The Radical Imagination of Frantz Fanon
Fanon’s vision of a world freed from the shackles of racism can still influence our personal and political lives.
To read the words of a revolutionary is to be inspired for a better future. That’s how it felt when I first encountered Frantz Fanon. Born on 20th July 1925, the French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher has had an enormous influence in the fields of post-colonial studies and critical race theory. He’s also had an equally profound effect on my personal life.
Eighteen is an odd age because it is pregnant with possibility. It’s the age when we start fumbling towards a sense of who we want to be; a journey punctuated with occasionally discovering who we really are along the way. As a fresher, I quickly became adept at projecting the certainty of adulthood whilst quietly blinking away the shy precociousness of inexperience like so many of my peers.
To grow up in the United Kingdom as a young immigrant with a funny sounding name and an even (at least until I was 16) funnier accent is to experience instances of overt discrimination. Beneath the anecdotal, however, lies a fathomless abyss of structural racism; a system whose contours I could barely make out, but whose dimensions were increasingly thrust into focus with every attack.
Much of my time as a history undergraduate was spent observing the outer world of the past. But I was frustrated at my inability to articulate the wider picture of the racism I experienced; where had it come from? How has it adapted? How can you defeat it?
Then I read Fanon. And a clear bell rang in my mind.
Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks was presented to me in as innocuous a manner as possible. The book was part of an optional module’s reading list. I knew nothing about him, save that he was the only person of colour on said list, and that his book (the term seems so limited given what it really is — part polemic, part psychological study, part clarion call for resistance) prompted the lecturer to warn me that Fanon “…can be a bit angry.”
This is code. Everyone who has experienced racism implicitly understands it. Whenever men or women of colour (especially Black or subaltern)…