This weekend is an important one as it marks the deaths of two iconic figures in protest and revolution. Today (Dec 6, 2014) marks 53 years since the death Martinican psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon. Yesterday (Dec 5, 2014) marked the one year anniversary death of Nelson Mandela. Both of these figures have been instrumental in changing our world through protest and revolution and both represent how scholarship and activism are influenced by the events in a society. Fanon’s seminal work The Wretched of the Earth unpacked the nature of colonization and how it affected the colonized.It also advocated for violent resistance to the oppressive nature of colonial rule.
Fanon’s work was largely influenced by the Négritude movement, an ideological movement that started in the 1930s and mainly impacted the francophone world which advocated for solidarity in a common black identity and experience. Though Fanon is more far removed from my experience than Mandela he is an important figure to examine considering the events of recent days. What would Fanon say about the condition of the black community in the United States today? Would he view it as an internal colonialism or would he view it as something else? No matter what these answers could have been, Fanon is important for young academics living in this period to study. He grew in a radical time where colonialism was beginning to crumble around the world whether it was through radical actions such as in Algeria or more gradual means in places such as European colonies in the Caribbean. Fanon managed to use his scholarship to explore the effects that colonialism had on the minds of those oppressed by it. In light of the events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, etc and the anti-blackness sentiment in the country, which influences how black bodies are viewed, I find myself seeking to use the events around me to better understand how race is constructed by societies. Though I focus on the Caribbean and to a lesser extent Central America, I do feel that racial politics are still in play in my research especially when the United States is involved. Though I am still young, these events will ultimately impact how I write about race and the people that face brunt of racism.
Now Nelson Mandela is someone who holds an iconic place in my imagination. Having had the opportunity to visit South Africa two years ago and finally finishing his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom last year (after many many hours), I learned a considerable amount concerning how Nelson Mandela fought to end Apartheid. If Nelson Mandela’s story shows anything is how activism takes different paths. His growth from a lowly lawyer seeking to assist his black clients, to a revolutionary hero, an iconic respected figure that gained worldwide recognition while in jail is something to be admired. Furthermore, Mandela represents the elusive power of reconciliation. Though South Africa still faces many problems today, many due to the idealism of post-racialism following the 1994 election, I feel Mandela’s intentions were good when he sought to fix the evils that were ingrained into South African society under the Apartheid regime. The vestiges of Apartheid are still present but in my opinion South Africa has done more to address its institutional racism than the United States has. More importantly, Mandela represents the activist in this day and age. Just this past week young activists such as Phillip Agnew met with President Obama to discuss issues pertaining to racial justice in America. Despite the fact that we are still fighting against racism today (But to be fair this racist system and white supremacy has had over 500 years of dominance so fifty or so years can’t undo all of that unfortunately), it is refreshing to see young activist take up this mantle and seek to aggressively pursue racial justice without comprising the mission for more talk of gradualism. Like Mandela, many activist of racial justice today are fighting tooth and nail for progress. Though violence is not used, these activist do fight ideological warfare aggressively and not give up once they hear a “not guilty” verdict in the case of George Zimmerman or a no indictment for Darren Wilson or Daniel Panteleo, they just fight harder. I pray that the passion stays strong.
Though I am a part of this generation I am still getting my activism wings. I can say confidently that people are fed up with racial injustice in all its forms in America similarly to how people during Fanon’s time were fed up with colonialism and people during Mandela’s time were fed up with Apartheid. My goal right now is to continue to find a way to bridge my scholarship with my actvism because I feel this will not only help change how people interpret racial inequalities but my scholarship will one day (hopefully) be a record of this radical time that I am currently living in.
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