Saturday, February 27, 2010

Remembering Fanon

Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist, a philosopher, writer, and a revolutionary because of his influence in the field of post-colonial studies, psychology, and Algeria. He was the guru of French decolonization and practically created the psychology of the oppressed. Or what we tagged Black Psychology back in the days.

Fanon gave us mad lit to stand on, but the two books he's known for the most are The Wretched of the Earth (Les Damnés de La Terre), published right before his death in '61--same year I came through--where he put the word out on the effects on tortured Algerians by French forces. At the time, the book was considered controversial so it got censored by France. The other is Black Skin, White Mask, originally his doctoral thesis submitted at Lyon and was rejected. So he did what any revolutionary does-- Took matters into his own hands and had the book published!

France was trying to make Algeria their other Haiti but Islam proved to be a stronger foothold than Vodun.

It's important to know this, if you're taking PSY100. Because the syllabus often times doesn't include your genius or mine. Just an assumption that our issues are too complex to address, unless the one who's setting the tone is open to telling the full story. In The Seat of the Soul Spiritualist, Gary Zukav writes, "Because psychology is based upon the perceptions of the five-sensory personality, it is not able to recognize the soul..." And that's what seperated Fanon from other psychology gurus. He wasn't simply taking samples and studying stats. He put faces on these stats; told their stories in order for us to gain an undestanding of the oppressed. Before Fanon, Euro-American philosophy was used to define the Black experience, whether the subject was from North Africa, Martinique or Alabama. Assumptions made about us by so-called experts were translated into Hollywood movies that portayed us as an unruly, troubled race without taking into account who was troubling us, in the first place. If you're a psych major, you need to know this, so you don't apply convenient lies onto those who can't fend for themselves, particularly those who place more value on the unseen. It might be a conflict of sorts learning how to be a scientist while remembering matters of the spirit. As a matter of fact, it's a contradiction. It'll be up to you to find your own delicate dance between playing the researcher and simply being; reporting your findings and actually doing something about the issue at hand. Otherwise, what's the point? What's your intention? To help your people advance or to be called Doctor?

Fanon was also stationed in Algeria during the French-Algerian war as a psychiatrist. It was there that he radicalized methods of treatment, like socio-therapy where you connect the psychosis with the cultural background.* (The American version is
Dr. Joy Leary's theory of post-slavery symdrome).

He also trained nurses and interns. And following the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution in '54 Fanon joined the FLN Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale). This is what Zukav calls spiritual psychology. This is what I call pyschology applied and not just theorized.

Remembering Fanon also means remembering my doctoral studies. Or more acurately, the year I got seduced into thinking I could help my community by getting a PhD. It was naive of me to think that letters define the man, but my more conservative friends had already considered the sound of Doctor next to my surname. Even with their good intentions, however, they never actually offered me suggestions as to how I'd put the hard work into good use. They seem more preoccupied with the red carpet aspect of it, while my students just wanted the K. I should've known there'd be a kind of identity transformation when one of the brain surgeons announced to the small handpicked group I was in that we were about to change who we were as individuals. It didn't occur to me 'til later that they meant we were each going to be transformed into a scientist and that emotionality would soon be replaced by cold facts, and spirituality into evidence unseen. I was a fish out of water and didn't know it!

And you wouldn't know it, what with the A's I was pulling in and my quick rise as a rock star for my tell-it-like-it-is vibe and a way of expressing myself on paper that got me mad respect from the guru of Black male identity himself, Dr. William Cross, along with a couple of research mates who I quickly developed close friendships with. But here's where opportunity turns into more miseducation-- The readings presented to us didn't match our realities, competition took precedence over cooperative learning, guest lecturers lacked hood credibility. The side effects were even more disappointing. Like the handful of brothas in the Program never acknowledging one another, White entitlement against Latino ignorance. I mean, here's a Puertoriquena straight fom the Bronx trying her best to impress and tells a room full of scholars that Black boys and girls aren't aware of racism until they reach high school. I had to remind her that not everyone waits to be fed; that some people actually pick their own food! So I brought up Kunjufu's work and all the little Black and Brown kids in da hood who experience marginalization as early as Kindergarten. It's not scientific. More spiritual. Just in the manner in which the teacher treats one over the other, how much they expect, the limited resources and outdated books, and whether the lesson plans teach leadership skills or servitude. Our kids don't come home and say, The public educational system is basically about warehousing; and in worse cases, just centers for prison preparedness. They don't talk like that. It's more like, "Mommy, I don't want a Black doll. I want a pretty doll." Or "Daddy, the teacher said I'd be happier in a special class for hyper kids."

One professor who was writing a book on West Indian immigation wanted to test some chapters on us. She got everyone's input but forgot to ask mine (and I'm being nice). When I pointed out the obvious she told the group--all the while, avoiding eye contact with me--that we had run out of time. Now, here's an anglo-saxon female writing a book about us, but is unwilling to get feedback from the only Carib in the room! The others knew the deal, but you can't show your ass to the very people who'll decide on your dissertation!

God bless the ones who decided to stick it out. Because each man, each woman has the right to choose their purpose. But my purpose chose me, and so I got no choice but to follow my intuition. Not the letters. Not a title. Not the monies they dangle at you while they're making their incisions, but the voice inside that guides and keeps me on my divine path. Six-months after I quit the doctoral my first book got published! Turns out I didn't need a PhD to reach the youth and their parents. All I needed to do is show some soul in my psychology and the accolades would follow. Just the kind of lesson plan that makes a kid reflect on his life and purpose, while pulling his pants back up because now he gives a fuck!

*Film scene from Isaac Julien's adaptation of Black Skin, White Mask

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