Tag Archives: Fanon

MLK and Fanon #ReclaimMLK

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.


Fridays With Fanon: Universalism

Or Universalism as Imperialist, Take Two

On a previous post, I labelled Christian universalism as essentially imperialist.  Quite a few persons will disagree with me and argue that universal is a tool to fight empire, such as the limiting of salvation to a select few individuals (and therefore, consequently, the control of the world).  If Christ is for everyone, then, some would say, that it can only mean that a political system open to everyone is preferable. However, this is not my beef with universalist views of salvation.

In eschatological as well as moral terms, the idea that the entire human population shares a common fate presupposes, on the part of those who generally agree, that all human beings will someday make the same religious, moral, and political choices, and thus denying the possibility of diverse outcomes in the future.  When giving an example of the political struggle between two separate African nations and the French colonists, Franz Fanon asserted, “There is no common destiny between the national cultures of Guinea and Senegal, but there is a common destiny between the nations of Guinea and Senegal dominated by the same French colonialism. […] they would not be absolutely identical since the people and the leaders operate at a different pace.”[1] In a theological context, I would argue that there is no common destiny for each religious culture because each religious community makes various decisions; therefore, the purpose of each missionary/religious devotee differs according to each context.  This position, in my opinion, leaves room for a diversity of experiences when the new creation brought about by God occurs.  The secret behind Christian universalism is a general moral determinism, and therefore limiting the wide options of possibilities that come with human being who are created in freedom.  For both Fanon and Spivak, the indeterminancy of human agency is vital to resisting colonizing and overdetermining discourses.[2] Hence, it is essential that Christians develop an eschatological vision where God’s reign is understood as both a heterochronic and heterotopic event (i.e., taking place at a range of times and places) while developing a missiology that takes both human freedom and plurality seriously.

I prefer the logic of  Baptist theologians E.Y. Mullins and Herschel Hobbs, who also advocated freedom in the New Creation :

“Indeed, our dignity of free choice reaches even beyond this life. If by one’s own choice he [sic] rejects Christ as Savior, he [sic] alone is responsible for being in hell for eternity.  But even there, the Bible teachers degrees of punishment (Luke 12:47-48).  Paul said that both Jew and Gentile (pagan) who reject Christ will be judged by the degree of opportunity  against which each sins (Romans 2:11-16).  It is proper to be concerned about the heathen who never hear the gospel.  But in light of degrees of punishment in hell, we should be even more concerned about the man [sic] in a community filled with churches who regularly hears the gospel and yet never chooses Christ as Savior.  Furthermore, the Bible teaches degrees of reward in heaven (Matthew 24:14-23; Luke 19: 12-19)”

[1] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 169. (underline emphasis mine)

[2] Cf. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” 302-305 as well as Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 7;18.  Gayatri Spivak takes aim at the discourse used by the British colonists to describe the “good Indian wife” as the one who burned herself after her husband’s death.  The British reductionist account excludes the other possible ethical options that Indian women could have chosen.  Frantz Fanon rejects determinist philosophies with my favorite quote found on page18: “The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion. Fatalism relieves the oppressor of all responsibility since the cause of wrong-doing, poverty, and the inevitable can be attributed to God.  The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”  The colonized subject, with all of her choices limited according to the ideology perpetuated by the status, acts according to the possibilities that she accepts.

Notes from WTS 2010: Part Three

Notes from my presentation at the Ethnic Studies session.

Ezekiel and Empire Studies: Imperialism, Idolatry, and the Imago Dei from a Black Postcolonial Perspective

1. Currently in biblical and theological studies, there is a tendency for scholars to study the New Testament in light of the authors’ context within the Roman Empire.[1] However, the role of empire and imperialism, as viewed through empire studies and postcolonial interpretation, has been largely ignored in the Hebrew Bible.

2. The story of Ezekiel informed enslaved Africans not only could they have hope because the divine Spirit resided with them, but also because God could keep promises even in the worst of times. In Ezekiel chapter 1, verse 26 and 27, Katheryn Pfisterer Darr interprets the “likeness of humanity” or demut kemarah adam and hasmal (or glowing amber) as a person who is made in the image of God, reminiscent of the texts found in Genesis 1:26-27 and 9:12-17.[2] The concept of human beings made in the image of God means that every human life is infinitely valuable to God; the enthroned figure in Ezekiel’s visions reminds us of the sacredness of human life and dignity.  In addition, the radiance “in a cloud on a rainy day,” as Darr understands verse 28, is much like the rainbow God shows to Noah in God’s promise to never again destroy the world by flood again.  If God can remember God’s promise to Noah, and God’s promise to God’s covenant people, the Israelites, then God can also remember the enslaved African Christians suffering from brutality when they cry out to God.  God’s presence and God’s faithfulness serve as the foundation of hope for the oppressed.

3.  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was said to have carried a copy of Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited on his many journeys[3] His work, first published in 1946, it has been considered a vital resource for liberating spirituality especially in Black church circles.  Thurman preferred the religion of Jesus over Christianity; the religion of Jesus was for those who were not considered to be full citizens in society.  Jesus provided a vision where there would “be room for all, and no man would be a threat to his brother.”[4]

In Thurman’s chapter “Deception,” Ezekiel’s story makes an appearance. Thurman remarks,

“When the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel could not give the words of comfort and guidance by direct and overt statement.  If he had, he would not have lasted very long, and the result would have been a great loss to his people He would have been executed as a revolutionary in short order and all religious freedom would have been curtailed.  What did the prophet do? He resorted to a form of deception.  He put words in the mouth of an old king of Tyre that did not come from him at all, but Nebuchadnezzar.  It was Nebuchadnezzar who had said, ‘I am God.’ “[5]

Thurman goes on to argue that lying destroys the soul; if the disinherited continue to tell falsehoods, they will eventually become false themselves.[6]

Howard Thurman’s account of Ezekiel’s oracle against the king of Tyre is found lacking if we agree with Frantz Fanon’s rendering of the truth.  Fanon says, “In answer to the lie of the colonial situation, the colonized subject responds with a lie. […] Truth is what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. […] In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior.”[7] Howard Thurman would require the colonized to tell the truth at all times and at all places in the name of sincerity and absolute truth, but in colonial situations, truth is never absolute because colonies are built upon dishonesty.  Thurman does not even address the lies told by imperialists; their falsehoods remain one of his oversights in his usage of Ezekiel.

[1] For example, see: Dube Shomanah, Musa W. Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 2000; Moore, Stephen D. Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament. Bible in the modern world, 12. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006; Segovia, Fernando F. Interpreting Beyond Borders. The Bible and postcolonialism, 3. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

[2] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr. “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” Pages 1116-1117 in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Volume VI.  Editted by David L. Petersen.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

[3] Thurman. See Foreword.

[4] Thurman, 35.

[5] Ibid, 60.

[6] Ibid, 65.

[7] Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 14.