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Frantz Fanon’s Widow Speaks

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Interview with Frantz Fanon’s Widow

 Josie Fanon

by

 Christian Filostrat

 

After six years of revolutionary activities in Africa, Frantz Fanon arrived in New Yorkin early October 1961, suffering from an advanced case of leukemia. Admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital, he died on December 6th. He was 36 years old.

     Born inMartiniquein 1925, Fanon was a product of the French colonial system. In 1944, he joined the free French forces to help protect “trueFrance” against the racist French sailors stationed in Martinique during the war — those “sailors who had forced [him] to defend and thus discover [his] color.”

     The army experience sharpened his awareness of the world where division and racism were the rule. His experience and a keen, sensitive mind made him one of the most lucid observers of the realities inherent to colonialism.

     Until the Algerian Revolution, Fanon adhered to the principles of Négritude espoused by Aimé Césaire, his lycée teacher. Black Skin White Mask is a Négritude testimonial in which Fanon acknowledges blackness albeit from the point of view of his French colonial upbringing and Césaire’s adaptation concerning the place of peoples of African descent in the French empire.

     His uncompromising efforts on behalf of the Algerian Revolution shortened his life, while giving him unparalleled insight into and appreciation for national liberations and struggles found in his writing. Today, we speak of a Fanon legacy.

     Fanon’s wife, Josie, came to the United States and visited the author at HowardUniversity.  In this short interview, she gives a glimpse into the life and views of her husband, author of The Wretched of the Earth.

     The interview of Mme Josie Fanon took place on November 16, 1978 at Howard University’s African-American Center. Josie Fanon committed suicide at El Biar, Algiers, ten years later. Born Marie-Joseph Dublé in Lyon, France, she was 58 years old.

 

cf: what are the reasons for your visit to theUnited States this year?

J.Fanon: I came back this year because of an invitation from the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid, which is organizing throughout the year a series of homage and commemorations to black revolutionaries, notably Paul Roberson, Nelson Mandela of the A.N.C., President Nkrumah, etc. It is in this context that the committee decided to pay tribute to Frantz and invited me.

cf: how do you feel about this second trip to theUnited States?

J.Fanon: From a personal point of view, I am a bit shaken to be back in theU.S. because it is where my husband died. I am also interested in observing the black civil rights movements in theUS, examine the new perspectives and discuss what the hopes are.

cf: You were in the U S previously in 1961. When exactly in 1961 were you here and what were your reasons fro that trip?

J.Fanon: I came to theUnited States in November 1961 because my husband was hospitalized at theN.I.HBethesdaHospital. The Algerian Provisional Government (APG) had sent him here for medical care. One year earlier, while representing the provisional government inGhana, doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. They first sent him toMoscow for treatment, but the disease worsened; and the APG, with the Tunisian government’s assistance, asked the Americans for help.

At the time, they believed that the best medical facilities were in theUnited States. It was under these circumstances that he came to theU.S.

However, you should note that he did not come here of his own accord. In fact, he was not in favor of this solution. As a black man, a militant, and an anti-imperialist revolutionary fighter, he was not comfortable going to theUnited States.  But really, he had no choice. He was very ill — in fact, he was dying.

cf: You were telling me when we passed through the campus gate, that your son, Olivier, had spent some time atHowardUniversity in 1961. Would you say more about that?

J.Fanon: My son was a toddler at the time and because I had to take care of my husband — I was here more than a month — I visited Frantz everyday and spent many nights at the hospital with him. During that time, we enrolled our small son atHowardUniversity’s kindergarten.

cf: what is your occupation today?

J.Fanon: I have been for sometime a professional journalist. I worked from 1962 — the year of Algeria’s independence — until last year [1977] for the Algerian press.  I also worked with the Algerian Front for National Liberation in the information section.  Since 1977, I have worked for a Pan-African magazine, Demain L’afrique (Tomorrow Africa) published monthly inParis.  That’s the reason I live inParis now.

cf: How did you meet Frantz Fanon?

J.Fanon: I met him inLyon (in the southeast ofFrance). We were both students. He was in medical school; I was in liberal arts. We met at a theatre. He was 23; I was 18.

cf: Speaking ofLyon, would you retrace for us the course of Fanon’s life?

J.Fanon: When I met Frantz, he had been already inFrance about four years. Understand that he was fromMartinique; born in a French colony, he had assimilated all the cultural values ofFrance. This pathology is common to the people of the French-speakingAntilles. Even today, these colonies are the territories where French colonialism has been the most over-emphasized, most perfidious, and most noxious.

In the first stage of Frantz’s life, while still very young, he joined the Free French Forces during the Second World War. This meant that for a time, he identified with France. However, when he went to Franceand confronted French society’s racism, he began to understand and he analyzed his personal and his countrymen’s experiences. The result of this analysis is in Black Skin, White mask published in 1952. He was twenty-five at the time.

During that time, he was also a medical student, specializing in psychiatry. At the completion of his studies, he wanted to go back to theAntillesor toAfricato look for work.  For administrative reasons, he was unable to get a position in Martinique,Guadeloupe, orSenegal; so he pickedAlgeria, which was still inAfrica.  This was in 1953, one year before the start of the Algerian revolutionary armed struggle. He had already made contact with Algerian nationalists; so that when the revolution began, he was already integrated in the revolutionary movement. There is nothing surprising here. Many wonder why Fanon went toAlgeriaor what relationship could there have been between a man fromMartiniqueandAlgeria. The answer is simple: there exists a fundamental fraternity between all colonized people and between people colonized by the same foreign power. The Algerian revolution was not alien to Fanon.

In 1957, the French government expelled us fromAlgeria. We went toTunisia, where the Front for National Liberation maintained its external branch and where they later created the Algerian Revolution’s Provisional Government.

Fanon worked within the F.N.L and the Provisional Government.  He was also interested in news dissemination. In 1960, they appointed him the Provisional Government’s Ambassador toAccra.

We can retrace Fanon’s itinerary. From his condition as an individual under French rule to his consciousness as a black man through his experience in a colonial society — up to a superior level and his adherence to the wider cause of the Algeria Revolution and still another level, the African Revolution in general.

Even before his ambassadorship to Accra, Fanon had taken part in a number of African people’s conferences, including the first one held in 1958. During the conference, he made contacts with other African leaders of that period notably Patrice Lumumba, Felix Moumié of the Cameroonand President Kwame Nkrumah. The field of his experience and action widened and resulted in the writing of The Wretched of the Earth.

cf: Do you know what were Fanon’s plans after the publication of The Wretched of the Earth ?

J.Fanon: It is always difficult to say what an individual like Fanon would have done if he had not died when he did. In his life, two things interchanged constantly. He would certainly have maintained his political activities. However, I cannot say with certainty where. No doubt, he would have stayed inAlgeria — at least for a while. He had fought for its independence and becauseAlgeria was a country very dear to him. This is, in fact, what I have done. The other important factor was his scientific interests. He was a psychiatrist and had never abandoned his research in that or other medical fields. He always practiced medicine even while involved in politics and writing.

cf: He was not what you would call a professional revolutionary then.

J.Fanon: That’s right, he was not a professional revolutionary. He was a man very much opened to reality. In fact, everything he wrote he based on his personal experiences not on abstract theories.

cf: In the context of recent African history, how would you judge Fanon’s work since his death?

J.Fanon: All that has happened inAfrica since independence in 1960-62 demonstrates the accuracy of Fanon’s points of view. Oppressed and colonized people cannot free themselves other than through armed struggle.  That was the case of the Portuguese colonies and the case of what is now taking place inSouthAfrica.  How can there be a negotiated solution for majority rule there? The conflicts of the past few years inZimbabwe,South Africa andNamibia demonstrate that fact.  To pretend that blacks can achieve majority rule there through a negotiated solution is an illusion and a trick. Africans in that part of the continent will have to wage a very prolonged and protracted armed struggle. Moreover, I do not believe that they can succeed without the solidarity of the black American people.

cf: Going back to Fanon’s birthplace – the French speakingAntilles, what is the colonial situation there?

J.Fanon: When Fanon leftMartinique, conditions there were not as clearly defined as they are today. He never stopped thinking ofMartinique. I think he would be more concerned today, because underneath their departmental status, Martinique,Guadeloupe and Guyane are just French colonies with another name. I believe that he would put all his energy in the service of his country (Martinique) and theCaribbean region in general.

cf: Can you say a few words about Fanon’s relationship with the Négritude poets, Aimé Césaire and Leon Damas?

J.Fanon: Fanon had been Césaire’s student inMartinique. For him, Césaire, Damas, and others like them were very important in his intellectual evolution as regard to the consciousness of his own négritude. He admired Césaire and Damas greatly. Nevertheless, he had already understood that, politically, Césaire could have done much more for the independence ofMartinique.Independence is the sine qua non of political freedom. Even if neo-colonialism is active in a country, it is preferable to colonialism and total dependence. National liberation is a first step; without it, very little can be done. Without independence, nation building cannot begin.

cf: When The Wretched of the Earth was published, Jean Paul Sartre prefaced it. In subsequent editions, Sartre’s preface is removed. Why?

J.Fanon:  It was through my initiative that Sartre’s preface to The Wretched of the Earth was removed. Let us say that from a western point of view, it is a good preface. Sartre understood the subject matter in The Wretched of the Earth.

But in June 1967, whenIsraeldeclared war on the Arab countries, there was a great pro-Zionist movement in favor ofIsraelamong western (French) intellectuals. Sartre took part in this movement. He signed petitions favoringIsrael. I felt that his pro-Zionist attitudes were incompatible with Fanon’s work.

Whatever Sartre’s contribution may have been in the past, the fact that he did not understand the Palestinian problem reversed his past political positions.

cf: A great deal has been written about Fanon. If you have kept up with what has been written, what is your reaction?

J.Fanon: Indeed a number of Western intellectuals have written about Fanon. In my opinion, they have not completely understood his works. There is still much more to be written. I think, however, that it is inAfrica and here in theUS in the African-American community that valid works about Fanon will be carried out.

cf: What do you think of the English translations of Fanon’s works?

J.Fanon: I don’t think – and knowledgeable people have told me — that The Wretched of the Earth is perfect; there are some lacunae and translation errors. In general, the English text does not reproduce the breadth, the dynamism, or the flow of the original French.

cf:  Some critics say there is a fundamental contradiction between Fanon’s works, what he stood for, and the fact that he married a white French woman. How do you answer these critics?

J.Fanon: It is my opinion, and I believe that it was also his — otherwise he would not have contracted nor remained in this interracial marriage — that there was no contradiction. In his works, he states clearly that it is through a revolutionary process that we can understand and resolve racial problems. Otherwise, we find ourselves in dead-end situations that are impossible to resolve — the sort that we can never put to rest. For example, critics can reproach a black American for marrying an Arab woman because her skin is lighter than his is and so on, and so on.

In a certain phase of the struggle, such a position can have for a time a positive and beneficially unifying effect. However, it remains a limitation. We are not going to limit each other to race! Otherwise, where is the revolution?

We can draw a parallel between such personal problems and the concept of Négritude, which Fanon analyzed. In his opinion — and this was later proved true — Négritude was but a stage in the dialectical process of the black man’s struggle for liberation.

END

The interview is published in Negritude Agonistes

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Written by frantzfanonspeaks

April 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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