Black skin, white ally


Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul at the 6th Anniversary of Founding of Communist China in Beijing.

“Few European intellectuals concerned themselves with the dissolution of the imperial projects across the Global South in the mid-20th century; even fewer advocated outright for the independence of European-held African and Asian colonies. Jean-Paul Sartre was perhaps the most influential member of this latter group and began writing on anticolonial resistance in the late 1940s. Several years after the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence in 1954, he became a vocal proponent of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the Algerian nationalist group that waged armed struggle for liberation. Sartre famously condemned the French military’s widespread, systemic use of torture on FLN members and Algerian civilians, and backed unconditional independence for the colony. After Algeria’s victory in 1962, Sartre remained steadfast in his anticolonial activism: he would write on topics such as the Cuban Revolution, US intervention in Vietnam and unjust French immigration policies. I’ve long been fascinated by his relationship with psychiatrist and FLN revolutionary Frantz Fanon. Despite Sartre’s fervent support for the anticolonial cause, there are moments captured in interactions with Fanon that illuminate an amusing disconnect: to me, they’re reminiscent of the archetypal, all-too-enthusiastic white supporter who can never quite get it right. A short overview of their relationship is worth examining, both to humanize these intellectuals and demonstrate the ubiquity and timelessness of the ‘Misguided Ally.’ We begin in 1948: Sartre authors ‘Black Orpheus,’ an essay on the Négritude movement and its role in the global struggle for decolonization and freedom. Négritude was a Francophone cultural movement aimed at reconciling, redefining, and reclaiming black identity in a colonial world. It originated in Paris, and primarily featured writers and artists from West Africa and the Caribbean. … Yet the essay drew criticism from Fanon, who challenged Sartre’s analysis of Négritude in his first book, Black Skin, White Masks. The essentialist current of Négritude, and Sartre’s embrace of it, proved to be easy fodder for Fanon—in short, reinforced the dangerous colonial binaries that kept Africans subjugated and because it left these ideological structures intact, could not provide a path to liberation. …”
Africas in a Country
Open Culture: Edward Said Recalls His Depressing Meeting With Sartre, de Beauvoir & Foucault (1979)
Africas in a Country: Frantz Fanon
Guardian – Jean-Paul Sartre: more relevant now than ever


Frantz Fanon

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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