates unity and subsequently a bond of trust between the person who responds to the answer and this is the unity of the subject. In the colonial world, it is impossible for this unity to exist because of the inferiority complex. As Fanon articulated that the Black man is fixed by the gaze of his counterpart and constantly aspires towards Whiteness, they never respond to anything truthfully. All they do is lie to themselves and consequently others. This means that the unity of the subject cannot emerge because the foundation of trust is not laid by either the White man or the Black. As Song asserts, ‘when confronted with racial prejudices, black individuals act in certain ways that render them inferior’.[30] So whenever the Black individual interacts with the White individual, because in Fanon’s eyes they are always fixed by the White gaze, any interaction perpetuates the inferiority complex. Both groups are untruthful to themselves and others because they do not see the other as equal. Resultantly, this prevents any unity from forming and thus, any friendship from developing. Though C.R. Nielsen writes that ‘in the colonised subject, a deep sense of alienation and homelessness’ develops, in reality, this should be extended towards the coloniser.[31] This alienation locks people in their Blackness and Whiteness with Négritude being the concept that begins to emancipate humanity.

To appreciate the psychological benefits Fanon thought Négritude had we must again turn to Derrida and his interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Derrida explained that for the titular character, true friendship must signify three things: ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’. As we have seen, this could only emerge when one is true to themselves and consequently others. This honesty helped facilitate a “proper name” for the person that told the truth. The “proper name” was ‘not necessarily limited to the phenomenon of the legal name’ rather the feeling that it caused. Because unity is never secured empirically, Derrida believed that ‘the name is the instance to which the recognition of identity is entrusted’.[32] Put simply, the name of a person or group is something which elicits emotions within people. It is a device that aids an individual in recognising whether a person was honest and trustworthy. For this reason, Derrida concluded that ‘the proper name seems essential to the problematic of friendship’ because if a person or group’s name does not evoke feelings of liberty, equality and fraternity, then it is not a friendship worth pursuing.[33]

In consequence, when a person is true to themselves within the Derridean framework, they experience no feelings of superiority especially in the company of others. The equality this develops allows the ideals of love and liberty to be produced so that a friendship between two individuals or groups of people can exist. For Fanon, Négritude was a necessary phase in achieving this friendship because it served the purpose of breaking the inferiority complex. It was a tool that helped disalienate and decolonise the mind of the Black person by convincing them that, in comparison to any race, they were not inferior. Fanon states that when he learnt that he ‘belonged to a race that had been working silver and gold’ 2,000 years before being discovered by White civilisation, ‘it allowed [him] to regain a valid historical category. The white man was wrong, [he] was not primitive or subhuman’.[34] Black antiquity was not primitive or demarcated by cannibalism, rather it was a history in which ancient Black civilisation thrived in its civility. Knowledge of this would help rehabilitate the Black individual as their history was one of burgeoning humanity as opposed to inhumanity. By proving that they had a beginning like the White person, it would cause the inferiority complex to shatter providing the opportunity for love, liberty and equality to develop. As Coulthard summarises, Fanon viewed Négritude as necessary because it enabled ‘the individual and collective re-evaluation of black culture and identity [that] could serve as a source of pride and empowerment’.[35] Négritude helped to exorcise the mental demons colonialism constructed, subsequently laying the foundations for the politics of friendship.

Négritude and a Thriving Colonialism

Although Fanon attests to the necessity of Négritude in helping him end the racial divisions within humanity, he did not view it as the definitive stage. Towards the end of ‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’, Fanon accepted that Négritude was nothing but a dialectical phase in the movement towards human emancipation. Despite the ability of Négritude to lift the Black individual out of the inferiority complex, it could not be used for anything more than that because ‘the black experience is ambiguous for there is not one Negro—there are many black men’.[36] Although we have seen that Fanon’s understanding of Négritude was universalist, his universalism stops there.

For what Fanon meant by ‘the black experience’ was not just the mental colonialism previously described, but also the unique daily experiences of Black individuals throughout the world. There was no such thing as a “black experience” because the life and challenges of a Black person differed depending on where they lived. Fanon says such when discussing the motivations behind the disalienation of a physician from Guadeloupe and a construction worker in Abidjan.

For the former, alienation is almost intellectual in nature […] because he takes European culture as a means of detaching himself from his own race. For the latter, it develops because he is victim to a system based on the exploitation of one race by another.[37]

Indeed, it can be argued that the difference in the motivations of disalienation is not because the experience of the Black person differs throughout the world, but because of the occupations the individuals hold. After all, a physician is educated and can be considered as a member of the middle-class, whilst the stereotypical construction worker is not seen in this regard. But Fanon himself did not make this distinction for as he details, ‘the Antillean does not see himself as a Negro; he sees himself as an Antillean. The Negro lives in Africa’. Clearly, the lived experience of Black people was specific to the country and city they resided in. Each area faced its own difficulties and challenges meaning that it required its own resolutions which Négritude could not provide. It is why Fanon states that ‘I do not have to look for the universal’.[38]

The issue with Négritude was that it did not create a national culture, but a ‘Negro and African-Negro culture’. This was a unified Black culture which celebrated Blackness and turned away from the problems plaguing the nation because Négritude celebrated universalist values. As Négritude was not a specific national culture, the culture that derived from it became ‘more and more cut off from [contemporary] events’. Nations which had recently decolonised were in precarious positions because of the economic and socio-political difficulties they faced. Coming out of a situation where their economies were built towards the sustenance of the imperial powers, the problems they encountered were not answered by Négritude and the native intellectual who indulged in it. The culture and customs of the past were not ‘reconceived, grasped anew [or] dynamised from within’, but ‘[were] violently valorised and affirmed’.[39] The recapturing of tradition did not match with the developments that society had undergone and was therefore archaic. The people, and particularly the native intellectual, who adhered to this outdated manifesto ran the risk of ‘breaking adrift from [their] people’. This desire to resuscitate abandoned traditions ‘not only meant going against the current of history, but also opposing one’s own people’ by paying little attention to their real concerns.[40]

The biggest danger from this was the emergence of the native middle-class and their ascension to political dominance in the newly independent country. Fanon believed that when the nation was passed over for the race, which Négritude did through celebrating Blackness, cracks form that were ‘harmful and prejudicial to national effort and national unity’. With the native intellectual busy in their affirmation for the past and content with prioritising their race above the nation, the native middle-class, hoping to replace their colonial opposite, take political control. Soon realising the country has no economic power, the native middle-class ‘send out frenzied appeals for help to the former mother country’. Labelled as tools of capitalism, Fanon notes that the middle class was ‘the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the masque of neo-colonialism’.[41] By neo-colonialism, Fanon meant that despite being independent, the recently decolonised country was still economically supporting the metropole. Their economic policy was tailored towards aiding the former imperial power, as opposed to their own citizens, resulting in their continued exploitation. As Anuja Bose writes, for Fanon, the native middle-class continue the ‘old structures of exploitation’. They ‘uncritically inherit and sustain’ Western bourgeois practices ‘that reproduce the economic and political relations of colonialism into the post-war era’.[42] This is why Fanon admitted that although there was no harm in learning history, it would not ‘change the lives of eight-year-old kids working in the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe’ for their exploitation would continue because of neo-colonialism.[43]

Worse still, with post-colonial states built on racial foundations, Fanon maintained that there would be a reversion to former tribal attitudes. With the nationalist bourgeoisie coming to power, wherever they failed to extend their vision of the world, Fanon believed ‘we observe a falling back towards old tribal attitudes’. With the sole motto of the bourgeoisie being ‘replace the foreigner’, the “small people” of the nation, that is the city worker, ‘will be equally quick to insist that the Dahomans go home to their country’, even ‘demanding that the Foulbis and the Peuhls return to their jungle or their mountains’. Subsequently, the African unity which could develop during the post-colonial era quickly dissipates into regionalism the moment the national bourgeoisie come to power.[44] Old regional conflicts re-emerge with ‘the hierarchies and divisions constituted by imperialism reinstated’, only this time presided over by the native middle-class.[45] Hence, Robert Bernasconi writes that Fanon criticised Négritude because he did not want to be an advocate of the past at the expense of the present and future.[46]

Nevertheless, we can take Bernasconi’s conclusions further as Négritude prevented the politics of friendship being achieved in one crucial way. By enabling the national bourgeoisie to rule the country, the neo-colonialism which ensued was merely a continuation of imperialism. With the intellectuals who were supposed to rule more interested in the past than they were in the present, the relationship between the colonial power and post-colonial state remained the same. It was one built upon the exploitation of the latter for the benefit of the former. As Derrida explains, ‘friendship [that is] founded on utility—and this is the case for political friendship—can be moral [and] legal’.[47] But the relationship between the former colonial power and the newly independent state was not built on utility for if it were, both nations would have benefitted. As neo-colonialism was just a masked version of its predecessor, it continued the enslavement of the native, thus ensuring that the relationship between the two countries remained unequal. Concurrently, as Négritude also guaranteed national unity being built firstly on racial foundations and then tribal grounds, it bred instability which precipitated into regionalism. So, when Rabaka argues that Fanonian Négritude ‘was created to be recreated into a new, more revolutionary form of blackness’, he could not be further from the truth.[48] It is evident that Fanon wanted the opposite and saw the dangers that a revolutionary form of Blackness could cause. Indeed, Derrida helps to explain this further when he theorises that ‘the distinction or the differential mark of the political amounts to a discrimination between friend and enemy’.[49] With Négritude being a celebration and affirmation of a Black past, it helps to necessitate the existence of Blackness and Whiteness. In consequence, with the country built on racial lines and the national bourgeoisie in power, it prevented any constructive relationships from forming because distinctions existed between Black and White individuals resulting in discrimination. This kept alive the concept of the coloniser through neo-colonialism and therefore the inequality which previously existed between the colonised and the coloniser.

Whilst Fanon’s criticisms of Négritude highlights the limited nature of his universalism, the question remains as to whether he was a transnationalist. An opinion that was held by Said, the definition of transnationalism is provided to us by Briggs, McCormick and Way.[50] Using the example of Immanuel Wallerstein and Coca-Cola, both may work in transnational frameworks but with very different consequences. ‘One is a critique of more than five centuries of capitalist transformation, the other, its realization’. They conclude that Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth was a text centred around transnationalism ‘but from the point of black nationalism’.[51] With transnationalism being lucid, Briggs, McCormick and Way imply that Fanon was content with the economic ideology of a nation changing over time, but this was not the case.

Through Négritude, we see Fanon’s disdain for the national middle-class and more generally capitalism because of the exploitation and inequality it causes. Consequently, we see Fanon championing the lumpen-proletariat exclaiming that they should lead the revolt against imperialism. To Fanon, ‘the lumpen-proletariat […] constituted one of the most spontaneous and radically revolutionary forces of a colonised people’. The lumpen-proletariat revolution inspires those who were previously involved in feuds and rivalries to ‘proceed in an atmosphere of solemnity to cleanse and purify the face of the nation’.[52] As the lumpen-proletariat suffered most from capitalist exploitation, Fanon believed that they would have the least to lose. Thus, they would be more committed to the national cause, as opposed to a racial or tribal cause, which prompts the emergence of a strong national unity. This unity was fundamentally anti-capitalist and represented the best chance for the nation to start again and properly represent its inhabitants. With Fanon wanting each nation to do this, they could develop ties with one another based on the virtue, utility and equality that derives from the revolution.


About the Writer: Omar Chowdhury is a historian of political thought who studied history at Royal Holloway University of London before completing a master’s in the history of political thought from UCL and Queen Mary. Omar’s main interests includes analysing the political theory of enlightenment philosophers, the history of postcolonialism and more specifically, the history of postcolonial political thought. In particular, Omar’s interests lie within reading and dissecting anticolonial political texts that were published after World War Two.


References:

[1] Jacques Derrida, ‘Politics of Friendship’, American Imago, trans. by Gabriel Motzkin and Michael Syrotinski, 50 (1993), pp. 359-362.

[2] Michael Collins, ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Friendship’, South Asia: Journal of Asian Studies, 35 (2012), p. 119.

[3] H. L. Gates, Jr, ‘Critical Fanonism’, Critical Inquiry, 17 (1991), p. 461.

[4] Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Foreword: Remembering Fanon’ in Black Skin, White Masks, trans. by Charles Lam Markmann (Finland, Pluto Press, 1986), p. xix.

[5][5] Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Foreword: Framing Fanon’, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. by Richard Philcox (New York, Grove Press, 2011), p. xvii.

[6] Laura Briggs, Gladys McCormick and J. T. Way, ‘Transnationalism: A Category of Analysis’, American Quarterly, 60 (2008), pp. 625-629.

[7] Annie Olaloku-Teriba, ‘Afro-pessimism and the (un)logic of Anti-blackness’, Historical Materialism, 26 <http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/articles/afro-pessimism-and-unlogic-anti-blackness> [Accessed 1 July 2020].

[8] Jared Sexton, ‘Unbearable Blackness’, Cultural Critique, 90 (2015), p. 161.

[9] Reiland Rabaka, The Negritude Movement: W.E.B. Du Bois, Leon Damas, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon and the Evolution of an Insurgent Idea (Maryland, Lexington Books, 2015), pp. 250, 290.

[10] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. by Richard Philcox (New York, Grove Press, 2008). pp. xii, xiv, 42. Emphasis added.

[11] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. by Constance Farrington (St Ives, Penguin Classics, 2011), pp. 32-33.

[12] Fanon, Black Skin, p. xvii.

[13] Fanon, Wretched, p. 27.

[14] Macey, p. 409.

[15] Derrida, p. 380.

[16] Frantz Fanon, ‘Algeria Face to Face with Torturers’, Toward the African Revolution, trans. by Haakon Chevalier (New York, Grove Press, 1994), p. 64.

[17] Said, p. 274.

[18] Fanon, Black Skin, p. xiv.

[19] Fanon, Wretched, p. 189.

[20] For Fanon’s definition of Négritude, see Black Skin, pp. 89-119, Wretched, p. 171.

[21] Timothy Brennan, ‘Fanon for the Present’, College Literature, 45 (2018), p. 13.

[22] Fanon, Black Skin, pp. 89-90. Emphasis added.

[23] Ibid, pp. 100, 105, 91.

[24] Ibid, p. 157.

[25] Seunghyun Song, ‘‘Bridging Epidermalization of Black Inferiority and the Racial Epidermal Schema: Internalising Oppression to the Level of Possibilities’, DiGeSt Journal of Diversity and Gender Studies, 4 (2017), p. 50.

[26] Derrida, p. 385.

[27] Fanon, Black Skin, pp. 94-95.

[28] Ibid, p. 78.

[29] Derrida, p. 378

[30] Song, p. 51.

[31] C.R. Nielsen, ‘Frantz Fanon and the Negritude Movement: How Strategic Essentialism Subverts Manichean Binaries’, Callaloo, 36 (2013), p. 342.

[32] Derrida, pp. 385, 378.

[33] Ibid, p. 378.

[34] Fanon, Black Skin, p. 109.

[35] Coulthard, p. 43.

[36] Fanon, Black Skin, pp. 111, 115.

[37] Ibid, pp. 198-199.

[38] Ibid, pp. 126, 114.

[39] Frantz Fanon, ‘Racism and Culture’, Toward the African Revolution, trans. by Haakon Chevalier (New York, Grove Press, 1994), pp. 42-43.

[40] Fanon, The Wretched, pp. 175, 180.

[41] Ibid, pp. 120, 122.

[42] Anuja Bose, ‘Frantz Fanon and the Politicisation of the Third World as a Collective Subject’, Interventions, 25 (2019), p. 683.

[43] Fanon, Black Skin, p. 205.

[44] Fanon, The Wretched, pp. 127-128.

[45] Said, p. 273.

[46] Robert Bernasconi, ‘The Assumption of Negritude: Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and the Vicious Circle of Racial Politics’, Parallax, 8 (2010), p. 73.

[47] Derrida, p. 383.

[48] Rabaka, p. 290.

[49] Derrida, p. 355.

[50] Said, p. 269.

[51] Briggs, McCormick, Way, pp. 625, 629.

[52] Fanon, The Wretched, p. 103.

2 replies on “Frantz Fanon: Négritude, Decolonisation and the Politics of Friendship (Part One)”

This is clearly, amazing. I feel so proud having been your teacher in Sec school. I am so impressed, bravo.

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