The first academic term has drawn to an end. Now is a good time for reflection so I’ve highlight some of the challenges and frustrations I faced particularly regarding writing a very thought-provoking essay on Frantz Fanon and decolonisation… This was an essay where what I read went beyond just meeting a deadline… Fanon’s words still resonate with me.
What started off as a rather smooth start to term, dramatically changed pace from the first week of November when I started the preparations for my Fanon essay. The challenges started from the lecture: ‘Decolonisation and the ideas of Frantz Fanon’ given by guest lecturer Dominique Santos. Ironically she spoke about representation and I couldn’t help but think how underrepresented I was in my own educational system… Even a lecture relating to Black history couldn’t be given by a non-white lecturer. I brought it up with my seminar tutor, who gave a rather dissatisfactory response that “We just can’t find any black lecturers to talk about Fanon.”
I left my seminar feeling incredibly frustrated. The people who control the mainstream media look like my tutors and lecturers – middle-aged men and white. It would have been refreshing to at least have some diversity during my university years. At this point I felt Fanon was mocking me. Why did I need to reach a level of consciousness and the question inquality if there was no place for someone like me? Why did Fanon have to tell me about “The Wretched of the Earth” if the society I live doesn’t consider “the other”? I would be better off oblivious, or so I thought at the time.
It took me over two weeks to write my essay responding to the essay question to asses Fanon’s arguments for how independence could be achieved. I had to read various versions of Fanon’s works to initially get the gist of what he was saying. Although I was reaching another level of consciousness during my reading and research of Fanon and his ideas regarding decolonisation, mentally I was in a bad place to begin with. I felt like I was The Wretched of the Earth! My whole month was played out around the frustrations of being ‘wretched’, like when I tweeted a rant about why my Student’s Union didn’t represent me after seeing a picture of the reps on the uni website. The only minority were brunettes, but they all looked white to me. Thankfully the President of the SU arranged a meeting with me and she recommended I attend the NUS Black Students’ Campaign Winter Conference. That took place on the 30th Nov – 1 Dec. It was empowering to be in a room full of Black students’ who faced similar frustrations as I did. Fanon had made me aware of my environment otherwise I wouldn’t have thought to question who represents me at my university. Eventually I warmed towards Fanon. He wasn’t pointing a finger directly at me. He was simply giving me some guidance as if to say: if I didn’t become a conscious black being and fight back my dignity, I would be in a sorry place.
I got my essay back on the last day of term 5th December. Despite misunderstanding the essay question (I was asked to outline phrases, and I wrote phrases!) I got a satisfactory B mark (which my tutor told me could have been higher had I got the essay question correct and had a better structure). Sadly it was that night that I got news of Nelson Mandela’s death. RIP Nelson Mandela. You inspired nations… You inspired me. I quoted the freedom fighter in my essay; “Any man that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.”
It’s been an emotional journey discovering Fanon. Overall, now that the essay is done, I feel incredibly empowered. No longer feeling like Fanon was talking directly to me saying “You are the Wretched of the Earth, EFed student!” I don’t doubt that Fanon words will follow me throughout my university years and even into my dissertation.
Here’re some extracts from my essay:
Fanon’s move to mainland France in 1947 to study psychiatry at the university of Lyon is an important catalyst to acknowledge in his argument towards gaining Independence. Diagnosing the “White Illusion”, it is Fanon’s own raw experience of racism makes himself a legible study of transformation. He had “to take off his White mask, which he believed he had to wear in order to get ahead in the world.’’ (Memmi, cited in The impossible Life of Frantz Fanon, 1973, p. 10). Fanon’s denouncement of his birthplace and adopted culture, didn’t lead him astray but rather into the arms of soul-searching Algeria in 1953. It is there, one year before the ignition of the Algerian war of Independence, that Fanon would put his theories on achieving independence to paper, and just as importantly, to practice with his final plateau; The Wretched of the Earth.
Fanon explains that to succeed in the process towards Independence, the basic claims of the colonised must be heard, and the colonised must be prepared to have their voices heard. The fight for Independence lies at heart of “a social fabric that has been changed inside out.” (Fanon, 2004, p.1). Independence cannot simply be handed to the oppressed, Fanon argues they must fight for it to restore their dignity.
“When people like me, they tell me it is ‘in spite of my color.’ When they dislike me, they point out that it isn’t because of my color.Either way, I am locked in to the infernal circle.”
(Fanon, 2008, p.88). Fanon’s frustrations in how he was perceived amongst ‘his own’ (the French) still resonates in todays Western society. When a non-white British represents Britain in a good way, he is simply British (in spite of colour). When he/she has done something negative, their colour/race is mentioned (in spite of them being British). The infernal circle Fanon speaks of still applies.
Fanon established that the concrete foundations of a colonized people is his land “the land which will bring them bread, and above all, dignity.” (Fanon, 2001, p.34). It is the land the colonised people have their roots steeping deep in history. It is the land which they grow their crops to nurture and strengthen their bodies. It is the land which can give the colonised people back their dignity. In this quote, Fanon touches on the root of the complexity of colonised people. If they don’t own the basic tangible ‘concrete’ foundations they stand on, they are undignified people. A man robed of his dignity will either wilt away or fight for it. Nelson Mandela said; “Any man that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.” (Crwys-Williams, 2010, p49).
Join me again in the New Year when I start a new term and my journey as the EFed student continues…
- Frantz Fanon’s Teachings Falling on Deaf Ears! (mayihlome.wordpress.com)
- Call for Papers: 50 Years Later – Fanon’s Legacy and the Caribbean (repeatingislands.com)
- Wrapping up November… Actions speak louder than words (theefedstudent.wordpress.com)
- ‘Dignity’ (theefedstudent.wordpress.com)
- A summary of Frantz Fanon: The Negro & Language (eloisemillard.com)
- Fanon on Colonialism (kwetoday.com)
- Fanon, Western Liberation and the Muslims Veil (bayareaintifada.wordpress.com)
- Frantz Fanon : Black Skin, White Masks Reading Response (socialbutterfliess.wordpress.com)
- Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex (ambetchious.wordpress.com)