Revisiting The Wretched of the Earth
By Diamond-Marie Gonzalez st. Baptiste
MoCADA Griot Talks examines both classic and contemporary tales of the diaspora. Through a critical lens, we dissect the work of prominent Black authors to uncover the reality exposed through their stories that may benefit contemporary life. This installment explores The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, the ideas surrounding violence and decolonization as presented by Fanon and mirrored through current events.
(Art Credit: Untitled by William Kentridge)
Crowds in all fifty states of America and eighteen additional countries have taken to the streets declaring “Black Lives Matter”. In a time of the masses calling out for permanent change to racialized, systematic oppression in their mother tongues, Frantz Fanon’s 1961 analysis of the colonized mind and the subsequent movement of decolonization seems to be a prophetic declaration of black theory. The Wretched of the Earth was written as the Algerian war for independence dragged on and continued to live alongside the black conscious movements of the 60’s and 70’s; Decades later we see his ideas in his five part essay enacted by the working class global population.
“Decolonization is always a violent Phenomenon.”
Fanon anchors his theory surrounding violence and the psyche of the colonized mind during revolution with a particular understanding of rage. He himself was raised as an Afro-Caribbean colonial subject, becoming a psychiatrist and esteemed theorist . Having been a part of the Algerian quest for liberation, Fanon psychoanalysed colonized people, both as individuals and a group, centering these theories around the act of revolution. Within the first section of his manifesto he seeks to understand violence as both a tool against the oppressed masses and a tool to escape such oppression. As what I’d call, a collective rage took hold of American Black folk, confronted with yet another viral and senseless murder. Not unexpectedly, the protest following the murder of George Floyd began to be labled as violent riots. The media, public office holders, and Facebook vigilantes vilified the looting of corporations before vilifying the taking of a man’s life. I say this not believing or at least hoping, anyone has forgotten, but to highlight the value placed on property before black life. Within the first essay of Fanon’s work, he analyses violence as not only a credible form of resistance but a necessary tool in dismantling an inherently violent system. He surmised that violence shapes the colonized mind and must be used inorder to free it. To remove power from the few and the benefit of privilege from the many is to remove hunger and miseducation from black, colonized communities. When looking at systematic oppressions that are themselves the same oppressions are violent acts, such as hunger, miseducation and cultural dehumanization. The act of decolonization is set out “to change the order of the world.” In order to remove these systems such as capitalism and imperialism, the exploited must violently resist the oppressors control. The work supports socialist ideals and condemns the exploitation of the poor and meek. He said, almost biblically: “The last will be first.”
“Decolonization reeks of red hot cannonballs and bloody knives.”
Fanon speaks of the natural fear of the police state and the “cannon balls and bloody knives” of both opposing forces. The fear of violence keeping the colonized from resorting to their enforcers tactics in order to seek liberation. Who wouldn’t fear a militarized, police state? We have seen our leaders martyred. However, Fanon discusses communities of the downtrodden transcending beyond the fear of violence with a desperate desire for freedom and mirroring the colonist in order to dismantle a capitalist system that is very much operated through threat of violence. We have seen the statues of slave traders toppled into the docks their prisoners met in chains and statues beheaded, smeared in red paint despite protestors continuously being met with the brutality available to the law. We have seen unarmed men and women face police officers ready for war. Despite the threat of organized violence, the movement and the people have continued to press on, leading me to believe, when looking at our current event through the lens provided by The Wretched of the Earth that we are on the verge of true revolution as Frantz Fanon anticipated. The largest display of demonstrations has taken place over the last two weeks, following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahaumaud Aubrey, Nina Pop and god only knows how many others. The absolute refusal to witness black life be casually snuffed out has triggered what Fanon calls a “historical process”, informed by a long standing relationship, it is described as a confrontation between the colonized and agents of colonizer, that is subject to the realities of history and would eventually lead to the dissolution of a system that required the “fabrication” of reality. This is not simply a call for Police officers to stop killing us, it is a battle cry, proclaiming the full and unadulterated liberations of Africans globally. There is a clarity I have never felt before. The fabrication of Black inferiority or willingness to take part in it’s own suffering is being denied by not only Black youth, but masses of genuine working class people of allies, willing to use themselves to protect black bodies. This is an act of decolonization. This is a denial of the fabricated reality we have been threatened into believing.
“The awakening national consciousness has had a somewhat similar effect in the sphere of ceramics and pottery. Formalism is abandoned.”
While Fanon speaks of the danger of valuing the colonizer’s intellect and institution above the movement for liberation he highlights the necessity of solidarity of the working people.COVID-19 tore through countries, leaving millions of people unemployed and unable to participate in the day in, day out system of capitalism. Is it this time to reflect, pause and worry that finally revealed the disparities Black folk suffer at the hand of the colonizer? Yes, Black Lives Matter and are taken much too young without consequence. Black communities have known this. Capitalist agenda values profit over people, particularly Black people. We’ve known this. I wonder if this sudden revolt, backed by clarity is tied to the pandemic forcing people to see what black men, women and children have always seen. If so, the course reality has taken direct support of Fanon’s ideals around capitalism and imperialism withholding decolonization efforts and in fact, upholding the inconsistencies communities of color are confronted with. The demonstrations and the time preceding the blatant outrage has presented Fanon’s view on the duality of Nationalism. Nationalism could act as a veil over the eyes of the colonized or as a uniting force, I believe we are witnessing the latter unfold.
I find it important to note that it could be said Fanon very much gave his life to write his timeless work, The Wretched of the Earth. Published shortly before his death, the theorist delayed treatment for his leukemia in order to finish the manifesto. When he was given the glowing reviews by his wife, he responded “That won’t bring back my bone marrow.” He died shortly after in America, despite refusing treatment in a “country of lynchers.” As we continue to watch modern day lynching go viral due the advancement of technology giving everyone the ability to watch the world from the point of view of the Black colonized body, we come full circle. America is now unveiled, witnessed as a country of lyncher immersed in a movement of decolonization.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Diamond Marie Gonzalez St. Baptiste is a writer and poet inspired by the Negritude movement of art and scholarship, who uses the themes of identity, the meaning of Blackness and folklore as a base for her work. Diamond is currently working at MoCADA as the community Programs and Outreach Associate , her work is informed by a culture rooted in ritual acts and performance. Diamond is also working towards a PhD in the humanities while undertaking personal research on the cosmology within literature of the diaspora, with a focus on Afro-Brazilian poetry.
To read The Wretched of the Earth click here.