‚ÄúHe did not tell us what that humanity was or ought to be. That was because he respected us enough to understand that, as with his observation about every generation having to find its mission, to fulfill it or betray it, the responsibility for that future is no other than ours.‚ÄĚ
Lewis Gordon begins his commemorative essay on Franz Fanon recalling the man‚Äôs last words. Fanon lamented that his final breaths would be taken in the USA, a ‚Äėnation of lynchers‚Äô, so far from his home in Martinique, a French Caribbean colony. The United States isn‚Äôt just haunted by a past of genocide and injustice towards blacks, immigrants, and natives. We remain a bastion of justification for the continued expansion of the ‚Äúwar machine of democracy‚ÄĚ.
Franz Fanon is most famous for his book ‚ÄúThe Wretched of the Earth‚ÄĚ, a virulent and righteous theoretical work describing the conditions of being a subject to a colonial master. Controversial for its endorsement of violence, the book is more often invoked as an example of aboriginal anarchy than actually read.
Recently, a groundswell of academic work concerning the perspectives and thoughts of Fanon has stormed the international academic community. Ranging from Urban activists like Jared Bell to professors like Nelson Maldonado Torres at UC Berkely, the liberal and radical academic traditions of the 1st world are being held to the flame of a new study of knowledge, called ‚Äúdecoloniality‚ÄĚ
In summary, the philosophy challenges the ‚Äúnatural‚ÄĚ limits and assumptions of modern thinking, as well as questions the actual ‚Äúdivergence‚ÄĚ of more radical philosophies such as Marxism and postmodernism from the ‚Äúcolonial episteme‚ÄĚ. As a critical epistemology (the study of what knowledge and truth are and where they come from) it locates much of today‚Äôs political policy and its theoretical justification on an episteme (path of knowledge production) that originates in Europe‚Äôs genocidal history of colonialism. Historically, this meant that just as physical colonization occurred, so did philosophical domination.
What began as a project to convert the indigenous to the Christian God‚Äôs way-of-being in the world as turned into a violent homily sung in the name of Renaissance era Rationalism, a new faith in American hegemony, liberal-democratic capitalism. Instead of converting the world to Christianity, the US and the other colonial states of Europe, continue to imprison in global ‚Äúwretched of the Earth‚ÄĚ in a cycle of violence and injustice through a faith in ‚Äúeconomic development‚ÄĚ.
In short, Locke‚Äôs notion of the State is one that enables the most Rational and Enlightened, holding these as the pinnacle of human quality. Globalization is a war in the name of expanding Europe‚Äôs definition of what being ‚Äúhuman‚ÄĚ is, justifying intervention and exploitation in the name of Enlightened economics. The indigenous that stand in the way of expanding markets are mere beasts who have less right to land because they cannot use it to it full ‚Äúrational‚ÄĚ potential. Should they resist, they now wage war on ‚Äúall humanity‚ÄĚ because ‚Äúrational, self-interested entrepreneurs‚ÄĚ are representative of Man‚Äôs highest form.
The continued use of ‚Äúrationalism‚ÄĚ and other European notions radicalizes the divisions of our world into a new hierarchy. Rather than an explicitly national character to racism, today a homogenization of indigenous and native peoples ‚Äúracializes‚ÄĚ the 80% of the world that lives in the constant purgatory labeled by economist as ‚Äúthe underdeveloped 3rd world, into a global race defined by its backwardness and violence.
Franz Fanon called this global class the ‚Äúwretched of the earth‚ÄĚ or as translated by his new proponents, le damn√©s, or ‚Äúthe damned‚ÄĚ.
Here in the 1st world, it is easy to grow complacent with media representation of other peoples and ‚Äútheir culture‚ÄĚ and grow blind to our own ‚Äúcultural‚ÄĚ characteristics: legitimized conquest and theft from the wretched of the earth. Our day to day existence is affect by the contours of our society‚Äôs colonial and imperial culture; our government‚Äôs inability to truly wipe out racism isn‚Äôt a question of policy choice, but policy paradigm that consigns racism to the regressive nature of United States citizens rather than admits our national character of supremacy itself.
This is a summary of the scholarship that authors, like Lewis Gordon, have confronted the international intellectual community with. What I would like to explore in this essay is how the methods and ethic of decolonial scholarship can affect the students‚Äô movement, here in the 1st world, the belly of the beast.
I put forward the postulation: the site of cultural reproduction in the heart of the Colonial States is school and the University. In this sense, the new minds that each year rotate in and out of education are colonized. The students of the 1st world are not born guilty of their nation‚Äôs crime. We are educated into it as propagators and administrators, we are indoctrinated into the colonial culture ‚Äúas our birth right‚ÄĚ to ‚Äúeducation‚ÄĚ in the country. Just as the Spanish moved to convert the indigenous populations of South America, we are inaugurated into our colonial identity through our education. We are also conditioned by our family culture and the national culture around us but this is condensed and machinated through our public and private school attendance.
The prudence of the investigation in challenged immediately by two questions. First, what the hell would the predominately white, middle class students‚Äô movement know about the conditions of the colonized, wretched of the earth? Second, what gives us the right to consider ourselves part of the decolonial canon?
This investigation in no way wishes to presume that the constituents of the student movement know anything about the violence of living in the 3rd world, nor that our own problems are in any way comparable in magnitude or even urgency. It is precisely this knowledge, however, that should motivate us to abandon our own political theorists in favor of paying attention to the intellectuals of the Global South. Precisely because we know that the wretched of the earth face daily hell so that we may live in obscene comfort, we must locate our political subjectivity with the perspectives of the oppressed. What this looks like in actuality is a reconsideration of the cultural and social landscape around us as we consider new political action and organization; a new use of metaphors and considerations that admit the colonial nature of our society.
In response to the second, another clarification: we do not seek a seat at the table of decolonial scholarship; we do not impose a right to inclusion in this discourse. We merely seek to identify ourselves as colonized people as well, the children of the Master, from whom we now seek severance. We will never be able to disavow our colonial upbringing or the privileges of our class, but we can acknowledge it, consider it, and tool it in the name of the liberation of le damnes.
WE ARE COLONIZED
Consider your day at school. If you are late, absent, or attempt to run, you are ‚Äútruant‚ÄĚ. If you fail to absorb the lessons of Truth each day, you are marked for reform, then discipline, then rejection, functionally exile. The teacher holds all instruments of accreditation or punishment; the administrators survey the teacher‚Äôs work to assure their adherence to State standards of intelligence and knowledge. According to your obedience you may be award honors and scholarship that elevate you out of the lack of privilege you may have suffered or continue whatever advantage you grew up with. If you can most accurately reproduce the knowledge administered to you, you are elevated, promoted to ‚Äústudy‚ÄĚ one of the fields integral to assuring the function of the nation: medicine, law, politics, science, or even art. The rich were born from business men to be business men and so school is just a brief distraction.
There is nothing more colonial that the ‚Äúselection‚ÄĚ of particular natives to run the administrational apparatus of the new colonial state. We never owned the institutions we are ‚Äúaccepted‚ÄĚ into. They own us, they decide what is True, Success, Good; ‚Äúacceptable‚ÄĚ. This project is run by people who passed the test of allegiance: school.
This character, archetype, is common throughout the tragic story of colonialism: the native who is chosen to be a member of the new native upper class: the colonial tool of administration.
However, another archetype appears: Gandhi was a member of this middle class and Fanon was educated in French colonial school. There is the native who learns almost everything the Master wants him to believe, and then rejects it. This is what student intellectuals should strive to do today: reject their own privilege and the American Dream and majestic lie, built on the bones of the many slaughtered peoples that came before us.
This metaphor gains its true speed not its revelatory potential concerning our condition but our strategies of resistance. Obviously it raises the question whether discourses about ‚Äúoccupying‚ÄĚ are really that enviable, but instead considers occupation as a status of oppression. Consider the radicalized use of police on high school campuses in underprivileged neighborhoods.
What if we imagine our schools as OUR homes? Why not, it‚Äôs the first place we spent time with peers exploring who we are, no? That makes teachers, administrators and police sheriffs COLONIZERS. All of the most harmful and awful cultural and social qualities of our childhood can be located in America‚Äôs invasion into our schools; through styles, music, TV, history textbooks, language, and laws we have been cultivated into small, mirror images of the colonizers who built this country.
Instead, perhaps a war for national liberation on each our campuses is necessary, not Occupy schools, but rather DeOccupy! Out with administrators, out with teachers, WE will let you know when and how you may return, and even then only as our equals! We declare solidarity and identity with our peers, an identity that mocks our school mascots and previous division and antagonism. We are the students and we don‚Äôt need YO education.
Undertaking a school wide project of self-education and withdrawal from the ethics and methods of our colonial empire will be our way of accepting individual responsibility for the privilege we have had growing up. We will endeavor to make better music, poetry, style, food, and ideas than those that are handed to us on the AP practice tests and STAR booklets. It will also be a way of establishing new lines of solidarity with other schools, especially those of the ghetto and barrio I our country. This in turn will change the ‚Äúnature‚ÄĚ of our ways of being in the world that will consider the world from the perspective of the oppressed as we embrace methods of self-education that endorse equality and justice, all the while question what those words have meant all along.
When Lewis Gordon wrote, ‚ÄúHe did not tell us what that humanity was or ought to be. That was because he respected us enough to understand that, as with his observation about every generation having to find its mission, to fulfill it or betray it, the responsibility for that future is no other than our.‚ÄĚ I felt like he was talking to me. I am a new generation, a new dawn in an age of revolution. Hitherto, we have failed to once and for all defeat the forces of oppression. Why? Because we imagined a type of human being that is limited to what is possible, closed, defined. A human that has been told to us, taught to us, that we have mimicked and become. Fanon‚Äôs message to us in the 1st world, if he had one, was for us not to become the tools of our brother‚Äôs and sister‚Äôs oppression. As the Zapatistas say ‚ÄúWe are all born equal. Thus we have a right to our difference.‚ÄĚ If this is so, we are born natives, born indigenous to the world. We have allowed ourselves to be colonized. What makes humanity beautiful is this incredible difference that generates. There is nothing wrong with what we create in our schools if WE make it ourselves. Including ourselves. We cannot let the imperial culture we are saturated in define us any longer. It is our generational cause that we must define and we should consider who we are in the context of the world we live in.
Are we colonizers? We cannot be the colonized. That would mean we let them do it. Are we revolutionaries?