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I knew there was something I was meant to do Sunday. I’ll get the hang of this “blog post every week” business eventually! I swear!

I loved this book, inasmuch as I’ve read (at like page 150, almost there). It’s funny, because I find equal amounts of validity and plain crap in both Freud and Fanon, but Fanon was an immensely pleasurable read. He does the kind of scholarship that I would like to do (‘disjointed’ according to Jon, and ‘not very rigorous’ according to a translator’s footnote; wonder what that says about me). It’s work born out of real feeling, authentic passion.

I identified very strongly with the accounts of the black children and the comic books. In fact, the entire drive to be white is one that typifies a lot of my childhood desires, and I don’t think it’s uncommon. I was raised on a diet of pop culture that was mostly anglocentric. I was the only brown kid in a school full of athletic white, blonde haired, blue eyed kids; compare soft, doughy, short me. None of the girls I liked ever found me particularly attractive, with probably more factors beyond just colour; still I did feel this urge to be white. I even at one point that white was ‘default’ human. Another brown friend of mine, who like me was reared on a lot of anime, once told me that he spent many of his years wanting to be a thin, Asian boy. He grew up in Richmond. Hmmmm.

And Chapter 5, despite its difficulty, I found amazing. Prose-poetry scholarship. Brilliant. I feel like it allowed me to comprehend the alienation of ‘the black man’ viscerally in a way that I don’t feel I would if it was written more traditionally. It worked through impression, not through explanation, and achieved its goals better for that, especially given its literal central position in the book. It’s sort of the nexus of the book (and as Jon said, functions as an allegory for the rest of it too, a functional synecdoche) and really grounds the emotional anguish of the rest of the arguments. I think that lends a certain level of validity to the text, even the parts I disagreed with.

Still, I did have some qualms with the book. For one, Fanon really does fail to substantiate a lot of his sources. He often will quote a passage, and from there repudiate it without thorough critique, and use that as a jumping off point. Chapters 2 and 3 also, in my opinion, overpoliticize interpersonal relationships, which is a big problem I have with a lot of things. Also, in reference to Chapter 5, though it allowed me to identify with ‘the black man’ it conversely dehumanized ‘the white man’. And, as I tried to humorously suggest with my title, where are the Arabs, Asians, and Jews that Fanon always references yet makes no attempt to integrate? Fanon acknowledges this himself, but these are still important parts of the discussion that remain to be addressed, because without them, it can turn into a binary that is every bit as stifling as the racialised structures Fanon decries, and becomes the zealotry he wants to avoid.

Also, Jon, did you write the Newsweek quote on the cover, because your lecture and that quote basically said the same things: you even used the word ‘melange’! Still, great lecture.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for splitting your analysis by chapters – I don’t pay much attention to chapter separation in books, and I never really have. I also like how you said that chapter 5 validates the book. Isn’t it funny to think that the part that isn’t at all “traditional scholarship” is the one that gives the the whole book weight?

  2. I was struggling with how to express my thoughts on his dehumanizing ‘the white man’. It seems simultaneously dismissive and overly explained (maybe just reiteration of the same points?). And you’re right – there’s no mention of anything other than ‘black’ and ‘white’. Doesn’t even begin to cover the racial diversity of the world. (Especially since he makes a point of bringing up Jews so much.)

  3. It’s the emphasis on the white man as ‘the Other’ that does the dehumanizing; while valid as a descriptor of a psychological and social force, I think taking Fanon’s terminology, his work, out of context would not help race relations. I think the work exists best placed in a canon of other, similar works, some kind of multiplicity of racial voices. There is a danger, I think, to living wholly “Other”wise.

  4. Interesting. I’m not sure he “dehumanizes” whites: he thinks that they suffer, too, from the system of colonial hierarchy and its legacies. But I think in the end he thinks that’s not his problem. His problem is the psychological effects on blacks.

    It’s also a fair point that he is very “black and white” (ha!) in that he doesn’t attend particularly to other races or ethnicities. On the one hand, that’s no doubt an effect of his own experience and cultural context. If he had grown up in Trinidad (say), which has a large East Asian population, or if he’d lived in twenty-first century France, in which the Moslem issue is so much to the fore, he may have had other things to say. On the other hand, he also points out that it’s the colonial discourse on race that tends to simplify things, and to homogenize (for instance) blacks from Africa (Senegal) and blacks from the Antilles.


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