Frantz Fanon

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Consider the introduction to the book The Psychiatric Writings from Alienation and Freedom by Frantz Fanon. How did Fanon's Psychiatric Writings demonstrate the decolonial turn in psychology of which Maldonado-Torres writes?

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In "Frantz Fanon and the Decolonial Turn in Psychology: from modern/colonial methods to the decolonial attitude," Maldonado-Torres writes of the decolonial turn in psychology as "the questioning attitude of the psychologist who seeks to 'understand' rather than to punish." This aligns with the decoloniality that Maldonado-Torres, heavily influenced by Fanon, writes about in more general terms.

Maldonado-Torres, borrowing from Fanon, understands modern coloniality, beginning with the European conquest of the Americas, as having generated a new category of human based on racial categorization. The nonwhite person, as defined by Europeans, was a non-being. He was the damné, or "condemned." This being was stripped of power and subjected perpetually to the abandonment of ethics that formerly was only a characteristic of war: death, rape, and enslavement. Because he was stripped of all power, the damné could no longer give gifts, as he had nothing to give. Understanding, along with Levinas, that reciprocity, or the ability to give and receive gifts, is the essence of one's humanity, Maldonado-Torres sees the damné or colonial subject as stripped of their essential humanness.

This aligns with Fanon's theory of psychology as described in the introduction to The Psychiatric Writings from Alienation and Freedom. In this book, Fanon pushes back against the Freudian notion that a person's psychological problems are an individual issue. For native peoples, who live with the ongoing trauma of colonialism, seemingly individual psychiatric problems can only be understood through the broader lenses of history and sociology. As the introduction states, Fanon insisted on "the essential role of culture in the development of mental illness" and understood psychiatry as a "dialectic of psychiatry and sociology, of subjectivity and history.”

Fanon, like Maldonado-Torres, also rejected a racialized approach to psychiatry, common in the 1950s, that located Black "maladjustment" in the biological or neurological makeup of the "primitive." When white psychiatrists of that period write that Black people are innately more "impulsive" or "aggressive" than white people due to "primitivism," Fanon insists that these responses are a result not of innate biological difference but of the trauma of being colonized and having their history erased to be replaced by an idea of themselves as innately inferior.

Both Fanon and Maldonado-Torres want to decolonize psychology and psychiatry so as to make the practices in these fields less top-down and institutional. Both would like to involve the community in these practices and to make treatment less about objectifying or pathologizing those identified as needing help and about understanding them as fellow humans.

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