Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) is a leading thinker of postcolonialism. Malcolm X, Che Guevara and Steve Biko read him. Fanon is best known for two of his books, “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952), about internalized racism, and “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961), about casting off colonialism.
Fanon, like Che Guevara and Malcolm X, was born in the 1920s and died young in the 1960s. And like them he fought and wrote against white power, which has ruled much of the world, at first directly through colonial empires in the 1800s and early 1900s, and then through its control of world banking, trade, television, education and so on.
For Fanon, gaining physical independence – kicking the white rulers out of your country – was only the first step. Because whites did more than simply rule – they also spread their language and thought and way of life. So even if you kick the white man out of your country, he is still in your head telling you that you are not as good as he is, that you are not whole, that there is something wrong with you, that you must become more like him. The colonized mind.
Fanon was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, then a colony of the French empire. He grew up in a well-to-do family and received a French education. At 17, during the middle of the Second World War, he ran away from home and sailed across the sea to fight against Hitler with the French Resistance.
He fought in North Africa and later France itself. They would not let him cross into Germany – because he was black. They wanted to make it seem like only white soldiers won the war. And, even though he had fought for France, its white women would not dance with him – because he was black.
He won a scholarship and studied medicine and psychiatry in France. In 1953 he became the head of the largest psychiatric hospital in Algeria, which was then ruled by France.
At the hospital he saw how the white French doctors looked down the Arabs and would not give them proper care. He also found that helping one patient at a time was like trying to empty the sea with a spoon. Their “disease” was not anything he learned at school: it was colonialism.
And so, being the good doctor that he was, Fanon joined the FLN to fight against the French. He later edited its newspaper and talked to African leaders on its behalf.
Fanon did not live long enough to see the FLN win in the end. But while he laid on his deathbed in Bethesda, Maryland, dying of leukemia, he wrote his last book, “The Wretched of the Earth”, by speaking into a tape recorder. He said that since colonialism was built and maintained by violence then only by violence could it be destroyed. And violence not by the middle-class, which is too brainwashed by their masters, but by the poor.
He died at age 36.