Frantz Fanon | Decolonization Theory

Frantz Fanon | Decolonization Theory

Decolonization Theory of Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon was one of the most remarkable thinkers supporting the decolonizing struggles after World War II. His brief life was devoted to the independence struggle of the Algerian people against France. He made passionate analyses of the human impulse towards freedom in the colonial context.

Frantz Fanon was born in on July 25, in 1925. His father was a customs inspector and his mother owned a hardware store. Blacks of France tried to assimilate and identify with the white culture in France. Fanon was also raised in the same kind of environment. While studying the French history, he came across the philosophy of Negritude. He joined the Free French forces at the age of 18 during the last phase of the Second World War. After the war, he studied psychiatry and medicine at the University of Lyons. Here he encountered racism and anti-black stance.

In 1959, the Algerian war of independence against France started which was brutally repressed by the French armed forces. As he was working with a French hospital, he could see the trauma experienced by the Algerian torture victims. In 1956 he resigned from the Hospital realizing that he could not aid French efforts to repress the decolonization movement. After resigning from his job, Fanon devoted himself to the cause of Algerian independence.

During this period, he contributed to Sartre’s journal Les Temps Modernes. In 1959, he published a series of essays The Year of the Algerian Revolution, in which he gave details of how the oppressed natives of Algeria organized themselves against the French oppression. The same year, he took up a diplomatic post in Ghana where he was diagnosed with leukemia. Despite his failing health, Fanon spent ten months of the last year of his life writing the book for which he became quite famous. The book Les Damnes de la Terre is a powerful indictment of the violence and savagery of colonialism. He ended the book with a passionate call for a new history of humanity to be initiated by a deconlonized third world. In October 1961. Fanon was brought to the USA by CIA agent to get treatment at a National Institute of Health where he died after two months.

Fanon’s major works are :

  1. Black Skin, White Masks
  2. Year of the Algerian Revolution

(Later published as ‘Sociology of Revolution)

  1. The Wretched of the Earth.
  2. Concerning Violence.
  3. Studies in a Dying Colonialism.
  4. La Damnes de la Terre.


Fanon’s contribution to phenomenology is a critical race discourse which analyses the pre-conscious forces shaping the self that organizes around race. The central metaphor of the book is that black people, must wear white masks in order to get by in a white world. It is an argument that stresses the fact that African Americans develop double consciousness living in the white world.

Fanon dissected all major works the racist and colonizing project of white European culture. He discussed the psychological dimensions of ‘negrification’ of human beings and possible resistance to it. Negrification promotes negative attitude towards other blacks and Africa. According to Fanon, one of the most pervasive agents of phenomenological conditioning is language. He analyzes language as that which carries and reveals racism in culture, for example, the symbolism of whiteness and blackness in the French language. (In English also, the same type of symbolism exists). One cannot learn and speak any language without subconsciously accepting the cultural meanings embedded in certain notions. In French or English, whiteness is associated with purity and goodness, blackness with malevolence and evil. Fanon describes a decision made by the revolutionary forces in Algeria who boycotted the French language and used the language of the common people.

Another major theory of Fanon is decolonization theory. The political dimensions of negrefication call for decolonization. He discusses how blacks and women were dehumanized. He says that every human being has equal right for human dignity and freedom. In his book A Dying Colonialism Fanon gives the firsthand account of how the Algerian people mobilized themselves into revolutionary forces against the French colonial government. In his book Les Damnes de la Terre carries abstract analysis of colonialism and revolution. It is described as a handbook for black revolution. Fanon thinks that violence must play an important role in decolonization struggle. The book speaks the language of philosophy and deploys Marxist and Hegelian arguments. It is Fanon, conversing with, advising his fellow Third World revolutionaries.

In his book, Concerning Violence, he says that violence is a fundamental element of colonization to visit upon the colonized as the part of colonization project. He consistently takes existentialist stand that one must make a choice through one’s actions. He says that decolonization can happen only when the people accept subjecthood and refuse to occupy the position of violence-absorbing passive victim.

The first significant influence on Fanon was the philosophy of negritude introduced by Aime’ Ce’saire’. He was also influenced by Hegel, Marx and Husserl. From them, he developed the view that dialectic could be the process through which the othered/ alienated self can respond to racist trauma, in a healthy manner. He also found Sartre’s existentialism a helpful resource for theorizing the process of self construction. Sartre’s emphasis that each of us chooses to become the persons we are had a great impact on Fanon’s ideology.

Fanon influenced the thinkers of the Third World and African countries. Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak were influenced by Fanon’s post-colonial reconstruction. Fanon influenced Brazilian theorist of critical pedagogy Paulo Freire. Kenyan author and decolonization activist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o also drew on ideas from Fanon. Ngugi’s last book in English Decolonizing the Mind was his official renunciation of the colonizer’s language in favour of the native tongue. In the USA, feminist thinker bell hooks noted the absence of attention to gender in Fanon’s work. Lewis R. Gordon, the existentialist phenomenologist articulated new humanism inspired by Fanon.

Leave a Comment