Frantz Fanon

“…colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence” 

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 23

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  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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, Emmanuel. “Frantz Fanon: Portrait of a Revolutionary Intellectual” Transition 46.1 (1974): p. 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.

“Black Chicago Divided”

“Black Chicago Divided”

First in 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”

Salim Muwakkil, “Black Chicago Divided”

Salim Muwakkil–The Black Vernacular Intellectual

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).

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

Salim Muwakkil

“I got radicalized while in the service, during the 60’s. 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.”

Salim Muwakkil

  • 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.
  • After being shot following his return from military service, Mr. Muwakkil became involved with the Black Panther Party, but soon left to join the Nation of Islam.

“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, Studs. Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession, p. 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 Nation of Islam.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, Studs. Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession, p. 170

  • Left the Nation of Islam in the late 1970’s following the fallout from Malcolm X’s assassination and the infighting between Louis Farrakhan and Wallace Muhammad over who would take over following Elijah Muhammad’s death.

“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, Amy., ed. The Farrakhan Factor, p. 209

  • Mr. Muwakkil 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.

Black Vernacular Intellectuals–An Introduction

“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”  Grant Farred. What’s My Name: Black Vernacular Intellectuals, p. 10

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 fall in line with the works of African-American Journalist Salim Muwakkil and revolutionary Franz 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). This breaks the types of intellectuals into three separate categories:

  • Traditional
  • Organic
  • Vernacular

I will attempt to examine the life and works of both Salim Muwakkil and Franz Fanon in a way which demonstrates their just classification as vernacular intellectuals. While both men represented something more akin to organic intellectualism in their lives, they either picked up the mantle of vernacularity later in their lives or were posthumously thrust into the category through popular culture.