Black World and Fanon

Black World and Fanon


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Critics have used Fanon’s “fanatical” advocacy of violence

to deny Fanon his Marxist credentials, or even his essentially

humanist standing, accusing him of barbarism and terrorism



Books by and about Fanon

The Wretched of the Earth  / Black Skins, White Masks  /  A Dying Colonialism  /  Toward the African Revolution

A Dying Colonialism   / The Fanon Reader  / Fanon: A Critical Reader  / Fanon: A Novel

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Fanon and the Concept of Colonial Violence

By Robert C. Smith


FRANTZ FANON was profoundly influenced by Karl Marx. Yet, to say this is to say very little. Most men who engage in serious social thought, particularly radical social thought, are influenced by the writings of Karl Marx. Fanon as a revolutionary social theorist is no exception; in fact, he is brilliant example. But Fanon as a philosopher was also influenced by Jean Paul Sartre and the existentialists and by Edmund Husserl and the phenomenology movement. As a Black man he was tremendously inspired in his thinking by Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas of the Négritude literary movement. And, of course, as a trained psychiatrist, he is heavily indebted to Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, particularly in terms of the methods and purposes of psychoanalysis.

Clearly one can find the influence of many scholars and philosophies in the works of Fanon. Fanon, like Marx before him, was not a great original thinker but rather a great system builder, using psycho-social analysis as Marx used socio-economic analysis to unite many strands of thought into a coherent whole. Thus, the endless attempts by activists and academics to label Fanon as Marxist or non-Marxist, as existentialist or Freudian, are the most part misguided and sterile. Fanon was all of these and more. The point worthy of analysis is not to determine definitively whether Fanon should be characterized as Marxist, but to ascertain as precisely as possible the relationship between the thought of the two men. In what sense does he depart from Marx? And most importantly, why?

This is my purpose in this essay. By using a content analysis of Fanon’s published work, I shall attempt to determine the relationship between Marx and Fanon by analyzing Fanon’s thoughts in relationship to certain well known fundamental Marxist organizing concepts (alienation, determinism, the class struggle, violence, the role of the bourgeoisie, the peasants). I shall also discuss the Marxist view of colonialism in relationship to Fanon’s analysis of the concept.

First, at the risk of engaging in the labeling game, Fanon was a Marxist. That is, he was a historical materialist, a partisan of the dialectical view of historical change. He was a Marxist in methodology, applying the method of analysis postulated by Marx to his particular time and circumstance. He was a Marxist also in the sense that he shared one of Marx’s abiding prejudices: opposition to the exploitation of man by man. But whereas Marx was Euro-centric in orientation, Fanon takes a world-view; or, perhaps more precisely, Fanon was Afro-centric in world view. Marx was concerned in his analysis primarily with the liberation of the West European proletariat. Fanon addressed himself to the liberation of the non-Western colonials. Marx’s focus was class conflict. Fanon spoke to the dual questions of class and race conflict. Marx gave voice to the workers of the world; Fanon to the “wretched of the earth.”

Therefore, it seems fair to say that Fanon represents a special variety of Marxism. Fanon is a scholar who applied a Marxist framework to that part of the world to which Marx gave only passing attention. Or, in Marxist phraseology, Marx could only give expression to the historical reality of his time—the exploitation of the working class; but in the mid-twentieth century there is a new historical reality—the historically necessary and irreversible rise of the suppressed “colored” world. As W. E. B. Du Bois prophesied in 1903, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line—the relation of the darker to lighter races of men in Africa and Asia, in America and the islands of the sea.”1 It is in the light of resolving this problem that Fanon’s work is in the final analysis must be viewed.

The concept of alienation in Marxist thought in recent years has been a source of continuing controversy. Several years ago Erich Fromm published portions of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.2 On the basis of this work and other writings of the “young Marx,” Fromm and other scholars have attempted to reorient thinking toward Marxism, particularly Marxist philosophy. Fromm argues that Marx’s philosophy, particularly his understanding of alienation is “… like much of existentialists thinking a protest against man’s alienations, his loss of himself and his transformation into a thing; it is an ethical philosophy that stands against the dehumanization and atomization of man inherent in the development of industrial society.”3 Critics of this new interpretation of Marxism argue first that philosophically there may be some basis for this view, from a reading of Marx’s early work, but that Marx’s main emphasis was not philosophical but sociological and economic, and that from these readings there is little to substantiate the philosophical musings of the early Marx.

In other words, Marx was a better sociologist than philosopher, and it is on sociological grounds that Marx’s work as a whole must be treated. It is also argued that Marx himself only considered these questions in his youth, and that his “mature” thought does not reflect the philosophical bent of his youth.4 For purposes of this essay it suffices to take note of the controversy and to suggest that, at least philosophically and perhaps also underlying his socio-economic work, the concept plays a significant orienting role.5

For Fanon, alienation is central to the analysis of the colonized man and his society. The colonized personality is alienated not only from his color and traditional community but, most importantly, through the dynamics of colonialism/racism he is alienated from his very being as a Black person. Fanon writes: “The Black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.” (1952:33)*

For the analyst of alienation in the colonial world the problem then is twofold: race and class alienation. Clearly the latter is of greater moment in the colonial world for at least the alienated white worker need not confront “the dilemma, turn white or disappear.” (1952:184)

Fanon as a trained psychiatrist was admirably suited to deal with this dilemma. Writing of one of the prevalent manifestations of alienation among the Black man in the world, he says, “I wish to be acknowledged not as Black but as white . . . who but a white woman could do this for me? By loving me she proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man. Her noble love takes me onto the road of self realization—I marry white culture, white beauty, white whiteness. When my restless hands grasp those white breasts, they grasp white civilization and dignity and make them mine.” (1952:188). This quotation is from Fanon’s first book, Black Skin, White Masks, a book he hoped would be a mirror in which it would be possible to discern the Black man on the road to disalienation.

What is this road to disalienation in Fanon’s judgment? He writes: “As a psychoanalyst, I should help my patient become conscious of his unconscious and abandon his attempts at a hallucinatory whitening, but also to act in the direction of a change in the social structure. In other words, the black man should no longer be confronted by the dilemma turn white or disappear, but he should be able to take cognizance of a possibility of existence. In still other words, if society makes difficulties for him because of his color, my objective will not be that of dissuading him from it by advising him to ‘keep his place’; on the contrary, my objective, once his motivation has been brought into consciousness, will be to put him in a position to choose action or passivity with respect to the real source of his conflict—that is the social structure.” (Emphasis added)

Here we see that Fanon, even at this early stage of his work where his primary focus was on psychiatric care of the mentally disturbed, clearly grounds Black alienation in the racist social structure and prescribes social rather than purely individual therapy. He implies that there is little really a psychiatrist qua psychiatrist can do about the central despair of the Black psyche, the fact that Black men and women are constrained to live in a world deliberately constructed to reduce and sicken them, and that as a consequence there is no such thing as normal Black people in the colonial world. They are all pathological cases, the main difference being between those who can see through the white mask and those who wear the mask as if it were real. Fanon rips away the mask, and for those who had expressed “delusions” about assimilating into the colonial order, the book is painful though indispensable reading. The assimilationist is stripped bare with the mask removed, bare and naked right down to, in Amiri Baraka’s words, what he came into the world with, “his black ass.”6

Another manifestation of this alienation, one that is particularly destructive to native society is the “tribal warfare and feuds between sects and quarrels between individuals.” (1963:43) Fanon, of course, argues that the phenomenon of “Niggers Killing Niggers on Saturday Night” is misplaced aggression that should be redirected toward the source of this “tonicity of muscles”—the settler. This racially determined alienation is added onto the alienation deriving from class relations. This dual nature of the problem of alienation in the Black world leads Fanon to propose drastic measures to deal with the problem—absolute violence—the formulation that he is most famous (or infamous) for in the West. However, prior to looking at this problem, it is necessary to consider two other key Marxist organizing concepts in relation to Fanon—economic determinism and the class struggle.

Marx was a determinist in the sense that he argued certain events: notably, that the proletarian revolution was historically necessary or predetermined. He was an economic determinist in the sense that he held the motive force at bottom of all historical change to be the economy. What Marx understands by the economy is the manner and methods by which men in a given society produce their means of subsistence and exchange the products among themselves. Marx further postulated that the struggle over the economy was, in the final analysis, the means by which all epochal changes occur. In deriving this understanding of historical causation, Marx claims that he simply recorded the observed fact that “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle”7 and drew conclusions consistent with these findings. It is important to remember that, for Marx, the term class is used in a very precise sense to indicate groups standing in different relationships to the means of production.

Fanon was also a determinist in the sense that he felt certain events, as in his case of the national revolution in the Third World, were historically necessary and irreversible. He writes: “Now a historic look at history requires that the French colonialists retire, for it has become historically necessary for the national time to exist.” (1967:170)

On the question of Fanon as an economic determinist, there is some confusion in his writings, particularly on the relationship between the class and national questions in the Third World. In his first work, he writes: “The Negro problem does not resolve itself into the problem of Negroes living among white men but rather of Negroes exploited, enslaved, despised by a capitalist society that is only accidentally white” (1952:202). In his essay on “Racism and Culture,” published posthumously, he writes in a similar view: “The problem is covered over by economic disclamation. . . . Here we have proof that questions of race are but a superstructure, a mantle, an obscure ideological emancipation concealing an economic reality.”

Yet, in his last and most sophisticated work, he seems to break slightly away from this strict Marxist view. He writes: “When you examine at close quarters the colonial context, it is evident that what parcels out of belonging to or not belonging to a given race, a given species. In structure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence. You are white because you are rich. This is why Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to deal with the colonial problem. Everything up to and including the very nature of precapitalist society, so well explained by Marx, must here be thought out again.”

Of course, the tension between the revolt of color and the revolt of class did not agitate the mind of Marx for long. He is reported to have said in a letter to President Abraham Lincoln that labor in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor in a black skin is branded, but he never systematically followed through on the implications of this observation. This was, of course, Fanon’s raison d’être. Also it must be said that was weakest—the psychological foundations of human behavior. Thus, he was able to draw, even in his youth, on other formulations of the problem of man’s inhumanity to man, particularly the understandings developed by the Négritude poets on the problem of white man’s inhumanity to Black man.8 Yet he did not abandon his belief in the possibility of transcending race, of the race question passing through the dialectic of anti-racist racism into a higher synthesis of humanism.9

He wrote: “The Negro asserts his solidarity with the oppressed of all colors. At once the subjective existential ethnic idea of Négritude ‘passes,’ as Hegel puts it, into the objective idea of the proletariat. For Césaire says, “The white man is a symbol of capital as the Negro is that of labor. Beyond the black skin men of race it is the battle of the world proletariat that is his song” (1967:133). He goes on to suggest that the Negro is the new world proletariat; he writes that the Negro, as “the scapegoats of white society,” will be precisely the “brutal force” that will destroy that society. Here we can see Fanon’s use of the philosophy of Hegel and the dialectic method at his best.

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Fanon’s use of the dialectic can also be seen in his treatment of the peasants and the bourgeoisie and the working class of the colonial world. In the process of Europe’s change from a traditional to a modern society, no one sang the praises of the bourgeoisie more than Karl Marx. Yet, for Fanon, the colonial bourgeoisie is “absolutely worthless.” In perhaps his most important contribution to understanding the Third World developmental process, he writes: “In under-developed countries, then, there exists no true bourgeois, capable of creating the conditions necessary for the development of a large scale proletariat, to mechanize agriculture and finally to make possible the existence of an authentic national culture. This means that, since national capitalist development cannot occur, the colonial capitalist pattern of appropriate revolutionary strategies must be very different from those in developed countries” (1963:30–31).

As for the working class in the colonial context, Fanon writes: “In the colonial territories the proletariat is the nucleus of the colonized population which has been most pampered by the colonial regime. The embryonic proletariat of the towns is in a comparatively privileged position. In the capitalist countries the working class had nothing to lose: in the colonial countries the working class has everything to lose.” (1963:86)

As for the true revolutionary force in the developing countries, Fanon places his faith in the dispossessed rural peasants in the cities and on the masses of the peasantry left behind. Where Marx spoke disparagingly of the “idiocy” of rural life and the lack of revolutionary potential of the urban lumpen proletariat, Fanon based his entire strategy on these groups he canonized as the “wretched of the earth” who truly have nothing to lose but their chains. He writes: “The rebellion which began in the country districts will filter into the towns through that fraction of the peasant population which is blocked on the outer fringe of the urban centers, that fraction which has not yet found a bone to gnaw in the colonial world (1963:103).10

Fanon departs most sharply from Marx in his understanding of the functions of violence in the revolutionary process. Violence was not key to Marx’s analysis of revolution; he agreed that violence would probably be necessary because the bourgeoisie would in all likelihood resist its demise violently; however, he did admit the possibility of nonviolent revolutionary change in certain advanced industrial societies, notably the United States and Britain.

Thus, although Marx expects violence to be a part of the revolutionary process, he does not consider it historically necessary nor does he make the concept central to his analysis. For Fanon, the exact reverse seems to be the case. He argued that violence was indispensable in the decolonization process, a categorical imperative, without which one could not talk of revolution—or at least one could only talk of it.

In his essay. “Toward the Liberation of Africa,” he writes: “Violence alone, committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. Without that struggle, without that knowledge of the practice of action, there is nothing save a minimum of readaptation, a few reforms, at the top, a flag waving: and down there at the bottom an undivided masses still living in the middle ages, endlessly marking time” (1967:118).

To understand Fanon’s insistence on the absolute necessity of violence, one has to understand that violence is more than a mere political method or tool to force the removal of the European oppressor; for Fanon, it is a vital means of psychic and social liberation. He writes, “Violence is man recreating himself: the native cures himself through force of arms.” Thus, unlike Marx, Fanon seems to imply that even if the colonialists peacefully withdraw, the decolonization process is somehow aborted, that liberation is incomplete—the native remains an enslaved person in the neo-colonial social system.

The native’s inner violence remains pent up, unexpressed and is likely to explode in renewed inter-tribal war, civil war, coups or other forms of post independence civil violence, deprived of its only viable outlet—the settler. Thus, the function of violence is only incidentally political; it’s main function is psycho-social. He writes: “The native’s weapon is proof of his humanity. For in the first days of the revolt you must kill—to shoot down a white man is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: (1963:71).

Fanon seems to have reached this conclusion from generalizations drawn from case studies of the psyches of the oppressed and the oppressor in Algeria. From this psychoanalytic work he “desired” certain assumptions about the nature of colonialism, and liberation. First, he assumed that colonialism, by nature, is violent.

Fanon writes: “Colonialism . . .  is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence. The policeman and the soldier, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action, maintain contract with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge. It is obvious here that government speaks the language of pure force. The intermediary does not lighten the oppression nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with the clear conscience of an upholder of peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native” (1963:91).

He further argues that colonialism creates in the native a perpetual tendency toward violence, a “tonicity of muscles” which is deprived of an outlet. Hence, the phenomena of “Niggers Killing Niggers on Saturday Night.”

Here he seems to imply that this violence is inevitable, that it must be expressed if the colonial personality and society is to be free. He argues that it is incorrect to view this violence as the effect of hatred or the resurrection of savage instincts. On the contrary, he suggests that, given the colonial context, it is the only way the “wretched of the earth” can be free.11 For Marx, violence served no such purpose; and here, Fanon is probably more Sorelian than Marxist.12 Indeed, Marx probably would have recoiled in horror at Fanon’s violence thesis. Yet, one must remember that Marx was dealing with an alienated personality, Fanon with a dehumanized one. At the level of colonized individual, Fanon writes: “For the native, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse of the settler” (1963:43).13

At the level of society, Fanon writes that men change at the same time that they change the world. Individual liberation is only a part of the societal liberation process. He writes in a Sorelian vein how the violent struggle for liberation will create a bond of brotherhood among the oppressed masses: “The mobilization of the masses, when it arises out of the war of liberation, introduces into each man’s consciousness the ideas of a common cause, a national destiny and of a collective history. In the same way the second phase, that of building up the nation, is helped by the existence of this cement which has been mixed with blood and anger” (1963:83).

Critics admit to the validity of Fanon’s sociological argument, agree that colonialism is a dehumanizing process, and in fact most would probably by and large accept Fanon’s judgment that colonial society is non-viable and ought to be replaced. That part of the argument which they cannot accept is the one drawn primarily from his psychological understanding of the problem which impelled him to advocate violence as the indispensable tool of liberation for the oppressed man of color in a world controlled by white people.

Critics have used Fanon’s “fanatical” advocacy of violence to deny Fanon his Marxist credentials, or even his essentially humanist standing, accusing him of barbarism and terrorism.14 I contend that such charges are based on a failure to understand where Fanon (and Marx) were “coming from.” At the risk of over-generalization, I would argue that both were seeking “by whatever means necessary” to end the exploitation of man by men. It is generally recognized that a serious shortcoming of Marx’s work is its Euro-centric bias and overemphasis on the socio-economic at the expense of the psychological. This is not to suggest that either Marx or Fanon is “wrong,” it is only to suggest that the problems of exploitation in Europe and Africa are qualitatively different and require different approaches.

The issue is the same—exploitation—but its character and consequence is different in the Third World today than it was in western Europe in Karl Marx’s time. Hence, I would postulate that Fanon is more of a Marxist than are his Marxist critics in America and western Europe who talk continuously of the working class revolution when, in the West today, the workers are more bourgeois in “outlook” than the bourgeoisie. Of course, it really does not matter whether Fanon is to be granted the halo of Marxism, for, as Fanon observed in his first work, “The body of history does not determine a single one of my actions. I am my own foundation. And it is by going beyond the historical instrument hypothesis that I will initiate the cycle of my freedom.” I think if Marx were alive he could see his way clear to say to his observation, “Right on, Brother!”

Conclusion—A Note on Sources

In this essay I here presented certain citations from Fanon’s work that reflect my understanding of his thought in relation to certain well known Marxist fundamentals. I do not mean to imply that this understanding is the only valid one.* In assembling this essay, I tried to use those quotes from Fanon that most nearly reflect the essentials of his thinking on the question under consideration. However, the process of writing is inevitably one of selection. When writing, one, consciously or not, selects that data most consistent with one’s particular emphasis or bias; therefore, it is nearly certain that others with a different emphasis could find in Fanon’s words illustration to buttress arguments at odds with those herein presented.

That is perhaps as it must be, for Fanon, like Marx, is a thinker whose writings are varied and ambiguous as the human condition he seeks to understand. Finally, I have not attempted to ascertain the truth or falsity of Fanon’s contentions, nor those of Marx, for that matter. Both the men and their work must stand or fall before the varieties of human behavior and the bar of history. I should add that, although I have not attempted to argue whether Fanon or Marx were right or wrong, I admire them both and hope I have treated them with that degree of admiration and detachment that great thought deserves.

Fanon published four books, the last being a posthumous collection of essays. The English translation of these works that I consulted do not correspond chronologically to the dates of publication of the French editions. For example, Fanon‘s first work was published in France in 1952, the English version that I consulted is dated 1967, while his last work, The Wretched of the Earth, in English, is dated 1963, four years prior to his first book. To avoid confusion in the text, I have listed Fanon’s first work by its French publication date and the other works by their English edition publishing dates. The citations in the essay thus refer to the following works: Black Skin, White Mask, 1952, Grove Press, and 1967 English translation: The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, 1963; and Toward the African Revolution, Monthly Review Press 1967.

The works of Marx are of course abundant. For purposes of this essay see: Marx & Engels: Selected Works, International Publishers, 1967, and Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, edited by Shlomo Avineri, Anchor Books, 1964.


1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk.

2. Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, Ungar Pub. New York, 1967.

3. Ibid., p. 33.

4. Theodore Rojak, The Making of a Counter Culture, Anchor Books, New York, 1969, 88–103.

5. Although the argument of Fromm is not convincing, there is a new work that argues fairly well the case for the continuity and coherence of the young and mature Marx. See: Istavan Meszaros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation, Merlin Press, London, 1970.

* For source of this and following Fanon references, see page 33.

6. LeRoi Jones, Home, William Morrow, New York, 1966. This ideological autobiography is an extraordinary example of American Blacks’ journey to disalienation.

7. Marx and Engel, The Communist Manifesto.

8. I would argue that there is no understanding Fanon without an appreciation of the influence of the Négritude literary movement on his thought. English translation of the major poets are almost nonexistent. Two key works of the movement are Aimé Césaire’s Notebook on Return to the Native Country and Léon Damas’ Pigments.

9. Jean Paul Sartre developed this notion of anti-racist racism in his influential essay, “Black Orphéus.”

10. For a perceptive though somewhat biased account of the attempt to apply this notion to the wretched of the American earth see Tom Milstein, “Perspective on the Panthers,” A Commentary Report.

11. Richard Wright made the same argument in his book, White Man, Listen.

12. George Sorel, Reflections on Violence.

13. This is a recurrent theme in Black literature in America. See Richard Wright’s Native Son and especially his The Outsiders. See also Amiri Baraka’s plays and poetry.

14. I think the charge of barbarism and terrorism is particularly misguided. Fanon said repeatedly that “In a war of liberation the colonized people must win, but they must do so clearly without barbarity.” One scholar who makes these charges is Lewis Coser, yet in his major works on the subject he identifies several functions of social violence that are closely akin to Fanon’s. See Lewis Coser, The Functions of Social Conflicts and Continuities in the Study of Conflict.

* One should note that Fanon’s work is, unlike Marx’s writings, incomplete, unfulfilled. He died at age 36 (it is said that men do their best work at about 49), only weeks before he finished the final proofs of his last work. Therefore, one will never know where Fanon’s mature thought in the light of recent history would have led him, or how he would have pulled together the varied strands of thought in his writings into a systematic whole, or even that he would have done so. Clearly he, like Albert Camus, was a man “becoming.” Where, with Marx, we have the “early” and “mature” to compare, with Fanon we have only the “early” with all the pitfalls Aristotle tells us are inherent in the work of the young.

Source: Black World •May 1973 • Vol. XXII No. 7 • Chicago, IL 60605

posted 25 March 2000

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Frantz Fanon Documentary—Black Skin, White Mask

Explores the life and work of the psychoanalytic theorist and activist Frantz Fanon who was born in Martinique, educated in Paris and worked in Algeria. Examines Fanon’s theories of identity and race, and traces his involvement in the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria and throughout the world.

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Fanon: A Novel by John Edgar Wideman. A philosopher, psychiatrist, and political activist, Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) was a fierce, acute critic of racism and oppression. Born of African descent in Martinique in 1925, Fanon fought in defense of France during World War II but later against France in Algeria’s war for independence. His last book, The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, inspired leaders of diverse liberation movements: Steve Biko in South Africa, Che Guevara in Latin America, the Black Panthers in the States. Wideman’s novel is disguised as the project of a contemporary African American novelist, Thomas, who undertakes writing a life of Fanon. The result is an electrifying mix of perspectives, traveling from Manhattan to Paris to Algeria to Pittsburgh. Part whodunit, part screenplay, part love story, Fanon introduces the French film director Jean-Luc Godard to the ailing Mrs. Wideman in Homewood and chases the meaning of Fanon’s legacy through our violent, post-9/11 world, which seems determined to  perpetuate the evils Fanon sought to rectify.

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Aké: The Years of Childhood

By Wole Soyinka

Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception


a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits


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My First Coup d’Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

By John Dramani Mahama

Though the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa began to claim independence in the late 1950s and ’60s, autocratic and capricious leadership soon caused initial hope to fade, and Africa descended into its “lost decades,” a period of stagnation and despondency from which much of the continent has yet to recover. Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, grew up alongside his nascent country and experienced this roller-coaster of fortunes. In this memoir, Mahama, the son of a member of parliament, recounts how affairs of state became real in his young mind on the day in 1966 when no one came to collect him from boarding school—the government had been overthrown, his father arrested, and his house confiscated.

In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana’s recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes: spying on his uncle impersonating a deity in order to cajole offerings of soup from the villagers hints at the power of religion; discussions with his schoolmates about confronting a bully form the nucleus of his political awakening. As he writes: “The key to Africa’s survival has always been . . . in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives.” The book draws to a close as the author’s professional life begins. —Publishers Weekly

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest.

Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad

Missing words have been restored and the entire novel has been repunctuated in accordance with Conrad’s style. The result is the first published version of Heart of Darkness that allows readers to hear Marlow’s voice as Conrad heard it when he wrote the story. “Backgrounds and Contexts” provides readers with a generous collection of maps and photographs that bring the Belgian Congo to life. Textual materials, topically arranged, address nineteenth-century views of imperialism and racism and include autobiographical writings by Conrad on his life in the Congo. New to the Fourth Edition is an excerpt from Adam Hochschild’s recent book, King Leopold’s Ghost, as well as writings on race by Hegel, Darwin, and Galton. “Criticism” includes a wealth of new materials, including nine contemporary reviews and assessments of Conrad and Heart of Darkness [Contents] and twelve recent essays by Chinua Achebe, Peter Brooks, Daphne Erdinast-Vulcan, Edward Said, and Paul B. Armstrong, among others.

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King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

By Adam Hochschild

King Leopold of Belgium, writes historian Adam Hochschild in this grim history, did not much care for his native land or his subjects, all of which he dismissed as “small country, small people.” Even so, he searched the globe to find a colony for Belgium, frantic that the scramble of other European powers for overseas dominions in Africa and Asia would leave nothing for himself or his people. When he eventually found a suitable location in what would become the Belgian Congo, later known as Zaire and now simply as Congo, Leopold set about establishing a rule of terror that would culminate in the deaths of 4 to 8 million indigenous people, “a death toll,” Hochschild writes, “of Holocaust dimensions.”—Gregory McNamee

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 14 August 2012




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Related files: The Fact of Blackness (1952)  Black World and Fanon    The Mask: Remembering Slavery, Understanding Trauma  Introduction I Write What I Like  

Biko and the Problematic of Presence   Why Steve Biko Wouldn’t Vote  New Work by Imamu Amiri Baraka  the visibility trigger/a poem for kwame nkrumah 

Ashanti Empire  Ashanti Chronology 

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