Many people first come in contact with the works of political philosopher Frantz Fanon while in college. His revolutionary book “The Wretched of the Earth” is often on school reading lists.
But there is a lot more to this French West Indian psychiatrist and scholar from the French colony of Martinique. He is considered perhaps the “preeminent thinker of the twentieth century on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization. His works have inspired anti-colonial liberation movements for more than four decades,” according to the New World Encyclopedia.
Here are 7 things to know about Franz Fanon.
1. Facts about Fanon
Frantz Fanon was born in 1925 in Martinique, a French colony in the Caribbean islands of the Antilles, to a middle-class family. His father was a Black customs inspector and his mother was a successful shopkeeper of mixed race, whose white relatives were from Alsace, France, Cambridge Core reported.
He attended medical school in Lyon, Frans, but worked as a psychiatrist mostly in colonial North Africa between 1953 and 1957. In 1953 he was appointed head psychiatrist at Blida-Joinville Hospital, Algeria (now named after him), but by 1957 due to violence in the country he went into exile in Tunisia. There, he was appointed consultant at Psychiatrist Hospital, Clinique Manouba, and later founded the first day hospital in North Africa at Charles Nicole Hospital, Tunisia.
Fanon died of leukemia in1961, in Maryland, USA, and was buried in Algeria.
2. Breakthrough work
Fanon was one of the earliest psychiatrists to connect racism with mental illness. Fanon theorized that “the lived experience of ethnic minorities within a discriminatory colonial environment could trigger mental illness,” Cambridge Core reported.
He was also one of the earliest Black psychiatrists to focus on the inequalities in psychiatric care on the basis of race, culture, and religion.
3. Identity crisis
During the Second World War, Fanon joined the Free French Army. He was wounded in German-occupied France and was later decorated for bravery in action. Although he was considered a hero, when he returned home he found that French soldiers of West Indian and African origin were discriminated against, Cambridge Core reported.
Fanon was isolated from home, disillusioned by racial discrimination and this led him to reject his French identity.
4. Being Black
Following the experience of war, Fanon spent the rest of his life in a “self-questioning philosophical search for his true identity, using psychoanalytic and psychosexual terms in his writings to explore what it was like to be Black in a dominant white culture,” Cambridge Core reported.
According to Fanon, the presumed inferiority of ethnic minorities was a result of what he called “epidermalization” of an economic and social process.
Fanon felt that the Black man is required not only to be Black but he must be Black in comparison to the white man. “It is the internalization, or rather as Fanon calls it epidermalization, of this inferiority that concerns him. When the Black man comes into contact with the white world he goes through an experience of sensitization. His ego collapses. His self-esteem evaporates. He ceases to be a self-motivated person. The entire purpose of his behavior is to emulate the white man, to become like him, and thus hope to be accepted as a man,” the Franz Fanon International organization reported.
He concluded that mental illness and racial discrimination were both forms of alienation from society and as such robs people of their humanity. He also theorized that colonization was a trigger for mental pathology in those that were colonized.
5. His works
Fanon’s seminal works include “Black Skin, White Masks” and “The Wretched of the Earth.” They both “reveal an intense, somewhat angry individual, impatient for change, who rejected the idea that his very being could be looked at only through the prism of skin color and that his color made him a lesser being,” Cambridge Core reported.Other works include “A Dying Colonialism,” a firsthand account of the Algerian revolution, and “Toward the African Revolution,” a collection of articles, essays, and letters.
6. ‘Black Skin, White Masks’
Fanon suggested that Black people’s lived experience within an oppressive colonial milieu was far more important in shaping behavior. He examined this in “Black Skin, White Masks.” It was in fact, the first book to investigate the psychology of colonialism. It looks at how “colonialism is internalized by the colonized, how an inferiority complex is inculcated, and how, through the mechanism of racism, Black people end up emulating their oppressors,” the Franz Fanon International organization reported.
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7. ‘The Wretched of the Earth”
“The Wretched of the Earth,” published just before Fanon’s death, continues his argument that there is a deeply-rooted connection between colonialism and the mind as well as between colonial war and mental disease, Global Social Theory reported. The book is said to have influenced such revolutionary leaders as Ali Shariati in Iran, Steve Biko in South Africa, and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba. “Of these, only Guevara was primarily concerned with Fanon’s theories on violence; for Shariati and Biko the main interest in Fanon was ‘the new man’ and ‘Black consciousness.’ Fanon’s influence extended to the liberation movements of the Palestinians, the Tamils, the Irish, African Americans, and others,” New World Encyclopedia reported.