Proud to be African: Reading Frantz Fanon and Walter Rodney

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SLAVERY and colonialism remain as one of the worst crimes against humanity. European nations aggressively came to Africa pursuing a ruthless greed for power and economic gains.
The ripple effects of these tragic events continue to be felt today in the way we think as Africans.
We were subjected to slavery, religious conversion to Christianity, our land was stolen and many were murdered as they tried to resist.
According to a 2007 book written by V. Raschke and B.Cheema titled Colonisation, the New World Order, there was a homogenous view of Africa within Europe.
Africa was ‘The Dark Continent’.
This negative perception served to justify colonial and imperialist domination of the continent.
The people within the continent were seen as people who “thrive in backward traditions and practices, superstitions, as well as weird and outdated and repugnant rites.”
In How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney shed light into the horrific injustices done to Africans.
He wrote on the way rich natural resources were exploited and transported back to Europe.
Many roads and railways were built to link mines and agricultural fields to the harbours.
At the same time, internal African trade was not allowed and this led to poor integration of local African domestic economies.
Africans were therefore robbed of land ownership as Europeans took over fertile land.
Quoting Walter Rodeny, Raschke and Cheema wrote: “With Africans left to roam unfertile land, the circumstances they encountered forced some of their livestock to die and many people to suffer from malnutrition, people suffered from kwashiorkor, scurvy, beriberi, rickets etc.
“This greatly affected the accumulation of human capital in Africa.” Rodney used the example of Portuguese-colonised countries to show how the Portuguese ruthlessly subjected Africans to slavery in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola.
But, some historians like Peter Bauer have argued that the blame on Europe for Africa’s underdevelopment is nothing, but a form of guilt placed on Europeans to provide assistance to Africa through aid.
Bauer says European nations brought positive results in development to Africa and that colonisation “promoted the integration of the colonies into the world economic system, channelled foreign capital and fostered a modernisation process.”
Such theories deliberately forget the impact of colonisation today on Africa’s economies.
While the impact of colonisation is felt in the way European greed subjected Africans to slavery in their countries, not many books have been written about the impact of colonisation and racism on the mind of the Africans.
To fully understand how Africans were psychologically damaged and made to feel inferior, we turn to Franz Fanon’s famous book, Black Skin White Masks.
In the introduction to the book, Fanon said he wrote it because he felt inferior to Europeans and he wanted to understand how this had come about.
Black Skin White Masks takes a deep intellectual psychological analysis of racism.
Who was Franz Fanon?
Fanon was born in 1925 in the French colony of Martinique in the Caribbean.
In 1943, he left Martinique to volunteer in the Free French army in the Second World War .
After the war, he stayed in France to study medicine and psychiatry on scholarship.
During that time, Frantz Fanon wrote two significant books to help the black person understand the effect of colonialism and racism on the mind.
His first influential book, Black Skin, White Masks was published in 1952 and The Wretched of the Earth in 1961.
His works are very relevant to our experience of colonialism today.
Black Skin White Masks is a powerful critique of the experiences of colonialism on the black person.
The racism Fanon suffered influenced him to write Black Skin White Masks.
The book presents Fanon’s personal experience as a black man living in a society dominated by whitemen.
As a Martiniquan, Fanon was a French citizen and at first, he did not see himself as black man, but as a Frenchman.
Fanon said he used to identify himself as a French man before he realised the existence of racism.
He felt that all men, black and white were equal, but Fanon’s life experiences in France made him realise that he was a black Martiniquan and a second class citizen in France.
Then he felt alienated and this affected his health psychologically.
He argued that ‘cure’ of the inferiority disease or feeling can only be had if one analyses racism as a symptom. Fanon also argues that ‘only a psychoanalytic interpretation’ can help people understand the significance of the symptoms or racism.
This realisation that they regarded him as inferior and that he felt inferior because of that treatment came as a shock to Fanon.
He said that he felt a sense of ‘nausea and shame’.
In Black Skin White Masks, Fanon writes:
“I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects, slave-ships, but I did not want this revision, this thematisation.
“All I wanted was to be a man among other men.
“I wanted to come lithe and young into a world that was ours and to help build it together.”
He also realised that being black meant his blackness was associated with sin and he felt inferior. Because as a black person he wanted to identify with white people, it was like wearing a white mask in an attempt to escape the association of blackness with everything bad.
While in Ghana as Ambassador to the Algerian government, Fanon developed leukemia. Instead of taking rest, Fanon wrote The Wretched of the Earth, in just 10 months.
Fanon died at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where he had sought treatment for his cancer, on December 6 1961.
Fanon’s body was returned to Algeria and buried with honours by the Algerian National Army of Liberation.
Fanon’s books are of particular importance to Africans in the fight against racism. Although all his books were written in French, they were later translated into English, giving us access to an understanding of the psychological impact of racism on the African mind. Both Fanon’s Black Skin and White Masks and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa remain among some of the most significant books ever written to help Africans understand the history of racism.
The work in these books continues to present a challenge for us to mentally liberate ourselves from all forms of psychological and mental domination.

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