Frantz Omar Fanon (fah-nohn), who became a cultural and ideological symbol of the cause of Third World revolutionism in the 1960’s, was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique. A speaker of French since childhood, he was educated first in Martinique and then in France. His early exposure to latent racial discrimination would provide Fanon with many of the bases for his writings on the psychology of racism, particularly Black Skin, White Masks. This experience took on a different but equally significant dimension during World War II, when he served in the French army.
After the war Fanon pursued advanced studies of medicine and psychiatry at the University of Lyon. This period of study not only provided him with a professional degree but also enabled him to apply theories of psychiatry to some of his personal experiences as a nonwhite Frenchman. The literary product of these applications, Black Skin, White Masks, was published the year before Fanon was assigned to his first (and only) professional post, as head of the psychiatric division of the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria. A year after he went to Algeria, the Algerian insurrection against French rule began. This event politicized the young psychiatrist to such a degree that he joined the Algerian liberation movement, first surreptitiously (in 1954), then openly (in 1956). The effect of this political decision on his orientation as a writer was almost immediate.
Although Fanon’s first book, Black Skin, White Masks, was clearly anticolonialist in content, its message concerning racism was not yet revolutionary. Referring to the experience of his own partially Europeanized West Indian people, he insisted that they had undergone what another black writer, Aimé Césaire, had called chosification, or “turning men into things.” One way colonialism achieved this end had been to plant, and then constantly to reinforce, a feeling of inferiority in the mind of the colonized. Fanon used the work of French anthropologist O. Mannoni, who had studied black society on the island colony of Madagascar (later to become the Malagasy Republic) as an example of subtle ways in which such...
(The entire section is 898 words.)