Frantz the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King

Frantz Fanon grew up in a wealthy family in the Martinique, Martinique is a rugged Caribbean island that’s part of the Lesser Antilles. An overseas region of France. He went to school in France and became a psychiatrist. After volunteering for the free French army during the Second World War, he then spent several years in Algeria just before and during the revolution. Because of his life and education, Fanon had a unique perspective to criticize and analyze colonialism and decolonization. He is especially interested in the experience of Black people from French-colonized islands in the Caribbean, like himself, who have come to live in France themselves. He explores how these people are encouraged by a racist society to want to become white, but then experience serious psychological problems because they aren’t able to do so.

He speculated that because colonies were created and maintained in violence, that a colony could only decolonize through violence. Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks is a stirring glimpse into the mindset of a black man living in a white man’s world. He combines philosophy, autobiography, case study and psychoanalytic theory to describe and analyze the experience of Black men and women in white-controlled societies.  In the book Fanon starts off his argument with explaining and describing how colonialism and decolonization are violent activities. He saw violence as the best means to throw off the false consciousness of colonialism and envisioned a brotherhood or comradeship of free and equal people. “It is Fanon’s similarity with Martin Luther King, Jr. that is most interesting. In the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King makes many of the same arguments as Fanon, but proposes a better solution revolving around justice.” Fanon’s obsession with violence it at the core of his argument, however non-violent direct action, according to King, would be a better way to achieve freedom and equality because ultimately unjust action does not bring about justice. 

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Fanon approaches the subject of racism from a psychoanalytic viewpoint rather than from a sociological stance. To Fanon, racism is a psychological disease which has infected all men and all societies. He argues that the black man is constantly trying, but never fully succeeding, to be white and to assimilate into the white man’s world. Fanon was a psychiatrist so, naturally, he analyzed the problem of racism as such. Based on today’s racism, many would try to classify racism as a sociological problem. Fanon, however, looked at racism as a psychological obstacle in the path of humankind’s realization of its true potential. “When there are no more slaves, there are no masters.” While he does acknowledge the existence of a socioeconomic divide that coincides with racism, he does not believe that poverty and social inferiority are the worst consequences of racism. He believed that the psychological damage is the worst problem resulting from racism. Unlike the blatant discrimination, violence and hatred associated with the anti-black racism of the United States prior to the Civil Rights Movement, racism in the French world was less obvious and more psychological than physical. This psychological discrepancy, Fanon argues, is more damaging and much harder to overcome and resist than physical racial abuse. A certain way to overcome racism is to have a sense of self-worth, respect and to really know yourself. If one can achieve this, they will no longer compare themselves to others, so the psychological effects of racism will not have any demeanor on them. However, Fanon argues that this is may not be possible for the black man to do. People, in general, and especially those who have been constantly oppressed, have a tremendously difficult time determining and accepting their own self-worth by their own accord,

“The Antillean does not possess a personal value of his own and is always dependent on the value of ‘the Other.’ The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, blacker than I, or less good than I. Every self-positioning or self-fixation maintains a relationship or dependency on the collapse of the other. It’s on the ruins of my entourage that I build my virility.”  The only way the black man knows how to build his self-worth is to destroy the worth of another. But, unfortunately, since the black man is in no position to downgrade white people, they must attack other blacks in order to build their self-worth. This creates a vicious cycle in which the black man keeps himself and his people down and the white man can remain in power without even doing anything. “The Martinicans are hungry for reassurance. They want their wishful thinking to be recognized. They want their wish for virility to be recognized Each of them wants to be, wants to flaunt himself.”