Frantz Fanon–Full Essay

Frantz Fanon

Grant Farred uses the introduction of What’s My Name to lay out his definition of what constitutes a vernacular intellectual, and it is no mistake that many of the idea’s he expounds upon—what a vernacular intellectual is and what the differences are between the types of intellectuals—fall in line with the writings of African revolutionary Frantz Fanon. Through his redefining of who an intellectual can be, Farred examines Italian communist Antonio Gramsci’s infamous study of the intellectual as a functioning component of society: “In The Prison Notebooks, Gramsci’s conception of the organic intellectual differs from that of the traditional intellectual in that they represent both distinct historical moments and modes of being a thinker” ( Farred, 4). In this interpretation, the traditional type of intellectual comes to represent the embodiment of the sort of thinker that Fanon was so critical of in Wretched of the Earth, namely the elitist members of society who were unable to relate to the plight of the common man but nonetheless tried to desperately represent them from a separate class. Instead, Fanon represented an amalgamation of these types of intellectuals, merging them in a way that allowed for his experiences to resonate across the globe and across time.

Using Farred’s notion of the vernacular intellectual, it becomes quite evident that Fanon falls into this category of intellectual development and influence. The role of the vernacular intellectual in society is in line with the belief of rebellion as a tool for the oppressed that Fanon expounds upon in his essays. The vernacular intellectual acts as a vessel for the voice of the marginalized subject to speak from his corner of society; if the systems of oppression reach a critical mass, then the vernacular can be effectively used to insight revolt: “When the subaltern subject is not allowed to speak in its own terms, its own discourse, its history, culture or traditions, when it is alienated from its vernacularity, it is eminently capable of transcribing suppression into a violence aimed at the destruction of its oppressors” (Farred, 19).

Fanon’s works were strongly influenced by the colonialist system that he was forced to live in. Born in the French colony of Martinique in 1925, Fanon was a subject of France in the broadest sense of the word, as he was held in an oppressive state of life along with all the other natives on the island. World War II served as a major catalyst for Fanon’s intellectual growth, as Martinique was used by French naval forces after France fell to the German invasion. Fanon fled Martinique and volunteered with the Free French Forces, where he was sent to North Africa and France to fight against the Nazis. It was in the service the Fanon continued to receive and recognize racial oppression on the part of the French, with his regiment ultimately being purged of non-whites during the later years of the war, notably after Fanon had been wounded defending the county that had worked so hard to oppressed him and his people. A brief stay in Martinique after the war was followed by attending school in France, where his focus on the effects of colonialism began to take shape. It was here that he wrote his first book Black Skin, White Masks, an examination of, “…the ontological existence of the Black man in a white-dominated world and covers the subject matter of the psychology of colonial rule, a topic notoriously neglected in college and university courses on colonialism” (Hansen, 29). In an interesting turn of events, Fanon wed a white Frenchwoman in 1952, a somewhat contentious issue for some of his modern-day supporters given his ardent stance against colonialism. However, this event brings up an interesting point in Fanon’s intellectual work, in that he stressed an end to colonialism through whatever means necessary, but did not necessarily advocate for a separation of the races: “Fanon was not a man to marry a woman because she was black or white. This is precisely the Manichaean world he denounced in the most strident terms. In Fanon’s view, color or nationality should be entirely extraneous to the choice of a marital partner. His commitment was neither to a black nor a white world. It was to a non-racial society” (Maldonado-Torres, 176).

Fanon officially became a psychiatrist in 1953 after his schooling in France and was offered the directorship of a hospital in Mozambique, but he instead chose to go to Algeria to pursue better psychiatric facilities. It is important to note that at this point, Fanon was more concerned with his career than with revolutionary motives. Fanon arrived in Algeria at a critical juncture, as the revolution was beginning to occur and the French and Algerians were beginning to butt heads. Fanon initially tried to remain out of direct involvement in the conflict, but this proved to be too difficult: “During the day he treated the French torturers and by night he treated the Algerian tortured. By 1956 this double life was becoming impossible. There was terror all around him; his nurses were beginning to disappear, and he began to feel that he was becoming less effective. In the circumstances he resigned” (Hansen, 32). This resignation proved to be a forced one, as Fanon was expelled from Algeria for striking with other doctors who were sympathetic to the plight of the Algerians.

His expulsion from Algeria proved to be the ultimate catalyst, as Fanon became a full-fledged revolutionary in neighboring Tunisia and offered to assume any role necessary in order to force the colonial forces out of Algeria. It was here that he published the majority of his most well-known essays and works regarding colonialism, using his knowledge of psychology as an effective means of backing up his ideals with the knowledge of how the system of colonialism worked to oppress its subjects through psychological means. Up until his death in 1961 from leukemia, Fanon was an ardent revolutionary and strong supporter of the fight against all colonialist powers.

It is interesting to note that for a while after his death, Fanon remained largely unknown across continental Africa: “Ironically, in Africa, where he spent a large portion of his adult life dedicating himself fanatically to the fight for African liberation, he is relatively unknown except in Algeria” (Hansen, 25). While his writings had a large influence on the revolutionary movement, as well as others across the globe, Fanon was not initially recognized for his work in revolutionary and anti-colonialist writing, perhaps a testament to the radical approach that his essay’s often advocated. And yet, the years since his death have granted more credence to Fanon’s ideologies, which has allowed for him to become an important figure in numerous revolutionary movements. The forward to Wretched of the Earth goes into great detail listing out the numerous revolutionary movements that utilized and studied Fanon’s works as a means of furthering their own goals. Today, Fanon has run the gamut from revolutionary thinker to studied intellectual, often placed on a pedestal that rivals that of other famous minority intellectuals of the past 100 years: “It could be said that Fanon’s street fighting days came to an end in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and that he now takes his place on bookshelves alongside CLR James, Sartre, Memmi, Marcuse, Guevera, and Angela Davis” (Bhabha, xxxi).

Fanon’s work The Wretched of the Earth epitomizes his philosophy in a way that encompasses his philosophical and intellectual spectrum. The core essay of this work is arguably “On Violence,” which stresses the necessity of the colonized rising up against the colonizer through whatever means necessary. Fanon argues that the colonizer’s grip over the country is rooted in a system of violence, necessitating that any efforts to ensure decolonization must enforce a code of violence if there is any hope for it to succeed: “This determination to have the last move up to the front, to have them clamber up the famous echelons of an organized society, can only succeed by resorting to every means, including, of course, violence” (3).

By assimilating into Algerian culture, Fanon literally situates himself with the plight of the colonized and becomes a member of the struggle for freedom. By willingly becoming a member of this class of oppressed peoples (albeit born into the same system in Martinique), Fanon becomes a representative, a leader, and a spokesman for the cause of freedom from colonialism: “The vernacular intellectual is distinguished from the Gramscian organic by a situatedness within the popular, frequently racialized experience of disempowered constituencies” (Farred, 12). This solidarity with the Algerian people, coupled with his willingness to become a vocal leader for the movement, solidifies Fanon’s place among the catalogue of vernacular intellectuals. Like CLR James (who was cited as one of the definitive examples by Farred of a vernacular intellectual), Fanon sends a strong message to colonialist powers to let the colonized go free: “James saw a new human being and a new society emerging from modernity; Fanon saw one in the midst of revolution. Their message to post-colonial leaders and intellectuals is clear: decentralize power, integrate the people to the process of political decision, open spaces where people can express themselves, hear them, talk to them, report their achievements, comment on their cultural expressions, and make clear where they stand so that they may decide accordingly” (Maldonado-Torres, 189). Fanon’s status as a vernacular intellectual not only allowed for him to influence revolutionaries around the world, but also granted him the capability to fundamentally alter perceptions of race relations.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. “Foreward: Framing Fanon” The Wretched of the Earth. By Frantz Fanon. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

Farred, Grant. What’s My Name: Black Vernacular Intellectuals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

Hansen, Emmanuel. “Frantz Fanon: Portrait of a Revolutionary Intellectual” Transition 46.1 (1974): 25-36.

Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. “Frantz Fanon and C.L.R. James on Intellectualism and Enlightened Rationality” Caribbean Studies 33.2 (2005): 149-194.

Salim Muwakkil–Full Essay

Salim Muwakkil

Award-winning journalist Salim Muwakkil is one of the most recognized contemporary African-American writers, representing his intellectual abilities in a way that places him within the confines of Farred’s definition of the vernacular intellectual. Over the course of his life, Mr. Muwakkil has transitioned his views in a way that lends credence to the label of vernacularity, one that has enabled him to both represent and critique the African-American experience from within and outside racial constructs. His experiences—from his military service, to his time in the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam—have helped shape his modern worldview in a way which allows for him to serve as an effective critic and chronologist of minority issues within the United States.

Born  Alonzo Canady Jr. in 1947, Mr. Muwakkil was the oldest of four children. Upon his high school graduation, Mr. Muwakkil volunteered for the Air Force, where he served five years as an administration specialist. “I got radicalized while in the service, during the 60’s,” Mr. Muwakkil said in an interview for Studs Terkel’s ambitious book Race. “It was in the Vietnam era. I had been in Germany, but during my four months in Thailand, I found out that what we were doing wasn’t kosher. . . I didn’t see any action there, but when I got back to the States, I was shot. It was at a Georgia motel, near the Robbins Air Base. This was in ’68. I was speaking a kind of racial jargon. The clerk said I threatened him, so he shot me in the abdomen with a .38. I was hospitalized for quite a while. He was exonerated” (Terkel, 166). This experience was one of the turning points in Mr. Muwakkil’s life, as he joined the Black Panther Party soon after leaving the hospital. But something was missing from what Mr. Muwakkil wanted from the Black Panther Party, an intangible quality that propelled its members to reach for a higher sense of purpose. It was at this time that Mr. Muwakkil became a member of the Nation of Islam; while it seemed to him to represent “something sinister, alien,” it provided a stable and uplifting quality for its members: “They possessed the qualities that the Panthers didn’t. They were serious, changing their life-styles, their behavior patterns. We had been socialized in this culture to be self-destructive. I saw the Nation of Islam as counteracting this impulse” (Terkel, 166).

While pursuing his B.A. in political science at Rutgers University following his return from service, Mr. Muwakkil began working for the Newark Bureau of the Associated Press, the first black journalist in the history of the bureau. At this time a fledgling member of the Nation of Islam, he began to do side-work with Muhammad Speaks, the weekly newspaper of the NOI: “Notwithstanding several pages dutifully exalting Muhammad as God’s messenger, whose presence unlocked the key to black liberation and eternal salvation, Muhammad Speaks provided coverage of local and national civil rights struggles, black militancy and corresponding white resistance, and African and Third World liberation movements, explaining how all these elements figured into the international politics of the Cold War era” (Joseph, 25).

After his graduation, Mr. Muwakkil began to work for Muhammad Speaks full-time, moving his family to Chicago where he first served as the copy editor and then soon the managing editor of the newspaper. In 1975 he officially changed his name, dropping  Alonzo Canady Jr., and becoming formally known as Salim Muwakkil: “One of the reasons I changed my name is because, while in the service, I was stationed not far from Macon. My maternal family was there, so I made quite a few visits. They told me lots of stories. One was about an ancestor called Guinea Sultan. He came as a slave and was part of my family’s history. It was the only connection I could find between myself and my land of origin. So I feel a soft spot at least for Islam” (Terkel, 170).

The tumultuous years following the assassination of Malcolm X by members of the Nation of Islam, as well as the death of its leader Elijah Muhammad, disillusioned Mr. Muwakkil from the organization. While still close with Louis Farrakhan, who at the time was involved in a bitter power struggle with Elijah’s son Wallace to assume control of the NOI, Mr. Muwakkil grew tired of the infighting and soon cut his ties with the organization: “As a reporter in Newark during the early 1970’s, I covered some of the ritualistic murders still reverberating from Malcolm’s 1965 assassination. My reflections on the ease with which disciples can commit even the most heinous acts, as long as it’s in the name of their particular deity, began reviving my skepticism of temporal figures seeking religious devotion. That, coupled with my realization of the similarities between the NOI’s devotional “fatherland” nationalism and the mystical nationalism of Nazi ideology, helped speed my exit from the nation and its various offshoots” (Alexander, 209).

The post-NOI years saw Mr. Muwakkil further pursuing his commitment to journalistic writing. Still keeping his Nation of Islam name, Mr. Muwakkil first worked as a writer and editor for the U.S. Department of Housing and Development in Chicago, doing some freelance writing on the side. Articles with his byline appeared in newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago. This passion for investigative journalism propelled Mr. Muwakkil to once again become a full-time public writer, taking up the post of Senior Editor with In These Times in 1984 and serving in that position ever since. He also serves as the host of “The Salim Muwakkil” show on WVON, Chicago’s historic black radio station and a means of furthering the conversation about modern racial issues in America.

It is no surprise that Mr. Muwakkil found his way to In These Times—a progressive publication that uses cultural critiques and political investigations as core elements of its focus—as the focus on maintaining an understanding of race in America drives Mr. Muwakkil’s journalism. His experiences have given him the credibility to cover issues that are intangibly related to his life, and Mr. Muwakkil frequently focuses on issues in his hometown of Chicago as a way of exploring a microcosm of race relations in the country. He recently began a series of in-depth articles for In These Times that focus on “The Other Chicago,” allowing him to bring to light the experiences of the black community that are often left unexplored or misunderstood by mainstream society. By bringing the issues of the black Chicago community to light, Mr. Muwakkil is using his national prominence and experiences to make society see what it could not see, understand what it could not understand, and explore the culturally unexplored: “Out of sight of mainstream media, divergent class interests have largely prevented any unified political attempt to wrest power from the city’s entrenched ethnic freedoms. Though tensions exist in black neighborhoods, the contrast between the poor West Side and the better-off South Side have become a crude geographical surrogate for black Chicago’s stark class divisions” (Muwakkil, “Black Chicago Divided”).

On other issues, Mr. Muwakkil has often used his position to bring the focus back to race when mainstream society blindly surges forward without any consideration. The election of President Barack Obama was a historic time for African-Americans, but Mr. Muwakkil was one of the  critics who cautioned against the urge to label America a “post-racial” society and one that loses touch with understanding issues of race: “…[critics, including Salim Muwakkil in his article “The Squandering of Obama”] drew attention to the ways that Obama’s victory adds momentum to the rightward slide into racial silence, shrinking public space for race talk, cauterizing the racial present from the past, eviscerating old agendas and solidarities, and fanning an uncritical exuberance that sedates social action towards antiracist accountability” (Mukherjee, 221).

Mr. Muwakkil is able to represent the idealized version of a vernacular intellectual because of his aptitude  for never fully accepting one perspective as doctrine, instead using them to formulate his own outlook, his own personal intellectual doctrine. From the Black Panther Party to the Nation of Islam to his respected journalistic career, Mr. Muwakkil has shown a propensity for embracing the vernacular: “Vernacularity represents the moment of a significant, palimpsestic transformation. Vernacularity signals the discursive turning away from the accepted, dominant intellectual modality and vocabulary and the adoption of a new positioning and idiomatic language” (Farred, 11). His experiences enabled him to serve as an effective critic of racial issues, allowing him to rise up in national prominence and become one of the leading contemporary voices on minority relations. This ability to rise up from the masses and achieve national recognition in a way that lends credence to his intellectual insight falls well in line with Farred’s definition of vernacular intellectualism: “Vernacular intellectuals are, as the process of bringing them to public prominence demonstrates, a complex representation of the voices from below or the margins speaking at once to, within, and against the hegemonic order” (Farred, 10).

Works Cited

Alexander, Amy., ed. The Farrakhan Factor. New York: Grove Press, 1998.

Farred, Grant. What’s My Name: Black Vernacular Intellectuals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Joseph, Peniel E. Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in    America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006.

Mukherjee, Roopali.”Racial Politics (in the United States)” Social Text 27.3 (2009): 219-222.

Muwakkil, Salim. “The Squandering of Obama.” In These Times 26 July 2007.  http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3268/the_squandering_of_obama/

Muwakkil, Salim. “Black Chicago Divided” In These Times  20 July 2011. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/11604/black_chicago_divided/

Terkel, Studs. Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession. New York: The New York Press, 1992.

Frantz Fanon–The Black Vernacular Intellectual

“Violence is man re-creating himself. ”
― Frantz Fanon

By assimilating into Algerian culture, Fanon literally situates himself with the plight of the colonized and becomes a member of the struggle for freedom. By willingly becoming a member of this class of oppressed peoples (albeit born into the same system in Martinique), Fanon becomes a representative, a leader, and a spokesman for the cause of freedom from colonialism: “The vernacular intellectual is distinguished from the Gramscian organic by a situatedness within the popular, frequently racialized experience of disempowered constituencies” (Farred, 12). This solidarity with the Algerian people, coupled with his willingness to become a vocal leader for the movement, solidifies Fanon’s place among the catalogue of vernacular intellectuals. Like CLR James (who was cited as one of the definitive examples by Farred of a vernacular intellectual), Fanon sends a strong message to colonialist powers to let the colonized go free: “James saw a new human being and a new society emerging from modernity; Fanon saw one in the midst of revolution. Their message to post-colonial leaders and intellectuals is clear: decentralize power, integrate the people to the process of political decision, open spaces where people can express themselves, hear them, talk to them, report their achievements, comment on their cultural expressions, and make clear where they stand so that they may decide accordingly” (Maldonado-Torres, 189). Fanon’s status as a vernacular intellectual not only allowed for him to influence revolutionaries around the world, but also granted him the capability to fundamentally alter perceptions of race relations.

Farred, Grant. What’s My Name: Black Vernacular Intellectuals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. “Frantz Fanon and C.L.R. James on Intellectualism and Enlightened Rationality” Caribbean Studies 33.2 (2005): 149-194.

Black Skin, White Masks

“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.”
―  Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks