|Pride: Frantz Fanon|
20th July 1925 - 6th December 1961
His life may have been cut tragically short by illness, but psychiatrist, philosopher and writer Frantz Fanon did much in his 36 years, including producing his seminal works Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched Of The Earth, to inspire future generations around the world.
The long struggle for independence in these islands produced some truly outstanding people. They include many whose influence was felt far beyond the region, and some whose work made an important contribution to twentieth-century thought. Both categories describe the remarkable Frantz Fanon.
Fanon was born in the (then) French colony of Martinique, in July 1925. He came from a well-to-do family and enjoyed excellent schooling. Among his teachers was the poet Aimé Césaire, whose doctrine of Négritude would give self-belief to millions in Francophone Africa. Young Frantz would prove a worthy pupil.
He was just fifteen in 1940, when France fell and the Vichy forces on Martinique were blockaded by the Allies. Attitudes hardened, and racism was rife. After three years he escaped to join the Free French army in Europe. He was wounded fighting in Alsace and awarded the Croix de Guerre. But when his regiment prepared to cross into Germany, the ‘non-whites’ were purged and sent home.
Back in Martinique, he worked for Césaire’s campaign for election to the French National Assembly. He then returned to France (Lyon) to qualify in medicine and psychiatry. He also studied philosophy and literature, and began writing.
Now practising as a psychiatrist, he began to formulate his theory of consciousness. It took the concept of Négritude a full step further. Négritude had been Césaire’s response to the policy of ‘assimilation’, which granted full French citizenship to the colonised provided they renounced their ethnicity and culture – essentially, their ‘blackness’. Césaire celebrated that ‘blackness’. Fanon agreed. But he also saw beyond the example of colonial racism – repression of cultural identity was practised in all societies. Moreover, it played a significant role in mental illness. His doctoral thesis, later published as Black Skin, White Masks, analysed the way colonial power damages everyone caught up in it. The book rapidly became a classic.
Moving to Algeria, he took charge of a psychiatric hospital, where he introduced radically new methods of treatment. In 1954, when the war of independence broke out, he worked for the FNL liberation movement. His hospital was closed down and he was deported. Relocating to Tunis, he remained active in the struggle, and the Algerian Provisional Government appointed him Ambassador to Ghana.
Still only in his thirties, he fell prey to leukaemia. In failing health, he dictated his second major work, The Wretched of the Earth. In it he defended the right of the oppressed to resort to violence. (Nelson Mandela reached the same conclusion, for which he was sent to Robben Island.) But you have only to read Fanon’s analysis of why post-colonial regimes become as corrupt, oppressive and inhumane as their former masters to realise that he was neither a violent fanatic nor a racist.
He died in 1961, aged just 36. After lying in state in Tunis, he was laid to rest in a martyrs’ cemetery in Algeria. His work continues to inspire a world-wide following.
|< Prev||Next >|