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Black History Month: Frantz Omar Fanon

Black History Month: Celebrating figures in conflict and security
Shreya Rajesh Babu

Second year International Relations student

20 October 2022

In celebration of Black History Month, Shreya Rajesh Babu, second year International Relations student, explores the pioneering work of Frantz Omar Fanon and his contributions to international relations and security studies.

Frantz Omar Fanon, a political philosopher and psychiatrist, is a pioneer of decolonial literature and theory, yet is often overlooked within the field of security studies and International Relations.

Born in the French overseas territory of Martinique in the Caribbeans, he was heavily influenced by the ‘Negritude’ movement. A movement led by black writers who joined together through the French language to assert their cultural identity. This moulded the way he viewed social institutions around him and solidified his connection with his African ancestry. Additionally, his racialised experience in the Free French Forces during World War Two and his transfer to Algiers where he led the psychiatric unit in a hospital, exposed him to systemic racism in the military and medical field. This ultimately influenced him to join the Non-Liberation Front in Algeria, becoming a prominent figure within the movement.

He published his first major book ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ in 1952, which initially received limited attention by French academics. The book gives an in-depth psychoanalysis of the colonisers and the colonised, deconstructing the ideological and psychological basis and tools used to justify oppression. Through his book, he intended to provide a framework to reverse the alienation of colonised populations.

During his time in Algeria following the book’s publication, he continued to use literature as a tool for revolution by becoming the editor of El Moudjahid, a newspaper that initially aided the liberation movement. Towards the end of his life, he published ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ in 1961. A book that underpins the postcolonial understanding of power inequalities in the international system.

Although his concepts and theories still hold relevance, Fanon’s significance is often muted in international relations. Yet, his attempt to systematically break down the psychological and social dimensions of colonialism and imperialism has helped develop critical international relations and security studies.

Fanon’s contributions to international relations and security studies extended beyond his theoretical contributions through his political action in the process of decolonisation in Africa. In addition to his commitment to the French resistance in Algeria, he had also taken part in the All-African Peoples Conference following Ghanaian independence, calling for the independence of all African colonies and eventually became the Algerian ambassador to Ghana.

The continued growth of critical international relations and security studies is not only increasing the relevance of his work posthumously but also bringing recognition to the work of other Black academics within the field of post-colonial theory.

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