As a first generation college grad, I did not grow up with copies of classic texts on the coffee table or in the den. As a result, I could name the crew of The Love Boat in high school, but I was not particularly well-read. I came to Black Skin, White Masks as a white woman walking around in the world and as the Human Rights and Equity Chair for our district’s union trying to educate myself. I come from a racist family, and by that I mean (in this case) loving people who benefited from white supremacy without much interrogation, people who held racist ideas but would not consider themselves racist. So naturally, I have work to do. Hence, Fanon.
I was also led to Fanon’s work by Ta-nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me and after finding out that Coates was greatly influenced by Fanon (the title of his award-winning book is lifted from this particular text). Since I teach, Fanon’s name had surfaced over the years—usually in the context of more choice and autonomy for students and the process of deconstructing power dynamics in classrooms. Early in Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon makes his situation clear: “I came into this world to uncover the meaning of things, my soul desirous to be at the origin of the world, and here I am an object among other objects.” His body, as Coates contends of the black body, was born into a legacy of racism, injustice, and violence.
And yet, ultimately, Fanon’s Marxist position advocates for all people to be free and break loose from bourgeois society, “… a closed society where it’s not good to be alive, where the air is rotten and ideas and people are putrefying.” He desires nothing less than a new beginning, a break from “the density of History.” He asserts that he is his own foundation and calls out: “May man never be instrumentalized. May the subjugation of man by man—that is to say, of me by another—cease.” The poetry in this 1952 volume and its appeal to the poetic as a tool for social transformation affirm and motivate me in my personal, literary, and union work. The Wretched of the Earth is next.