Do You See?

Fanon and Undoing of Masks

Recently a friend posted an excerpt from Frantz Fanon which I thought was quite relevant for all of us:

“I am a man, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world. I am not responsible solely for the slave revolt in Santo Domingo. Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past…. My black skin is not a repository for specific values….Haven’t I got better things to do on this earth than avenge the Blacks of the seventeenth century? … I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt toward the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right to seek ways of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors. There is no black mission; there is nowhite burden…. I do not want to be the victim of the Ruse of a black world…. Am I going to ask today’s white men to answer for the slave traders of the seventeenth century? Am I going to try by every means available to cause guilt to burgeon in their souls? … I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors…. it would be of enormous interest to discover a black literature or architecture from the third century before Christ. We would be overjoyed to learn of the existence of a correspondence between some black philosopher and Plato. But we can absolutely not see how this fact would change the lives of eight-year-old kids working in the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe…. I find myself in a world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other.” — (Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks)

This provoked certain kinds of reactions on the friend’s Facebook page (ah, social media!). One of the comments was — “…will our DALIT intellectuals learn some lessons?”

I see the above comment quite dangerously puerile. If there is a lesson, it is not only for Dalit intellectuals in India, but for us everyone. Fanon is not saying that the burden of the oppressed is to be weighed in terms of mere historical baggage. He insists upon the immediacy of action, of placing activism in the very core of one’s present times. Only a hankering for a ‘free, enlightened’ (my words) past would not deliver justice to the colonized, Blacks, the colored people, Dalits and women. It would be actually playing into the same grand narrative paradigm the colonizer/victor/supremacist perpetuates (e.g. remember the way the Hindutva forces in India talk about 5,000 years of ancient, sublime history to counter Western influences). Hence, Fanon makes a point to turn away from this time-wasting exercise and take up the cause of the oppressed wherever it is visible in our modern world. History is not a trend that one follows, history is something that one creates by active intervention, protest and mobilization at various points in time. Causing “guilt” does not garner support or fuel for a movement, Fanon recognized.

I also think Fanon here separates himself from Senghor et al, when he says “My black skin is not a repository for specific values”. He does not peddle some kind of Black/oppressed/subaltern exoticism as a plea for his strident tone against White domination. And if you read into his psychoanalysis, he advocates a complete release from this “binary” black-and-white past whereby not only “white” but “black” too is destroyed to usher in a new world order. I said, he advocates; you can debate this point.

The biased comment to Fanon’s passage that I quoted, evidently does not take into account these readings. To say that for the Whites/colonizer/upper caste there is no need for understanding or addressing Black/colonized/Dalit issues, is a malicious and un-humanistic stance. Read the last line of the excerpt which says it all. In any attempt to universalize justice, all of us need to pay heed to the alternative discourse. This gentleman obviously has a lot of lesson to learn and some old frayed masks to undo (and I’m not giving his name yet here…). And thanks to my friend for posting this excerpt.

More on Fanon’s thoughts about language later. You are welcome to add your comment, and show other directions which I might have missed regarding this excerpt.


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This entry was posted on May 21, 2011 by in Dalit, france, Frantz Fanon and tagged , .
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