If one were to say that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the late Frantz Fanon were two of the greatest intellectuals ever to walk among the populace of the African diaspora, that would be an understatement. These two Black men were such a threat to White Supremacy, it was no wonder that the government conspired to have both killed. The white racist establishment desires for blacks and others among the oppressed to see the goals and aspirations of MLK Jr. and Fanon as diametrically opposed, and seeks to divide us between the “good, peaceable” (read: acceptable) Negroes and the angry, violent Black bucks prone to criminality (read: disposable). Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, inspired the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s as well as Black Liberation theologies, and his labor in the Algerian revolution gave life to anti-colonial struggles world wide. In the minds of mainstream academia and media, Fanon is portrayed as a dangerous revolutionary much like a Che Guevara. Martin Luther King, Jr. is adored by people around the world (supposedly), with statues made after his likeness and streets and buildings named after him. MLK Jr. was a prophet of love, preaching a message of nonviolence, racial equality, and economic justice.
If these two persons were indeed so radically different, it would seem quite strange that King Jr. gave Fanon a sympathetic yet critical reading of WOTE. But this is exactly what he did in the second chapter of Where Do We Go From Here?. MLK recognized the urgency of the moment, and the impact that Fanon’s words were having on young Black women and men in his day. King, Jr. was a committed Christian, and dismissed WOTE‘s conclusion as being bent towards materialism and violence. This is a rather peculiar and unfair assessment of Fanon’s own words. I think in a way, MLK, Jr. was reading WOTE’s opening chapter “On Violence,” as prescriptive rather than descriptive, and there’s a nuanced difference here. See, it was colonial domination that placed the Algerian people (and other colonized people groups) into a predicament and cycle of violence. Fanon was observing that colonized subjects, victims of violence, experienced an emotional release through revolutionary activity.
Frantz Fanon was far more graphic at depicting specific instances of structural violence: White supremacy, antiBlackness, and settler colonialism. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned the rise of the nonviolent person to overcome the violent history of modernity. MLK believed that nonviolent individuals could come together to promote a nonviolent moral order. Nonviolence, a practice out of Christ’s call to love our enemies, was a duty placed upon the marginalized. “With every once of our energy we must continue to rid our nation of the incubus of racial injustice. But we need not in the process relinquish our privilege and obligation to love.” And yet Fanon argued in the same concluding chapter that MLK Jr. cited, “Europe has taken over leadership of the world with fervor, cynicism, and violence. [……] Europe has denied itself not only humility and modesty but also solicitude and tenderness. […] Let us decide not to imitate Europe and let us tense our muscles and our brains in a new direction.” In Fanon’s thought, there is space for an ethic of love and tenderness, but it must be a free choice that the oppressed must make for themselves. The problem with the colonial situation is that it is dehumanizing in its limitations of choices for colonized persons (see WOTE chapter 1). Furthermore, we see in Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks that his view of freedom is far more essential to his ethics of liberation, since there is “one duty: the duty never to let my decisions renounce my freedom.” Black people (in Fanon’s view) needed to recognize our natural capacity for self-determination over and against a White Supremacist/ antiBlack society where racial violence was the over-determining factor.
In so far as Fanon participated in the creation a nation-state, that of Algeria, Fanon’s praxis of a “new humanity” apart from Europe was merely a reflection of European, Western modern nation-state, which is built upon violence. Nation-states are formed through middle class hegemony, crony capitalism, and nationalist hymns. Liberation movements should lead us away from the war-mongering model of the nation-state, not sustain its mirror image. This is where we can look to MLK Jr.’s call to love although his message of blacks immediately integrating into a white supremacist society is somewhat questionable. MLK Jr.’s politics, much like his ethics, was built on love.
Unlike many con artists today who claim to be leading a “revolution,” Dr. King (and Fanon, for that matter), had specific plans with details about how to go about real change. Rather than the nation-state, the U.S.A. would become part of what King called “the World-House” with a guaranteed income for every family, federal funding for local school buildings, and educational parks as well as a national affordable housing plan that consisted of low-cost rehabilitation loans and new public funded, racially integrated housing (think the inverse of gentrification).
Dr. King’s political model of Black citizens joining in loose alliances with either the Democratic Party or the GOP, along with “Puerto Ricans, labor, liberals, certain church and middle class elements” is pretty much outdated. It was a highly optimistic approach to electoral politics that correctly diagnosed Blacks potential as a voting bloc yet it was one that ignored the history of trade unions and racial resentment, and that perhaps overemphasized national politics over local. Fanon’s program emphasized local municipalities governing themselves all the while maintaining an eye on the lumpenproleteriat (WOTE), the jobless and criminalized of the world. We need to re-imagine a post-colonial politics that is glocal, that is global in outlook and at the same time prioritizing local issues. The best way forward is to practice a politics of love and freedom. It is possible for one to affirm Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent Christian realism as well as Frantz Fanon’s humanism simultaneously. Even with the installation of a tyrannical regime taking place later today, it’s not too late. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, the call to love and liberation is only the beginning.