Frantz Fanon is described by Wikipedia as a ‘Martinican psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism.’
Indeed, if one had the opportunity to examine the book collections of revolutionaries as diverse as Malcolm X and Steve Biko, Bobby Sands and Eldridge Cleaver, in every one Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth would be found.
Frantz Fanon is a name widely associated with the African liberation movement, and although only thirty-six when he died, his influence was, and remains profound in the annals of black emancipation. His contribution, however, was almost entirely academic, and perhaps more than anything, it was his sheer intellectual virtuosity that shatter the glass ceiling of perceived black inferiority. The front line of his particular war was French colonization, and the process of decolonization. His published works – he wrote four books, Black Skin, White Mask (1952), A Dying Colonialism (1959), The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and Toward the African Revolution (1964) – have become central texts to African liberation philosophy and the ideals of anti-colonialism. He rejected black assimilation into a white-supremacist mainstream culture, but also the reactionary assertions of black superiority. His position was uncompromising, Afrocentric and progressive.
His biography in a nutshell is that he was born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique in 1925, into a family described as the ‘black bourgeoisie’. As such he enjoyed access to a French metropolitan education, where he studied psychiatry and medicine at the University of Lyon. His later work as a psychiatric doctor in Algiers placed him central to the defining war in that territory against French occupation. Here, some of his most seminal ideas were incubated.
Frantz Fanon died of leukemia in Bethesda, Maryland, on 6 December 1961, just as the American Civil Rights Movement was being steered towards its great legislative victory. While his work was influencing the likes of Che Guevara and Steve Biko, it was also at this time that his intellectualization of the black struggle began to influence the ideology of the Black Panther movement, in particular his unwillingness to reject violence, and his presentation of the concept of the ‘new man’.
Frantz Fanon’s work remains seminal in current and ongoing liberation struggles in Palestine, in Sri Lankan Tamil separatism, but more than anything, it remains embedded in both the African and American black consciousness.