From the November-December 2016 issue of News and Letters
Oakland, Calif.—Frantz Fanon’s humanism is coming alive in various discussions in new ways. Instead of focusing on violence, Faruq, a prisoner who participated in the successful hunger strikes against long-term solitary confinement in California, honed in on the role of compassion and empathy.
Faruq summarized Fanon’s idea in a recent letter to us: “Yes to life, yes to love, and what is most human: freedom…‘The ultimate search must be for the ideal where there is transformation of the subjective certainty of one’s own self-worth into an universally valid objective truth’ …the birth of a human world of reciprocal recognitions.”
We also recently attended a showing of a new movie Concerning Violence, followed by a discussion by Black movement activists. Concerning Violence presents scenes from African revolutions of the 1960s and 70s narrated with some of Fanon’s discussion of violence in his Wretched of the Earth. The movie addressed the necessity of spontaneous violence as the only way to confront the total violence of colonialism. It ends with Fanon’s conclusion: the call for the movement to leave Europe behind with its abstract humanism and bring forth a new Humanism.
Though the discussion didn’t include input from the audience, the panel, who declined to be recorded, gave a new take on Fanon’s humanism. For example, Malkia Cyril, from the Center for Media Justice, said that when Fanon says we have to use all means, that does not mean just violence. As an example, she pointed to the struggle against long-term solitary confinement, which effectively used non-violent hunger strikes.
Alicia Garza, of the Black Lives Matter coalition, said that Black Lives Matter is a project of re-humanization. Fanon talks about humanity as our real, raw reactions to oppression. It releases what we long for most. In our vision, what is deserving of dignity? People try to re-humanize themselves by exercising whatever power we have.
Garza posed questions: how do we not become what we oppose? What does freedom look like? Who are we if we lose compassion? She called the African independence movements of the 1960s and ’70s “revolutionary experiments.” Yet they all ended badly.
She asked: in the process of change how do we hold onto our humanism? What do we do to ensure that the world we build is full of humanity which previous generations were not able to get to? How do we make that historical leap? Garza’s question, how do we make sure that humanism and not some awful regime comes out at the other end, is crucial.
Fanon never made a fetish out of a particular tactic but was asking how to avoid the cowardice of the intellectual who falls into neocolonialism, creates a new single-party state and a new separation of “brains and muscle.” Fanon saw humanism as an original untidy idea, the idea of freedom, propounded as an absolute deep in the mass movement.
The ongoing reexamination of Fanon’s humanism, by various participants in the struggle for a new society, no doubt will continue. We’d like to hear more from you.