“The Wretched of the Earth,” Frantz Fanon

1961. Trans. by Richard Philcox. I’ve modified his language somewhat for gender neutrality.

On Violence

The colonized subject is constantly on their guard. Confused by the myriad signs of the colonial world, they never know whether they are out of line. Confronted with a world configured by the colonizer, the colonized subject is always presumed guilty. The colonized does not accept their guilt, but rather considers it a kind of curse, a sword of Damocles. But deep down the colonized subject acknowledges no authority. They are dominated but not domesticated. They are made to feel inferior, but by no means convinced of their inferiority. They patiently wait for the colonist to let their guard down to then jump on them. The muscles of the colonized are always tensed. … The symbols of society such as the police force, bugle calls in the barracks, military parades, and the flag flying aloft, serve not only as inhibitors but also as stimulants. They do not signify: “Stay where you are,” but rather “Get ready to do the right thing.” And in fact if ever the colonized subject begins to doze off or forget, the colonist’s arrogance and preoccupation with testing the solidity of the colonial system will remind them on so many occasions that the great showdown cannot be postponed indefinitely. … It is a known fact that under certain emotional circumstances an obstacle actually escalates action.

Colonial War and Mental Disorders

We have no control over the fact that the psychiatric phenomena, the mental and behavioral disorders emerging from [the war of Algerian independence] have loomed so large among the perpetrators of “pacification” and the “pacified” population. The truth is that colonization, in its very essence, already appeared to be a great purveyor of psychiatric hospitals. Since 1954 we have drawn the attention of French and international psychiatrists in scientific works to the difficulty of “curing” a colonized subject correctly, in other words making them thoroughly fit into a social environment of the colonial type.

Because it is a systematized negation of the other, a frenzied determination to deny the other any attribute of humanity, colonialism forces the colonized to constantly ask the question: “Who am I in reality?”

The defensive positions born of this violent confrontation between the colonized and the colonial constitute a structure which then reveals the colonized personality. In order to understand this “sensibility” we need only to study and appreciate the scope and depth of the wounds inflicted on the colonized during a single day under a colonial regime. We must remember in any case that a colonized people is not just a dominated people. Under the German occupation, the French remained human beings. Under the French occupation, the Germans remained human beings. In Algeria there is not simply domination but the decision, literally, to occupy nothing else by a territory. The Algerians, the women dressed in haiks, the palm groves, and the camels form a landscape, the natural backdrop for the French presence.

A hostile, ungovernable, and fundamentally rebellious Nature is in fact synonymous in the colonies with the bush, the mosquitos, the natives, and disease. Colonization has succeeded once this untamed Nature has been brought under control. Cutting railroads through the bush, draining swamps, and ignoring the political and economic existence of the native population are in fact one and the same thing.

____________

Fighting for the freedom of one’s people is not the only necessity. As long as the fight goes on you must re-enlighten not only the people but also, and above all, yourself on the full measure of humanity. You must retrace the paths of history, the history of people damned by other people, and initiate, bring about, the encounter between your own people and others.

… The militant very often realizes that not only must they hunt down the enemy forces but also the core of despair crystallized in the body of the colonized. The period of oppression is harrowing, but the liberation struggle’s rehabilitation of humanity fosters a process of reintegration that is extremely productive and decisive. The victorious combat of a people is not just the crowning triumph of their rights. It procures them substance, coherence, and homogeneity. For colonialism has not simply depersonalized the colonized. The very structure of society has been depersonalized on a collective level. A colonized people is thus reduced to a collection of individuals who owe their very existence to the presence of the colonizer.

The combat waged by a people for their liberation leads them, depending on the circumstances, either to reject or to explode the so-called truths sown in their consciousness by the colonial regime, military occupation, and economic exploitation. And only the armed struggle can effectively exorcise those lies about humanity that subordinate and literally mutilate the more conscious-minded among us.

Conclusion

We must abandon our dreams and say farewell to our old beliefs and former friendships. Let us not lose time in useless laments or sickening mimicry. Let us leave this Europe which never stops talking of man yet massacres him at every one of its street corners, at every corner of the world.

For centuries Europe has brought the progress of other peoples to a halt and enslaved them for its own purposes and flory; for centuries it has stifled virtually the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called “spiritual adventure.” Look at it now teetering between atomic destruction and spiritual disintegration.

And yet nobody can deny its achievements at home have not been crowned with success.

Europe has taken over leadership of the world with fervor, cynicism, and violence. And look how the shadow of its monuments spreads and multiplies. Every movement Europe makes bursts the boundaries of space and thought. Europe has denied itself not only humility and modesty but also solicitude and tenderness.

Its only show of miserliness has been towards humanity; only towards humanity has it shown itself to be niggardly and murderously carnivorous.

… Two centuries ago, a former European colony took it into its head to catch up with Europe. It has been so successful that the United States of America has become a monster where the flaws, sickness, and inhumanity of Europe have reached frightening proportions.

… A permanent dialogue with itself, an increasingly obnoxious narcissism inevitably paved the way for a virtual delirium where intellectual thought turns into agony since the reality of humanity as a living, working, self-made being is replaced by words, an assemblage of words and the tensions generated by their meanings.

… All the elements for a solution to the major problems of humanity existed at one time or another in European thought. But the Europeans did not act on the mission that was designated them and which consisted of virulently pondering these elements, modifying their configuration, their being, of changing them and finally taking the problem of humanity to an infinitely higher plane.

… What matters now is not a question of profitability, not a question of increased productivity, not a question of production rates. No, it is not a question of back to nature. It is the very basic question of not dragging humanity in directions which mutilate us, of not imposing on our brains tempos that rapidly obliterate and unhinge them.

2 thoughts on ““The Wretched of the Earth,” Frantz Fanon

  1. i just wanted to say i’m so glad you’re still here and posting! i love your site and poems so so much, you poem about love and turning on the kitchen light in the middle of the night to find it there brings me to tears each time i read it. i hope you are doing well ❤

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