Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a prominent psychiatrist, activist, and revolutionary thinker. He was born in Martinique, a Caribbean island. His upbringing was within a comfortably middle-class family, with his father being of slave descent and his mother of mixed race. He received a high-quality education, and one of his teachers, Aimé Césaire, a poet and activist, left a lasting influence on him. However, Fanon rejected Césaire’s theory of “négritude.”
Fanon’s journey took him to Europe during World War II, where he fought with the Free French Forces and was wounded in 1944, receiving the Croix de Guerre. After the war, he returned to Martinique, actively supporting Césaire’s mayoral campaign. He later pursued studies in medicine and psychiatry in Lyon, France, where he attended lectures by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
Qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951, Fanon practiced in France for a few years before relocating to Algeria in 1953. In Algeria, he took up the position of chef de service at the Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital. His experiences in both Martinique and Algeria profoundly influenced his first book, “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952), which examined the psychological damage inflicted by colonialism and racism. Fanon drew from the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan to analyze the debilitating inferiority complex among black individuals and the superiority complex among white people.
Subsequently, Fanon delved into the practical aspects of psychiatry, developing therapeutic strategies that would later be recognized as precursors to “schizoanalysis” by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. He expanded his focus beyond individual psychosexual history to include socio-cultural concerns, but much of this work remains understudied.
When the Algerian Revolution began in 1954, Fanon witnessed the impact of colonial violence firsthand and immediately joined the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), using his position to support the revolution. This led to his expulsion from Algeria in 1957. He continued his activism by joining the editorial collective of the journal El Moudjahid in Tunis. Fanon reported on decolonization conferences across Africa and collected some of these pieces in “Toward the African Revolution” (1964).
During this period, Fanon wrote his most famous work, “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961), drawing its title from Karl Marx. This book became internationally renowned for its discussion of the necessity of violence, not only to seize power but also to impress upon revolutionaries the gravity of their undertaking. The message resonated across the Third World during a period of radical decolonization.
Tragically, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia in his early 30s and sought treatment first in the USSR and later in the United States, but his battle with the disease proved futile. He passed away at Bethesda Hospital in Maryland at the age of 36.
During his lifetime, Fanon’s work was relatively unknown, especially in France, where his books were frequently banned for discussing the Algerian War. However, in the years following his death, Fanon became an iconic figure in the postcolonial struggle, alongside the likes of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Steve Biko, all of whom drew inspiration from his writings. Fanon’s legacy continues to shape postcolonial theory, and his life has inspired literature, film, and acknowledgments from influential postcolonial theorists.