Don't expect to see any explosion today. It's too early...or to late.
I'm not the bearer of absolute truths.
No fundamental inspiration has flashed across my mind.
I honestly think, however, it's time some things were said.
Things I'm going to say, not shout. I've long given up shouting.
A long time ago...
Why am I writing this book? Nobody asked me to.
Especially not those for whom it is intended.
So? So in all serenity my answer is that there are too may idiots on this earth.
And now that I've said it, I have to prove it.
Black Skin, White Masks
In February 2021, New Black Nationalists [NBN] adopted Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon’s corpus of theories as its guiding philosophical system. As we approach the 60th anniversary of his death on December 6, 2021,"Fanonism," has broadly come to embody the authoritative text undergirding originalist Decolonial Theory.
Notions of a Fanonian philosophical system unsettles deconstructionists, who long ago proclaimed the death of grand theory and the Nationalist-Humanist project. Various schools of feminism will decry Fanonian philosophy as a nationalist "cult of personality," while others will insist there is nothing more to learn about Fanon that hasn’t already been written.
But intensifying anti-Black violence, the rise of Necropolitics, and the white nationalist backlash to the "Browning of America," that led to Trump's January 6, 2021, authoritarian coup underscores the relevancy of Fanon's canon. We have entered a pre-revolutionary period in which American Empire is confronting an imminent and perhaps existential collapse in the 2020's. As a network generating analytical products supporting the creation of a Black-led nation-state, NBN is compelled to make the argument affirming the existence of a Fanonian philosophical system.
Recalibrating Fanon’s philosophical coordinates to match today's extraordinary moment and envisioning a national destiny for a Black republic is NBN's urgent writ. As Fanon's philosophical writings center our adoption of his compendium of works, we are releasing two additional papers that interrogate the boundaries of his philosophical system: Fanon and the Negritude Movement and Fanonian Philosophy and Black Nationalism in American Empire.
Origins frames the argument for a Fanonian philosophical system and outlines a matrix defining its essential elements. Origins concludes with a brief narrative explaining the importance of locating the genesis of Fanon's philosophical system in the Afro-Caribbean intellectual tradition.
Philosophy asks the celestial questions that elevate the human project: Who are we? How do we understand fundamental truths about ourselves and our relationships with others? How do we comprehend the world we live in, and does mankind have the capacity to change society for the greater good?
New Black Nationalists assert that Frantz Fanon engaged these philosophical questions and crafted an interlocking assemblage of concepts on existentialism, ontology, ethics, phenomenology, and epistemology that constitute the touchstones of a Fanonian philosophical system. These constructs were largely enumerated in his publication of Black Skin, White Masks (1952).
In author Lewis R. Gordon's words, the vexing question compelling Fanon to summon the weapons of philosophy to service was simple: How to explain the Black?
As exploring Black subjectivity and identity is the locus of Fanon's philosophical work, it's imperative that New Black Nationalists provide its working definition of Blackness as a baseline to underpin our analytical framework.
New Black Nationalists Definition of Blackness
New Black Nationalists concept of Blackness builds on the scholarly work of feminist author Michelle Wright in “The Physics of Blackness.”
We assert that Blackness operates as a construct implicitly and explicitly, defined by phenotype and behavioral characteristics. Blackness exists phenomenologically as a collective and individual identity, defined by perceptions and performance at any given time. Thus, Blackness is subject to interpretation in the past, present, or future tense. The phenomenology of Blackness focuses on the why, when, and where it is being interpreted, rather than the who and the what. Blackness as a collective identity intersects with other identities, inclusive of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, and performance.
While New Black Nationalists embrace the cornerstone of Fanon’s widely accepted philosophical condominium of “existential-phenomenology,” our analysis bends toward epiphenomenalism that incorporates a broader concept of time and space and departs from the enclosures of the linear progress narratives marking the dominant "Black Atlantic" school of philosophy.
Fanon’s Philosophical Template
New Black Nationalists have identified the following core components of Frantz Fanon's philosophical system.
Ontology (Theory of being) Fanon posited that blackness as an identity and racial category was a political argument--a creation by Europeans to justify colonial domination. In his words, “The white man is locked in his whiteness. The black man in his blackness. Ontology does not allow us to understand the being of the black man, since it ignores the lived experience. For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man. "
Fanon also introduced the concept of the “zone of non-being” -- people considered to be sub-human or non-human and not having their humanity socially recognized. Fanon described the “zone of non-being” as “an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an incline stripped bare of every essential from which a genuine new departure can emerge.” But instead of the “zone of non-being” existing as a cesspool of despair and nihilism, Fanon says the opposite. The emerging “new departure” he says is a “yes that vibrates to cosmic harmonies.” In short, it is the irrepressible force of revolutionary revolt.
Existentialism (Theory of human existence) Fanon gravitated to existentialism which posited that ones' existence and fate are not predetermined by religion, culture, politics or class. These forces cannot define or appropriate one’s freedom. Individuals exists for themselves and are defined by their own actions. They have freedom of choice, and most important for Fanon, the freedom to take action. Fanon held that Blacks, individually and collectively were not condemned by their skin color or myths of inferiority to colonization and oppression. The colonized could control their own fate by overthrowing their colonial masters and creating new values and forms of self-affirmation. While most Fanon readers are familiar with his existentialist writings from Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon’s recently published first two plays written in 1949, “Parallel Hands” and the autobiographical “The Drowning Eye,” also explore dualist existential themes of the absurd and tragic, consciousness, necessity, and freedom.
Phenomenology (Theory of the development of human consciousness) Phenomenology was best adapted to Fanon’s analysis of 'the lived experience of Blacks," or the experience of colonialism and racism. Fanon's own "lived experience" included growing up in Martinique believing he was French, not Black, and being encouraged to speak French before his native creole tongue. Escaping Martinique's Vichy occupation, Fanon joined the Free French forces during World War 2 and witnessed the savage treatment of Black Africans and North African Arab soldiers in France's colonial army.
Phenomenology examines different forms of consciousness and perceptions. Its usage in France in the 1940's, was associated with events identified in psychiatric circles as “madness” or “Erlebnis.” The lived experience was not an everyday experience, but one that was deeply felt and disturbed the personality. Fanon’s graphic depictions of shame, anger, muscle flexing tension, inferiority complexes, sexual desire for whites, lactification, and fear of the white gaze, generated a penetrating psychological panorama of Black emotions, sensations, imaginings and responses, as did Algeria’s Arabs to the abominations of French colonization. These forms of consciousness were the raw materials shaping Fanon psychoanalysis. Fanon was particularly drawn to phenomenology because of its focus on immediacy, its response to incessant conflict with others, and the state of mind it engendered.
Epistemology (Theory of knowledge). Fanon's epistemological approach was dialectical materialism. His application of dialectics to the law of transformation of quantity into quality and the interpenetration of opposites was exceptional. Fanon consistently held that ideas arise as products and reflections of material conditions. His materialism always sought to validate theory in practice. Fanon’s criticism of Aime Cesaire’s surrealist “theory of poetic knowledge” and Leopold Senghor’s “African traditionalist” religious philosophy was in-part based on his materialist outlook that was dismissive of idealist and cosmological theories of being.
Ethics (Theory of right and wrong conduct) Frantz Fanon's work was permeated with brutal honesty. His above-board character as a psychiatric clinic director, FLN (Algeria's National Liberation Front) newspaper editor, FLN Ambassador to Africa, and theoretician was admired by the international community. He insisted on honesty, integrity, and forthrightness in communications. He detested corruption and naked self-interests.
As a journalist and editor of NLF's newspaper, El Moudjahid, Fanon eschewed "cheap shots" and yellow journalism." Fanon was averse to hyperbole and fabrication as a theorist. His scholarly standard established a high bar for revolutionary advocacy and discourse. As hard as Fanon worked to forward the interests of Algeria's and revolutionary African movements, his condemnation of elitist African leaders “as stooges of imperialism” was predicated on placing their own self-interests before their people’s interests and being condescending to the masses they purportedly served.
An Interpretive Framework of Fanonian Philosophy
*NBN posits that Fanon's philosophical system coheres with his theory of decolonization. It informs the logic and progression of his doctrines on national consciousness, violence, revolution, nation-building, and "New Humanism." Fanon's oeuvre is the journey of the man of color and the white man, "trapped in their respective ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness," moving toward a new social arrangement. Fanon was uncertain about the prospects of Blacks and whites reconciling their racialized identities and recognizing each other's humanity. What Fanon clearly understood was that ultimately race could not be imagined as human destiny.
*NBN maintains that Fanon's philosophical arguments in Black Skin, White Masks (BSWM), and his ideological arguments in The Wretched of the Earth established a sharp line of demarcation separating the domains of philosophy and ideology. Fanon’s writings contributed greatly to ending what scholar Paget Henry described as a problem in the Afro-Caribbean intellectual tradition of “philosophical production operating as handmaiden to the faster rhythms of ideological production.”
Building a tradition that engaged philosophical production in its own right, marked a critical development, notwithstanding Black Nationalists in the 1960’s serious shortcomings. Black feminists and Black Queers, on the other hand, excelled in their theoretical wars against white feminists, Black Nationalists, and Black post-structuralist literary critics.
*NBN asserts the genesis of Fanon’s philosophy is embedded in the Afro-Caribbean intellectual tradition, that until the development of the Negritude movement in the 1930’s, was dominated by European philosophy. European colonialists relentlessly insisted--with a fair amount of success in the Caribbean--that Africans were incapable of creating philosophy. When Fanon engaged the Afro-Caribbean intellectual tradition to "explain the Black" in the late 1940’s, with the exception of the Negritude movement he found the philosophical archive wanting.
African philosophy in the Afro-Caribbean was transmitted orally and through the religious practices of slaves and their descendants brought from West Africa. Its influence diminished after slavery ended in the mid-1800’s. Like Europe’s Celtic and Germanic pagan religions, traditional African religion lost the salt of its philosophical foundation as its values and culture mixed with Christianity, thereby creating “Vaudois” in Haiti, ‘Santeria” in Cuba, “Shango” in Trinidad, and “Candomblé” in Brazil.
The Afro-Caribbean intellectual tradition first appeared in the 1700s, challenging Spanish, French, and British plantation indentures and slave labor of African, Arawak, Carib, and Taino people. Anti-colonial narratives expanded as Mulattos, Creoles, and Black slaves contested, negotiated, and rebelled to secure legal rights, property rights, and voting rights. The first successful slave revolt to seize state power in 1804, against French Empire in Haiti altered the trajectory of colonialism throughout the Western Hemisphere. Afro-Caribbean freedom movements adopted Europe’s language of monarchy, constitutionalism, and republican governance based on reason, progress, and science.
Post-World War 1, Afro-Caribbean thought witnessed the birth of two anti-colonial intellectual trends that still exist today. The “Black Atlantic” British trend coalesced around C.L.R. James (Trinidad), Stuart Hall (Jamaica), and Paul Gilroy (United Kingdom).
The Francophone Negritude school of Afro-Caribbean and African philosophy was founded in the 1930s by Aime Cesaire of Martinique, Leon Damas of Guyana, and Leopold Senghor of Senegal. Philosopher-poet Edouard Glissant, a friend of Fanon in France (who moved away from Negritude towards “Antillanite” that emphasized the Caribbeanness of Martinican identity), went on to launch the Creolite literary movement. Today, Cameroonian Professor Achille Mbembe, a proponent of Afropolitanism, and Fanon scholar, is the de-facto intellectual leader of post-modern Francophone philosophy.
*New Black Nationalists hold that Frantz Fanon's existential- phenomenology constructs emerged in direct opposition to Negritude theories on existence, being, and identity. In “Black Skin, White Masks,” Fanon opened a decade-long polemic with Negritude leaders Leopold Senghor and Aime Cesaire. While Fanon’s engagement with the Negritude movement will be the subject of our next thought paper, it is instructive to examine a quick snapshot of Senghor and Cesaire’s view of Negritude.
Senghor on Negritude
Opining on Negritude, Senghor averred that “Negritude was founded on the notion of vital force that is pre-existing, anterior to being constitutes being. God has given vital force not only to men, but also to animals, vegetables, even minerals. Negritude defines the collective Negro-African personality, and that personality is characterized by its sense of rhythm and its capacity to be emotionally moved. Negritude is the sum total of the values of the civilization of the African world."
Cesaire on Negritude
Cesaire wrote that "Négritude, in my eyes, is not a philosophy. Négritude is not a metaphysics. Négritude is not a pretentious conception of the universe. It is a way of living history within history: the history of a community whose experience appears to be … unique, with its deportation of populations, its transfer of people from one continent to another, its distant memories of old beliefs, its fragments of murdered cultures. How can we not believe that all this, which has its own coherence, constitutes a heritage? Negritude is fidelity, a voice of freedom, and first and foremost, a voice for the retrieved identity.”
Fanon’s Response to Negritude
*New Black Nationalists uphold Fanon’s rejection of Senghor’s traditionalist African religion as a universal Black ontology, and identity, and Cesaire’s notion of “return to Africa”. “In no way” said Fanon “must I strive to bring back to life a negro civilization that has been fairly mis-recognized. I will not make myself a man of any past. I do not want to sing the past at the expense of the present and my future.” In response to Senghor’s claim of a single universal African identity, Fanon quipped, “My skin in not the repository of specific values.” Inveighing against Negritude’s claim of “the essential qualities of the Negro spirit,” Fanon observed that “What is called the black soul is a construction by white folk. The role of the Black man is no longer to be black, but to be black in the eyes of the white man, and his revolt must therefore be based on the assumption of his blackness."
*NBN submits that Fanon turned to existentialist philosophy because no other philosophy including traditionalist African religion articulated a sense of self-affirmation and being that empowered the colonized with a mindset to challenge and defeat colonial oppression. Fanon’s reconfiguration of “Sartrean” existentialism emphasized defining one’s own reality, exercising freedom of choice and will, controlling one’s own destiny, and taking violent action if necessary to secure one’s own freedom and liberation. Existentialism was a radical inversion-an anecdote to Antillean inferiority complexes, self-hatred, lactification, and fear of the white gaze.
*NBN concludes that while Fanon’s existential intervention altered the dynamic and perception of self and being in the Afro-Caribbean intellectual tradition, it only had a nominal impact of Black identity, which has remained inordinately loyal to British and French identity to this day.
The Afro-Caribbean’s European Identity Crisis
Black historian Harold Cruse once noted of Marcus Garvey in "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual," that, “The British Empire has a royal court, so Garvey imitates with his royal black court. The British potentate, as it were, creates Knights, Dukes, Peers, Courts, and Ladies, so Garvey makes, black knights, dukes, peers, counts and ladies. In his cabinet Garvey again mimics the British. To illustrate, America has a Secretary of the Treasury, but Great Britain has a Chancellor of the Exchequer; so, Garvey creates a chancellor of the U.N.I.A. Even the so called “Provisional President of Africa” is a British counterfeit. It grew out of the existence of De Valera, then provisional president of Ireland. De Valera represented the president of a British possession of a British possession who was not in the country over which he was supposed to preside. Hence, Garvey decided that he, also a British subject, and also desirous of claiming control over territory largely held by Great Britain, would copy the title of De Valera. There is no other way to explain the Garvey schemes without a resort to nationality.”
In a somewhat similar vein, Edouard Glissant's play Monsieur Toussaint (1961) examined the Haitain revolutionary leader's disastrous fascination with France and his dismaying lack of faith in his own community. While Glissant clearly upholds Louverture as a revolutionary hero of the Caribbean, he makes the following observation. "Is Martinique a cyst in the zone of Caribbean civilization? Is Toussaint Louverture another's hero, and Schoelcher (a white abolitionist) our true one? That Martinican intellectuals are still debating such issues reveals, in a disturbing way, the intensity of the disorientation inflicted on them. Could they recognize in Frantz Fanon one of the figures who have awakened (in the deepest sense of the word) the peoples of the contemporary world? They could not?"
To underscore the severity of the Caribbean identity crisis, only last month, on November 30, 2021, Barbados finally cut its ties to the British Monarchy to become a republic, by removing Queen Elizabeth as its head of state. "The time has come for us to leave our colonial past behind," said Governor General Sandra Mason. Today, nine of the fifteen former British colonies (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and The Grenadines) remain in the British Commonwealth, and still recognized Queen Elizabeth and its Head of Government.
In the French Antilles, when presented with the choice to peacefully transition to independence or remain as part of the French Empire, Aime Cesaire as a French National Assembly member and Mayor of Fort du France led Martinique to become an Overseas Department of French Empire. Guadeloupe enjoys the same status, while Saint-Barthélemy and Saint-Martin became French Collectives.
Martinicans gained full French citizenship, and representation in the French National Assembly. Today, 91% of Martinicans are Christians, mostly practicing Roman Catholics. French is Martinique’s official language and is spoken by most Martinicans, and a corrupted version of its native Antillean Creole is still widely spoken. As Frantz Fanon, once commented, Martinicans are “more French than Frenchmen.”
Edouard Glissant’s “Caribbean Discourse” summarized what has become of Martinique under Aime Cesaire’s French Department status, “In the Caribbean Departments, life is dominated by the Social Security building and the airport. The choice can often be dependency or escape. The French Caribbean predicament lies in this collective abdication of identity and the inescapable degradation of the folk culture, Creole language, and any sense of being Caribbean. As Glissant points out, "Martinican history is simply a reflection of French history.”
Ideas matter. So does philosophy. When Frantz Fanon arrived in Paris in 1946, to study psychiatry, arguably the city teemed with the most extraordinary Third World nationalist leaders, philosophers, writers, artists, and intellectuals ever assembled in one city.
Among them were Marxists, existentialists, socialists, Hegelian phenomenologists, and surrealists’ thinkers attempted to re-imagine in new world after the Nazi Germany’s apocalypse. Fanon deciphered the dense philosophical text by Europe’s leading theorists. In most cases, he concluded these theories neglected to factor in race. Rather than discard them, he re-engineered them.
Fanon said Blacks dehumanized by colonialism were the planet's most alienated people, not Karl Marx's working class. Engels foresaw the "withering away of classes" under communism: Fanon's New Humanism contemplated the transcendence of race. Hegelian phenomenology posited that master and slave sought mutual recognition of their humanity. Fanon argued the master sought the slave's work: the slave dreamed of replacing the master by any means necessary. Sigmond Freud theorized psychological trauma and neuroses stemmed from incestuous fantasies linked to the Oedipus complex: Fanon wrote that the white world creates the black man's neurosis.
At the same time Fanon was critiquing European philosophy he was studying Harlem Renaissance luminaries whose engagement with Francophone artists and writers from Africa and the Caribbean began in the 1920’s. Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Chester Himes and other Harlem writers and musicians continued to conspire with Negritude and Black political activists in the 1940’s, on the Parisian Left Bank.
Frantz Fanon was a radical truth seeker, who interrogated an immense field of sources in his short life. He lived at a time when the need for a thoroughgoing critique of the racist basis of Western “civilization” was clearly in the air. As Fanon scholar Peter Hudis said, "The time was ripe for a philosophically grounded study of the impact of racism on the lived experience of Black people, and Fanon saw it as his task to produce it. "
In the course of answering the question: How to explain the Black, Frantz Fanon bequeathed to us a dyanmic philosophical system--one that must be defended, critically read, updated and expanded. It is a living philosophy that must breathe.