Africa: Know Your Author – Frantz Fanon

This profile of Frantz Fanon just appeared in All Africa.

Please note below . . . as Peter Jordens indicates in his comment, All AFrica got this bio from The Herald (Zimbabwe),, which in turn got it from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Such are the perils of internet cutting and pasting without attribution.

Frantz Fanon was born in the French colony of Martinique on July 20, 1925. His family occupied a social position in Martinican society that could reasonably qualify them as part of the black bourgeoisie. Frantz’s father, Casimir Fanon, was a customs inspector and his mother, Eléanore Médélice, owned a hardware store in downtown Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique.

Members of this social stratum tended to strive for assimilation and identification, with white French culture. Fanon was raised in this environment, learning France’s history as his own, until his high school years when he first encountered the philosophy of negritude, taught to him by Aimé Césaire, Martinique’s other renowned critic of European colonisation.

Politicised and torn between the assimilationism of Martinique’s middle class and the preoccupation with racial identity that negritude promotes, Fanon left the colony in 1943, at the age of 18, to fight with the Free French forces in the waning days of World War II.

After the war, he stayed in France to study psychiatry and medicine at university in Lyons. Here, he encountered bafflingly simplistic anti-black racism -so different from the complex, class-permeated distinctions of shades of lightness and darkness one finds in the Caribbean – which would so enraged him that he was inspired to write “An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks,” the piece of writing that would eventually become Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Black Skin, White Masks) in 1952.

It was here too that he began to explore the Marxist and existentialist ideas that would inform the radical departure from the assimilation-negritude dichotomy that Peau Noire’s anti-racist humanism inaugurates.

Although he briefly returned to the Caribbean after he finished his studies, he no longer felt at home there and in 1953, after a stint in Paris, he accepted a position as chef de service (chief of staff) for the psychiatric ward of the Blida-Joinville hospital in Algeria.

The following year marked the eruption of the Algerian war of independence against France, an uprising directed by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) and brutally repressed by French armed forces.

Working in a French hospital, Fanon was increasingly responsible for treating both the psychological distress of the soldiers and officers of the French army who carried out torture in order to suppress anti-colonial resistance and the trauma suffered by the Algerian torture victims.

Already alienated by the homogenising effects of French imperialism, by 1956 Fanon realised he could not continue to aid French efforts to put down a decolonisation movement that commanded his political loyalties, and he resigned his position at the hospital.

Once he was no longer officially working for the French government in Algeria, Fanon was free to devote himself to the cause of Algerian independence. During this period, he was based primarily in Tunisia where he trained nurses for the FLN, edited its newspaper el Moujahid, and contributed articles about the movement to sympathetic publications, including Presence Africaine and Jean-Paul Sartre’s journal Les Temps Modernes.

Some of Fanon’s writings from this period were published posthumously in 1964 as Pour la Révolution Africaine (Toward the African Revolution).

In 1959 Fanon published a series of essays, L’An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne, (The Year of the Algerian Revolution) which detail how the oppressed natives of Algeria organised themselves into a revolutionary fighting force.

That same year, he took up a diplomatic post in the provisional Algerian government, ambassador to Ghana and used the influence of this position to help open up supply routes for the Algerian army. It was in Ghana that Fanon was diagnosed with the leukaemia that would be his cause of death.

Despite his rapidly failing health, Fanon spent 10 months of his last year of life writing the book for which he would be most remembered, Les Damnés de la Terre (The Wretched of the Earth), an indictment of the violence and savagery of colonialism which he ends with a passionate call for a new history of humanity to be initiated by a decolonised Third World.

In October 1961, Fanon was brought to the United States by a CIA agent so that he could receive treatment at a National Institutes of Health facility in Bethesda, Maryland.

He died two months later, on December 6, 1961, reportedly still preoccupied with the cause of liberty and justice for the peoples of the Third World.

At the request of the FLN, his body was returned to Tunisia, where it was subsequently transported across the border and buried in the soil of the Algerian nation for which he fought so single-mindedly during the last five years of his life.

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