20 Books by Black Women Everyone Should Read

May 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

In history and today, Black women have consistently published evocative, thoughtful works that provoke and inspire. This is my compilation of 20 book selections by Black women that touch on gender, race, class and sexuality. I invite you to leave a comment and share more brilliant literary works by Black women.

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Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender and Subjectivity – Amina Mama

Psychology has had a number of things to say about black and colored people, none of them favorable, and most of which have reinforced stereotyped and derogatory images. Beyond the Masks is a readable account of black psychology, exploring key theoretical issues in race and gender. In it, Amina Mama examines the history of racist psychology, and of the implicit racism throughout the discipline. Beyond the Masks also offers an important theoretical perspective, and will appeal to all those involved with ethnic minorities, gender politics and questions of identity. (Source)

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Angela Davis: An Autobiography – Angela Davis

Angela Y. Davis is a political activist, scholar, author, and speaker. She is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, writing on Black liberation, prison abolition, the intersections of race, gender, and class, and international solidarity with Palestine. In this autobiography, the political activist reflects upon the people and incidents that have influenced her life and commitment to global liberation of the oppressed. (Source)

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Are Prisons Obsolete? – Angela Davis

With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.
In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (Source)

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Women, Race & Class – Angela Davis

A powerful study of the women’s movement in the U.S. from abolitionist days to the present that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders. (Source)

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Assata: An Autobiography – Assata Shakur

This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of Assata Shakur long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. The result is a signal contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America that has already taken its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.

Two years after her conviction, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. She was given political asylum by Cuba, where she now resides. (Source)

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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde – Audre Lorde

Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, SISTER OUTSIDER celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. This commemorative edition includes a new foreword by Lorde scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde’s philosophies resonate more than twenty years after they were first published. These landmark writings are, in Lorde’s own words, a call to “never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is..” (Source)

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Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism – bell hooks

A groundbreaking work of feminist history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain’t I a Woman examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism. (Source)

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Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war. (Source)
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Wench – Dolen Perkins – Valdez

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez as a writer destined for greatness. (Source)

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Tropical Fish – Doreen Baingana

In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer. (Source)

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Cane River – Lalita Tademy

The unique and deeply moving epic of four generations of African-American women based on one family’s ancestral past. (Source)

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read. (Source)

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Who Fears Death? – Nnedi Okorafor

In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa, genocide plagues one region. When the only surviving member of a slain village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand, and instinctively knows her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelege of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers she possesses a remarkable and unique magic. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to confront nature, tradition, history, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and eventually to learn why she was given the unusual name she bears: Who Fears Death? (Source)

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Kindred – Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin. (Source)

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The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing. (Source)

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Sula – Toni Morrison

Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life. (Source)

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Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire

What elevates ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. In ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, Warsan’s début pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly.
Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. She is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma.

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Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga

This story explores the alienation of two young African girls – Nyasha, brought up in England and now a stranger amongst her own people, and Tamba, who leaves her village for the pricey mission school. (Source)

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Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature. (Source)

On Racism, Whitewashing & Cinematic Colonialism in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

January 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Another whitewashed Hollywood film on Ancient Egypt is set to be released this April. The only black person cast in “Gods of Egypt” is a token in the stereotypical “magical negro” role: a black person with supernatural powers who always rushes to the aid of white people. As usual, Ancient Egyptians and their gods are played by an all-white cast.

Be sure to BOYCOTT the film “Gods of Egypt” if it comes to a theater near you!

I have reblogged this article I wrote in 2014 about the similarly whitewashed “Exodus: Gods and Kings” to give you an idea of my thoughts on “Gods of Egypt.”

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Although set during a specific period in ancient Egyptian history, the film Exodus: Gods and Kings features white American, European and Australian actors in the majority of the key roles playing ancient Egyptian characters. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film stars Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, and Aaron Paul as Joshua. John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver have supporting roles as Seti and Tuya, another king and queen of Egypt. This controversial casting decision sparked outrage online among film fans calling for a boycott of the movie under the hash tag #BoycottExodusMovie.

exodus-gods-and-kings-christian-bale-joel-edgerton The controversial cast of “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

Hollywood – A Legacy of Historical Revisionism

This is not the first time that Hollywood has produced period films based on colonial fantasies of white domination, never mind that European “civilization” was not even in existence yet. Similarly in the classic epic The Ten Commandments, white actors…

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Remembering Lumumba

July 2, 2015 § 3 Comments

Patrice Lumumba was born 90 years ago today on 2 July 1925. Lumumba was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo (today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). He led the Congolese independence struggle that ultimately wrested the reins of power from the Belgian colonialists.

Lumumba

(2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961)

Within ten weeks of being elected, Lumumba’s government was deposed in a coup. He was subsequently imprisoned and assassinated on January 17, 1961 in a plot orchestrated by western powers: United States, Belgium, France, Britain and the United Nations, in cahoots with local leaders.
Rest in Power.
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Here is the last letter Lumumba wrote to his wife before his assassination:

My dear companion,

I write you these words without knowing if they will reach you, when they will reach you, or if I will still be living when you read them. All during the length of my fight for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and myself have consecrated our lives. But what we wish for our country, its right to an honorable life, to a spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions, Belgian colonialism and its Western allies – who have found direct and indirect support, deliberate and not deliberate among certain high officials of the United Nations, this organization in which we placed all our confidence when we called for their assistance – have not wished it.

They have corrupted certain of our fellow countrymen, they have contributed to distorting the truth and our enemies, that they will rise up like a single person to say no to a degrading and shameful colonialism and to reassume their dignity under a pure sun.

We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese. They will not abandon the light until the day comes when there are no more colonizers and their mercenaries in our country. To my children whom I leave and whom perhaps I will see no more, I wish that they be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that it expects for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.

No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.

Do not weep for me, my dear companion. I know that my country, which suffers so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!

 

 

Che in Africa

June 14, 2015 § 1 Comment

Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born 87 years ago today on June 14, 1928. Che was also a physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist who had a deep connection with Africa.

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Che was instrumental in getting Cuba to forge links with African countries during the 1960s, when Cuban soldiers fought alongside southern Africa’s liberation fighters in Angola. Guevara also personally pitched into the brutal battlefields of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo, convinced that the ”Yankee imperialism” he detested had to be confronted not only at home but also in its bases of support in the developing nations emerging from colonialism. He slipped into Congo in 1965, in the midst of rebel uprisings against the American-supported government, following the 1961 CIA-approved assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first democratically elected president.

On April 23, 1965, three months after Che met Nkrumah in Accra, (Ghana) this heroic warrior with three Cuban fighters, crossed Lake Tanganyika in two small boats as they left Kigoma, Tanzania for Congolese soil, where they fought alongside Lumumba’s guerrilla fighters. About 130 Cuban fighters used this same route in the following weeks as they joined what became known as Che’s Column One. These fighters arrived in Tanzania and crossed the Lake with the full support of President Nyerere. – The Rising Continent

By sending a vanguard of black fighters to pass on to their Congolese brothers guerrilla tactics that had proved successful in Cuba, Che and Cuban leader Fidel Castro undertook a daring experiment in the internationalization of the Communist revolution.

Che in the Congo

Che in the Congo

Before heading to the Congo, Che had been to Ghana, Algeria, Egypt, Guinea and Benin:

Ernesto Che Guevara visited Ghana in the third week of January 1965… El Che met with Nkrumah on the second day of his visit… They held discussions on the situation in Cuba, Latin America and in Africa most especially in the former Belgian colony of Congo… During his week-long stay, el Che met with the press, Liberation Movements in Accra, party leaders, unionists, youth movements and women’s movements… – The Rising Continent

Che was murdered on October 9, 1967 on the orders of Bolivian authorities, in collusion with the CIA. After his death, Cuba remained a friend to Africa’s newly independent nations who aligned themselves with the communist state that opposed their former colonial oppressors. Today, Cuba continues to send doctors, teachers and soldiers to African countries, as demonstrated during last year’s Ebola outbreak.

Nearly 50 years after his death, Che’s image remains a symbol of resistance, determination, and hope for a better world in the eyes of many in Africa and across the globe.

Rest in Power.

*

Some memorable quotes by Che:

“The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.”

“Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world.”

“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”

“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”

Remembering Malcolm X

February 24, 2015 § 1 Comment

Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 -  February 21, 1965)

Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965)

Malcolm X was murdered 50 years ago. In remembrance, here’s an excerpt from a piece that captures his legacy well, while elaborating on Malcolm’s connection to Africa:

Soon after, Malcolm was to take the first of two trips to Africa. These trips had an important impact on his ideas. He met with several important African heads of state — including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt — and was influenced by the ideas of “third worldism.” In general terms, this was the view that the world was dominated by two superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union — and that the developing countries of the world represented an independent alternative.

When Malcolm X returned to New York, he announced the formation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which brought together the different African heads of state. The OAAU was a black nationalist organization that sought to build community organizations, schools, black enterprises, and voter registration campaigns to ensure community control of black politicians.

After his visit to Africa, Malcolm began to argue that the black struggle in the United States was part of an international struggle, one that he connected to the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

He also began to argue in favor of socialism. Referring to the African states, he pointed out, “All of the countries that are emerging today from under the shackles of colonialism are turning towards socialism.”

He no longer defined the struggle for black liberation as a racial conflict. “We are living in an era of revolution, and the revolt of the American Negro is part of the rebellion against the oppression and colonialism which has characterized this era,” he said. “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as purely an American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiters.”

Malcolm no longer believed all whites were the enemy, but he maintained the need for separate all-black organization: “Whites can help us, but they can’t join us. There can be no black-white unity until there is first some black unity. There can be no workers solidarity until there is first some racial solidarity. We cannot think of uniting with others, until we have first united ourselves.”

Read more on “The Legacy of Malcolm X” by Ahmed Shawki here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Man, the Myth

February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Recently, Professor Lewis Gordon gave yet another illuminating speech, this time on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of the highlights below:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a good man – and yet he was arrested 20 times and was even at one point stabbed. When a good man gets punished by a system, it can only mean that the system’s laws are neither good nor just. Every unjust system must be taken on because as long as the humanity of people is not recognized by laws, then anything goes against those people. And that’s exactly what Dr. King did: through disobedience he raised the issue of unjust laws. This is what makes him a revolutionary, a warrior.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That is the true legacy of Dr. King. But what we are served today is the watered down version of Dr. King sitting back, being moralistic and placid, while heading a “non-violent” Civil Rights Movement. Yet the Civil Rights Movement was far from “non-violent” or “pacifist”. There was violence; only that this violence did not come from the agents of the Civil Rights Movement. All the Movement did was to bring the violence already existing in American society to the forefront. In so doing, the movement raised the uncomfortable truth about society: there is no violence if black people are being killed. There is violence only when white people get harmed.

The problem with how we remember Dr. King today is that we focus on him instead of the ideas he represents. In so doing, we transform him into a messianic figure. And the problem with messianic figures is that they create people who are politically lazy, people who are looking for someone to “save” them. In such figures we look for gods but always end up disappointed when we get politicians and human beings with flaws.

Yet, no single human being can fix our society for us: it is our collective responsibility to make our society and institutions better. By ourselves, we are vulnerable; but collectively we can achieve a lot. We must begin to set the foundation for our future through actions connected to those of everyone else across the globe. We also need courage because people can stop you from doing things if they make you afraid. And always remember that although the struggle isn’t over, the struggle we have fought was well worth fighting!

Incidentally, some of my favorite quotes by Dr. King:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Listen to the full speech by Prof. Gordon below.

Frantz Fanon at 90: His Relevance to the Pan-African Vision Today

January 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

On 8 January 2015, I attended a lecture to mark the 90th anniversary of the birth of pan-Africanist revolutionary and philosopher Frantz Fanon. The lecture titled: “Frantz Fanon at 90: His Relevance to the Pan-African Vision Today” was given by Professor Lewis Gordon, Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor at Rhodes University, South Africa, and Professor of Philosophy and African-American Studies, with affiliation in Judaic Studies, at the University of Connecticut, USA. Gordon is the author of many books, including the forthcoming title: What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. The lecture was hosted by the Pan-African Baraza & ThoughtWorks at PAWA 254, Nairobi.

Frantz Fanon - Revolutionary, Philosopher, Pan-Africanist

Frantz Fanon – Revolutionary, Philosopher, Pan-Africanist

While the entire lecture was illuminating, the following concepts in particular stood out for me.

At an early age, Fanon became aware that the world we live in is one of white supremacy; a world in which white people are the standard for what is defined as “human”. It was when he volunteered to fight for “human dignity” in the Second World War that Fanon learnt that his blackness made him a non-human. He watched as black soldiers were sent to war in the hulls of ships, while white soldiers sailed on deck; and black female soldiers (yes, black women also volunteered to fight in the war) were made to sleep in the cabins of white officers. And when the Allies won, black soldiers were shocked to be called “niggers” in the villages they liberated in Europe. At the end of the War, black soldiers from the Diaspora were sent back to their countries in cargo ships, just as their ancestors who had been taken from Africa as slaves.

Observing all this, Fanon realized that the war for “human dignity” was in fact the White Man’s war. “Human dignity” meant “white dignity”. In other words, to be white is to be human and everyone else who does not fit the description of “white” is in fact not human. Black people are “non-human”. And in a white dominated world, non-humans represent violence. To be black is to be violent. Black people are violent simply for appearing in a white dominated world. The very existence of black people in a white dominated world is violent. Even worse for black women, to be black and a woman is to be “inviolable”, in that black women are empty slates on which anyone may place their force. Anything can be done to a black woman without it being registered as unethical!

Professor Lewis Gordon (Photo: PAWA 254)

Professor Lewis Gordon (Photo: PAWA 254)

Because black people are violent simply for appearing in a white dominated world, they have two options: to either disappear themselves or fight back against white supremacist violence. However, the option to fight back is curtailed by pacifist notions of “non-violence”. Yet non-violence overlooks, ignores and negates the fact that the appearance of black people in a white dominated world is violent and is therefore already met with violence.

Pacifist proponents of the “non-violence” doctrine often cite the Civil Rights movement in America and the Anti-Apartheid struggle of South Africa as proof of the effectiveness of “non-violence”. Yet in both these struggles, there was violence – only that those being killed were black. What “non-violence” therefore actually means is that violence only begins when you start killing white people. In the context of non-violence the deaths of black people do not count.

Non-violence is therefore not an option for black people. It never has been. Every instance of slavery involved black people using violence in their fight for freedom. We must therefore reject the “Emancipation” narrative that seeks to deny our agency by painting the picture that it was the good whites who decided it was time to abolish slavery and grant us freedom. We must counter this false narrative which is aimed at cultivating the idea that the oppressed must always “wait” – that black people must “wait” for the good white father to come around and declare us worthy of the same rights and privileges enjoyed by white people – once he’s ready.

It is important to be vigilant in calling out such narratives that aim at negating black agency. It is in this same spirit that the influential French philosopher Michel Foucault must be called out for appropriating Fanon’s ideas and not referencing Fanon. This is ideas appropriation which leads to whites being associated with ideas and blacks with “experience”. Black people then become dependent on whites for thought and ideas in a form of knowledge colonization.

Fanon lived his life as a black revolutionary hero who would not bow down to white supremacy at any cost. He was willing to risk losing a publishing deal as he would not work with a white man who would patronize his intelligence. And when he did get published, Fanon revolutionized revolutionary writing by producing works with poetry, humor, grit and even cuss words.

Pan-Africanists gathered to learn about the importance of Fanon to our struggle today

Pan-Africanists gathered to learn about the importance of Fanon to our struggle today (Photo: PAWA 254)

Had Fanon been here today, he would tell his fellow Pan-Africanists that:

  • “African independence” is an illusion. We were never freed from colonialism or white domination. All the colonizers did was to replace themselves with an African elite that is grateful for the crumbs tossed by their masters in Europe. Our African leadership today in fact constitutes agents of white supremacy whose legitimacy derives from having an “enemy”. However, because challenging the real enemy (white supremacy) would lose them their positions and perks, African leaders provide us with alternative “enemies” as scapegoats to blame for their incompetent leadership via xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.
  • When you do nothing about violence in the name of “non violence”, you become an agent of violence and end up living in a state of perpetual infantilization. However, violence in and of itself is counterproductive. Along with violence, there must be a plan for what the future should look like. We must think differently and set new conditions for the future world we want to bring to birth.
  • Revolutionaries must understand that the communal struggle is bigger than the individual and accept that those who usher in freedom are rarely best suited to lead once freedom is attained. The true revolutionary is willing to fight for freedom even while knowing that they themselves may not taste the fruits thereof.
  • It’s perfectly fine and natural to get angry at injustice. Just as laughing means you get the joke, anger also means that you understand the pain behind the oppression. To add to this, convener Firoze Manji proposed that: “If you’re not angry, you haven’t been listening.”
  • Our task is never done. We are constantly struggling to make it better. Even when it’s ‘over’ – the struggle still continues!

Recommended reading by Prof. Gordon:

  1. Fanon’s resignation letter from a psychiatric facility in Algeria.
  2. Anténor Firmin – a Haitian anthropologist.
  3. What Are We Worth”, an essay by Anna Julia Cooper. Cooper was one of two female members of the Executive Committee of the First Pan-Africanists Conference held in London in 1900.

Incidentally, some of my favorite quotes by Fanon:

“The claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture. In the sphere of psycho-affective equilibrium it is responsible for an important change in the native. Perhaps we haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.”

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

“The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.”

“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe”

“Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”

“What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”

Update 14th January, 2015:

The video of the lecture is up! Watch it below.

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