Frantz Fanon's Quarrel With Negritude : The Hand Grenade

Frantz Fanon's Quarrel With Negritude

by W. Bernell Brooks lll on 01/30/22


Following ten days of CIA interrogations and emergency surgery for late-stage leukemia, Frantz Fanon died in December 1961, in Bethesda, Maryland. Four days later The Wretched of the Earth was published, prompting the French government to ban the book and seize copies from Paris bookstores. When Aime Césaire passed in 2008, the Negritude movement’s 94 year-old co-founder was interred in a state funeral presided over by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He called Césaire a ‘great humanist and poet.’ 

Logic and history concur that the substantive difference between Fanon and his former teacher was one of revolution versus accommodation. “I condemn any idea of Antillean independence” said Aime Cesaire. "I only know of one single France. That of the revolution. That of Toussaint Louverture.” But the philosophical polarities between these two Martinicans: between Fanonian theory and Negritude’s sprawling oeuvre, was anything but a simple equation. Rather, it was a thick and complex intellectual confrontation with profound ramifications for the future.  

Fanon and the Negritude Question revisits Frantz Fanon’s extended polemic with the Negritude movements' leading intellectuals. In many respects their discourses framed the quintessential philosophical arguments that dominated the African diaspora’s anti-colonial awakening. 

From 1949 to 1961, Frantz Fanon crafted a critique of Negritude’s foundational constructs. In doing so, he bequeathed to future generations a cipher more so than a philosophical blueprint that responded to the problematic Césaire put before his friend Léopold Senghor in the 1930s: “Who am I? Who are we? What are we in this white world?” 

New Black Nationalists assert Fanon’s rejoinder to Césaire on the construction of the Black subject emerged as the locus of the philosophical dispute with the Negritude movement. 

Fanon’s skirmish with Negritudists traversed a galaxy of issues and produced an algorithm that hummed to the source codes of being, identity, culture, and epistemology. Leavened with the grammar of Fanon’s psychoanalysis of the colonized, NBN posits that Fanon's critique of Negritude in the aggregate created a coherent and unified philosophical system.  

The cryptology of the Fanon/Negritude exchange is rich. Arguably, Negritude’s philosophical polyglot probed, embraced, or foreshadowed virtually every intellectual strand enrooted in the African diaspora experience. Thus, NBN holds that Negritude’s centrality to the African diaspora intellectual tradition merits critical reevaluation. This is especially important in the United States, where Negritude's African and Caribbean roots relegated it to the periphery of Black thought.  

Within America’s settler state, New Black Nationalists argue that the derivative philosophies of the following intellectual currents were addressed substantively or tangentially by the Fanon/Negritude arguments. 

Negro/American Double Consciousness– WEB DuBois, M.L. King  
Black Marxism – ABB, Blacks/CPUSA, Cedric Robinson 
Marxist Nationalism – BWC, League of Revolutionary Workers, 
Pan-Africanism- The Garvey Movement 
Pan-African Socialism – All African People’s Revolutionary Party  
Cultural Nationalism – Ron Karenga – US (United Slaves) 
Religious Nationalism – NOI, Black Moors, Black Hebrew Israelites  
Afrocentrism – Molefe Asante 
Afropessimism – Jared Sexton and Frank Wilder
Radical Black Nationalism – Malcolm X, RAM, BAM, BPP 
Nation-State Black Nationalism – RNA, New Black Nationalists  

Negritudists were well versed in the sciences of Vitalism, Marxism, Pan-Africanism, Créolité, Caribbeanness, Black Surrealism, liberal republicanism, and nationalism. In the lycées and lecture halls of the French academy, they were bred by the Fourth and Fifth Republics to become the native elites of the home colonies and exemplars of French cultural assimilation policy. 

It’s no accident that Black Francophone intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Leon Dumas, Paulette and Jane Nardal, Rene Maran, Suzanne Lacascade, Alioune Diop, Suzanne Cesaire, Edouard Glissant, and Achille Mbembe exercised disproportionate influence in the African Diaspora’s philosophical solar system.  

Philosophy was a baccalaureate requirement in France’s educational system, and the national pastime for French elites and the popular masses. They consumed the works of Descartes, Rousseau, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, and Derrida with brio.  French Empire also took its "mission civilisatrice," to enlighten its beleaguered colonial natives seriously. The production of Black intellectuals whose anti-colonialism maintained French identity was a strategic consideration of the Caribbean and Africa Desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

New Black Nationalists contend that the writings of scientific racism theorist Count Arthur de Gobineau also had a decisive impact on the development of Black Francophone philosophy in the arenas of art, culture, and aesthetics. 

Negritude's fealty to French Identify was also shaped by a seismic event that remains seared into the Black Francophone collective memory. We speak of the Haitian Revolution, the world's only slave uprising that led to the founding of a nation-state ruled by non-whites. Despite Toussaint Louverture's brilliant leadership in defeating Napolean Bonaparte--the planet's most formidable military general--he never lost his sense of French identity, thereby creating a legacy that exist to this day in the Antilles.  

Louverture's 1801 constitution for a free Haitian state unconditionally banned slavery. Seeking to rid Haiti of French colonial rule, Louverture's constitution read "Slaves cannot exist in this territory and servitude is forever abolished. Here, all men are born, live, and die, free and French.” While Louverture believed Haiti could forge an autonomous republic, he concluded independence wasn't desirable or possible in the short-run, and he wanted rebuild Haiti under French protection. After forcing the French to call for a peace treaty, Toussiant's misplaced trust in Bonaparte to honor the terms of the peace agreement led to his imprisonment and death shortly thereafter in France.    

When Cesaire exclaimed "I only know of one single France. That of the revolution. That of Toussaint Louverture.” he evoked Louverture's decision not to break from France but lead a Black autonomous republic within French Empire. Cesaire's appropriation of Louverture to justify his accommodationist path of Martinique's becoming an overseas department when independence was achievable without bloodshed was the height of opportunism. Lest we forget General Jean-Jacques Dessalines defeated the French on the battlefield a year after Louverture's death to consolidate Haiti's revolution.  The Louverture Predicament continues to cast a long, contradictory, and anxiety-filled shadow across the Caribbean. For all his revolutionary heat and writings, Fanon was silent on the historic armed Haitian revolutionary struggle and the legacy of Toussaint Louverture.  

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