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A Discussion of Racism and Culture in Frantz Fanon's Perspective
Thinkers provide ideas regarding a particular topic that contributes to the general discussion. These ideas often become the basis for certain ideologies and perspectives while also expressing the opinions of the thinker. One particular topic, racism, has become a relevant subject of discussion since the colonial era and until today. This provoked various thinkers to explore the topic and author documents to discuss racism. Frantz Fanon was one of these thinkers and has written multiple pieces of literature on the topic. One of these is the collection “Toward the African Revolution”. Fanon included the short essay “Racism and Culture” in this piece, which explored and described his perception of the two topics. “Racism and Culture” expressed Fanon’s idea of the manifestation of racism in culture and the ideal conclusion of cultural integration.
Before discussing “Racism and Culture”, it is integral that individuals first understand Fanon’s background. This can help an individual understand partially some of his unconventional ideas and perceive the topic through his eyes. Frantz Fanon was a Black man from the island of Martinique, born in 1925. Despite being a member of an inferiorized race, Fanon became a respected individual with knowledge of psychology, philosophy, politics, and poetry (Drabinski, 2019). He wrote about racism and criticized the different forms of discrimination. He became an intellectual, continuously critically observing society.
Fanon’s most famous written works involved the titles “Black Skin, White Masks” and “The Wretched of the Earth”. These titles both talk about racism and express Fanon’s ideologies regarding discrimination. His other works include “A Dying Colonialism” and “Toward the African Revolution” which are collections of essays and other written pieces about racism. While working on these pieces of literature, Fanon observed the obvious cases of discrimination in society. He recognized the different forms of discrimination in the medical fields and other sectors, contributing to his perception of racism and culture.
Since Fanon lived during World War 2, he also witnessed the discrimination that the Black people and the Jews experienced under Nazi rule . This, along with other observations on colonizers, led Fanon to believe that violence is necessary for addressing racism and colonizers. Fanon believed that the inferiorized race can only become independent through violence against the colonizers (Novey, 2021). Fanon incorporates this concept in “Racism and Culture” when talking about colonizers and the persistence of racism.
Fanon’s Definition of Racism
In “Racism and Culture”, Fanon provided his definition of racism. Fanon (1964/1967) defined the topic as the most noticeable element of a cultural structure. Racism is only one of the many elements in a cultural structure and there are other topics that are relevant to the systemized hierarchization of culture. Since it is only a part of this structure, it is possible to have cultures with racism and ones without racism. However, cultures with racism tend to disrupt, destroy, and inferiorize other cultures. They perceive themselves as a superior culture and act to restrain other structures.
Additionally, Fanon (1964/1967) highlighted that racism is the belief that one culture is superior to another. It is one way for a particular group to enslave others, which requires inferiorization. Fanon stated that war, colonialism, and enslavement were only possible through the inferiorization of the native culture. For instance, colonials take away the land of natives and enslave them since they perceive themselves as a superior group. The colonials may inferiorize the natives as animals or lower classes of humans, leading to their discriminative behaviors.
Racism and Colonialism
Fanon perceived colonials and colonialism as the embodiment of racism. In “Racism and Culture”, Fanon (1964/1967) stated that every colonialist group is racist and that the colonial system leads to the mummification of the native culture. As mentioned earlier, colonials take away native territories and enslave the natives. These actions require the colonials to perceive the native as an inferior group. Put simply, if the natives were of equal status with the colonials, then it would be immoral for the latter to enslave the former. Inferiorization rationalizes the enslavement of the native population and takes away the guilt from the colonials.
Fanon (1964/1967) also highlighted that enslavement was a necessity in war. War requires one side to cause destruction and damage to the other. The damages do not only include physical damage to property but also the destruction of culture. Through this, the colonials were able to attack the natives’ ideologies, gaining a war advantage. However, Fanon (1964/1967) stated that the colonial system does not fully destroy the native culture but mummifies it–the native culture remains, but with restrictions. For instance, the enslaved Black people can still believe in their faith, however, they cannot freely practice it. The mummification allows the culture to survive as a dying concept, only relevant to its members.
The Effects of Industrialization on Racism
The advent of industrialization was a significant event in the history of racism. Fanon (1964/1967) stated that industrialization allowed individuals from the supposed superior race to experience discrimination. Industrialization led to capitalism which then divided society into capitalists and workers. The workers experienced unjust treatment from capitalists, revealing the invisible line that separates social classes. The working class witnessed discrimination of various kinds, such as prejudices in gender, disability, education, and religion.
Since the working class composed the majority of society, the approach to discrimination and racism changed. The majority experienced the life of the inferiorized and began to sympathize with them. They saw themselves as the Black people, a group that society has deemed inferior and thus irrelevant. Racist ideologies became inappropriate and the majority of the population began to dislike racists. Industrialization led to a revolution against racism, unifying individuals from different backgrounds.
“Racism and Culture” also included the experiences of the inferior race under the oppressor’s culture. Fanon (1964/1967) pointed out the inferiorized’s denial of inferiority and attempt to integrate into the oppressor’s culture. The inferiorized will not accept that they are inferior since they have their values and self-worth. They may then realize that the source of their supposed inferiority is their culture. To address this, they may try to imitate or identify as one of the superior races. They will condemn their native culture and accept the foreign culture of the oppressor.
However, accepting a foreign culture does not mean an end to being inferiorized. Industrialization, as mentioned earlier, revealed other forms of discrimination that the inferiorized will experience. Despite the revolution against racism, the inferiorized may still become a subject of racial profiling, on top of other forms of discrimination. Through this experience, they will realize that they cannot escape being the subject of racism. The inferiorized, despite their attempt to accept a new culture, begin to understand that they are inherently the subject of discrimination.
The Concept of Rediscovery
The inferiorized’s realization of being a constant subject of racism leads to rediscovery. Fanon (1964/1967) defined rediscovery as the process of rediscovering one’s native culture after attempting to accept a foreign culture. Rediscovery occurs when the inferiorized realized the mummification of their native culture. They may feel guilt for abandoning their culture which strengthens their rediscovery. The inferiorized will see their native culture in a new light that promotes aggressive actions against the oppressors. Rediscovery then becomes a process where the inferiorized realize the crimes against their culture and proceeds to fight back. They will put more importance on their culture, wearing it as a defense mechanism against racism. Additionally, the inferiorized may also utilize their learned knowledge from the foreign culture to help in promoting their native culture.
Despite “Racism and Culture” being a description of racism and the experience of the inferiorized, Fanon concluded the essay with an optimistic sentiment. Fanon (1964/1967) concluded that there is a possibility that different cultures can integrate and enrich each other. However, this possibility can only manifest through the disappearance of colonialism. Fanon argued that colonialism is the cause of racism, and only without it can different cultures accept each other. Today, this sentiment stands partially true as racism has become an ethical offense, and colonialism has disappeared in the majority of the world. While there are still racists present in society , they have become a minority. Cultural integration has become a reality as the world experiences globalization.
Fanon expressed his ideas on discrimination in “Racism and Culture” by discussing the relationship between racism and culture. He identified that racism is one of the elements of culture, that colonialism is a major cause of racism, and that the inferiorized will inevitably rediscover their culture, gaining a more profound understanding of their situation. Fanon also assumed that the disappearance of colonialism will end racism, leading to a universality among different cultures. “Racism and Culture” described Fanon’s dismay at colonialism and attempted to introduce a solution not just to end racism but to promote cultural integration.
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Drabinski, J. (2019). Frantz Fanon. Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/frantz-fanon/. Accessed July 5, 2022.
Fanon, F. (1964). Toward the African Revolution (H. Chevalier, Trans.). Grove Press. New York. Available at https://monoskop.org/images/0/05/Fanon_Frantz_Toward_the_African_Revolution_1967.pdf . Accessed July 5, 2022.
Novey, W. (2021). Revisiting Frantz Fanon: His Life and Legacy on Race, Colonization, and Psychiatry. Psychiatry Online. Available at https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp-rj.2021.160406. Accessed July 5, 2022.