response to reading Wretched of the Earth

by erinohsays

Frantz Fanon begins The Wretched of the Earth by stating “decolonization is always a violent event” (1). This is a central theme throughout the book, as Fanon argues that the necessary process of decolonization requires the colonized to: 1) identify their common objective of dismantling structures of white supremacy, 2) develop an awareness of their collective history and use this to inform a new process of nation building, and 3) totally disregard the interests of the bourgeoisie. Fanon argues that liberation for the exploited requires using every possible means, and that force is the most accessible. He states “colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is a naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence” (23).  In fact, Fanon argues that reasoning with the colonizer does not contribute to the process of decolonization and that it is only through violence that the colonized can overcome their inferiority complex (51).

Throughout my reading of The Wretched of the Earth I am interested in understanding the text as pedagogy rather than as literal interpretation. Specifically, I am interested in how to use Fanon to challenge racist schooling, develop an anti-racist pedagogy for dominant bodies, and create a student movement rooted in local assemblies.

If we are to put this text to use in challenging racist schooling, it is important to understand the concept of negritude, which describes a black cultural consciousness movement and philosophy for liberation and emancipation. Negritude necessarily implies cultural decolonization through the reaffirmation of African identity in culture. Fanon argues throughout the book that although colonialism presents itself as a permanent and unchanging fixture of society, it is instead an ongoing process and a series of violent encounters. For the purpose of decolonizing education, the concept of negritude can be used to challenge instances of colonial mimicry or “lactification” whereby the colonized come to recognize their experiences through whiteness. A Fanonian pedagogy in the school system might therefore take the form of Afri-centric curriculum that surpasses racial and ethnic lines by focusing on indigenous languages and cultures that existed prior to the colonial encounter. A broad reading of history that expands to include more than just the colonial encounter can be empowering for the oppressed and allow for a reclamation of their history and identities.

The Wretched of the Earth can also be useful for understanding how to move toward an anti-racist pedagogy from a solely class-based analysis of social relations. Rather than further the colonial project by claiming citizenship and recognizing borders, Fanon condemns the colonial imposition of the nation-state and instead calls for the building of a new nation that is rooted in a collective consciousness of the entire people. This argument necessarily raises the question: what is the role of a white body and of a black body in revolutionary politics and nation building? Perhaps the role of white bodies is to firstly challenge the prevalence of white supremacy and of racist politics and to secondly recognize the power of racial identity. Rather than pretending to not see race and to only focus on class, the challenge for the white body is to understand the complex and intersecting interpretations we put on particular bodies.

Lastly, the application of the pedagogy explored in The Wretched of the Earth can be particularly useful for developing a student movement that is rooted in local assemblies. As a student-union organizer, I am particularly interested in how students can employ a Fanonian understanding of violence that includes violence as spiritual, emotional, and mental. When Fanon writes of violence, it is important to understand it broadly and not just limited to physical violence. I wonder, then, how we can develop a student movement that is concerned with large-scale social transformation rooted in both small and large acts. As Fanon writes, “each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it” (145). In relation to the present-day student movement then, we must understand our mission as a struggle against the forces of the capitalist and colonial state. However, it is critical that we root this struggle in an understanding of the past that allows for a pedagogy of hope for the future. Just as Fanon critiques the role of rallies in contributing to a process of decolonization, day-long student protests are ultimately not effective in challenging capitalism. Instead, we must organize in directly democratic ways through collective decision-making and sustained, direct action that puts financial pressure on our institutions. Similar to village assemblies as a tool for mobilizing the masses against colonization, we can use department-level general assemblies to mobilize students. As Fanon states, “a struggle, which mobilizes every level of society, which expresses the intentions and expectations of the people, and which is not afraid to rely on their support almost entirely, will invariably triumph” (178).

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove, 1965. Print.