Frantz Fanon has become an influential figure in existentialism, critical thought, and post-colonial studies, as he primarily addressed the issues of anti-black racism and social perception of race. Discussing the role of race in social and historical interactions and the position of people of African descent in the Western world, Fanon developed a comprehensive theoretical model that largely relied on French existentialism.
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He made a major contribution to Africana critical thought and philosophy, also referred to by some researchers as “black existentialism,” and became an inspiration for many participants of social rights and liberation movements in various parts of the world (Gordon, 2015). Fanon particularly examined the experience of black people from the existentialist perspective to establish how they handle discrimination and oppression and how they can achieve political and personal liberation—or rather, how social change should be promoted where such liberation will be achieved by common efforts. To examine Fanon’s philosophy, three major themes of Africana critical thought can be explored in his works: existentialism, decolonization, and empowerment.
First of all, the existential component of Fanon’s philosophy was expressed in the attempt to analyze the essential aspects of existence from the perspective of human beings as not only thinking subjects but also subjects of feelings and will with the opportunity for making decisions and taking action (Wyrick, 2014). Famous existentialists, although quite different in terms of their worldviews, shared the emphasis on human experience in their explorations.
Fanon focused on the experiences of black people and stated that they are widely refused the right to have their own lifestyles and even dreams because they continue to be seen as inferior to white people (Fanon 2004). In a study of Fanon’s philosophy, Gordon (2015) reveals the concept of “subordinated theoretical identity” (p. 5) which is observed in limited opportunities of researchers and intellectuals of African descent for forming their own judgment that would be seen as independent and potentially influential.
In addressing these issues, Fanon not only stresses the importance of social change toward extensive acknowledgment of the rights and identities of black people but also argues that black people themselves should engage in existential practices of self-cognition with the purpose to move toward political liberation. One of the most famous figures in the history of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a major influence on Fanon and supported many Fanon’s ideas.
One of such ideas was related to decolonization, which was one of the focuses of Fanon’s works, too. As a psychiatrist, Fanon argued that being colonized, i.e. being conquered by foreign people, oppressed, and potentially enslaved, is a pathological state for a human, which is why the philosopher justified the use of violence by colonized people against colonizers with the purpose to achieve not only liberation but also appropriate mental health (Fanon, 2004).
Also, as a Marxist, Fanon applies class-relations terms to the process of decolonization and the parts of society that participate in it and explores how the identities of a colonizer and a colonized person transform into the identities of a master and a slave respectively. Fanon was criticized for approving of violence in the cases where it had been employed by colonized people against colonizers, but his argument was that colonized people who are dehumanized, i.e. not treated as human beings and even deprived of human identities, being seen as animals or property, should not be expected to behave according to humanistic values.
This idea of colonization as dehumanization played a significant role in establishing the purpose of decolonization as returning human dignity and the value of life to formerly colonized nations and to individuals who suffer from the effects of being previously under the cruel rule of foreign conquerors.
Finally, it is noteworthy that the philosophy of Fanon was largely promoting the empowerment of black people and has become an inspiration for many who struggled for equal rights. As Gordon (2015) put it, Fanon “developed a profound social existential analysis of antiblack racism” (p. 2). By articulating this problem and exploring its roots, Fanon demonstrated how political thought is capable of igniting social movements, such as the struggle for independence in Algeria.
A major aspect of empowerment is finding and promoting black identities (Wyrick, 2014) that will be seen as equally important to other ones and shaped in an independent context, i.e. not as continuations of white identities, reflections of them, or imitations.
In his works, Fanon addresses a wide range of issues associated with race and the position of black people from the perspective of Africana critical thought. He built his argument on the basis of existentialism, i.e. emphasizing the importance of human experiences, called upon his proponents to promote the empowerment of black people, and supported decolonization and even the violent aspect of it. From the philosophical perspective, one of the most outstanding achievements of Fanon was generating a profound understanding of how black people are oppressed by being deprived of identities and how they should struggle for their identities in order to achieve an equal treatment and an equal position in social perception.
Fanon, F. (2004). The wretched of the earth. (R. Philcox, Trans.). New York, NY: Grove Press. (Original work published 1961).
Gordon, L. R. (2015). What Fanon said: A philosophical introduction to his life and thought. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.
Wyrick, D. B. (2014). Fanon for beginners. Newburyport, MA, Red Wheel/Weiser.