Frantz Fanon (July 20, 1925 – December 6, 1961) was a Martinique-born French psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose work is influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory and Marxism. Fanon is known as a radical existential humanist[1] thinker on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization.[2]

Fanon supported the Algerian struggle for independence and became a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front. His life and works have incited and inspired anti-colonial liberation movements for more than four decades.[3]


Martinique and World War II

Frantz Fanon was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was then a French colony and is now a French département. His father was a descendant of African slaves; his mother was said to be an illegitimate child of African, Indian and European descent, whose white ancestors came from Strasbourg in Alsace. Fanon’s family was socio-economically middle-class and they could afford the fees for the Lycée Schoelcher, then the most prestigious high school in Martinique, where the writer Aimé Césaire was one of his teachers.[4]

After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, Vichy French naval troops were blockaded on Martinique. Forced to remain on the island, French soldiers became “authentic racists.”[5] Many accusations of harassment and sexual misconduct arose. The abuse of the Martiniquan people by the French Army influenced Fanon, reinforcing his feelings of alienation and his disgust with colonial racism. At the age of eighteen, Fanon fled the island as a “dissident” (the coined word for French West Indians joining Gaullist forces) and travelled to British-controlled Dominica to join the Free French Forces.

He enlisted in the French army and joined an Allied convoy that arrived in Casablanca. He was later transferred to an army base at Bejaia on the Kabylie coast of Algeria. Fanon left Algeria from Oran and saw service in France, notably in the battles of Alsace. In 1944 he was wounded at Colmar and received the Croix de Guerre medal.

When the Nazis were defeated and Allied forces crossed the Rhine into Germany along with photo journalists, Fanon’s regiment was ‘bleached’ of all non-white soldiers and Fanon and his fellow Caribbean soldiers were sent to Toulon (Provence) instead.[6] Later, they were transferred to Normandy to await repatriation home.

In 1945 Fanon returned to Martinique. His return lasted only a short time. While there, he worked for the parliamentary campaign of his friend and mentor Aimé Césaire, who would be a major influence in his life. Although Fanon never professed to be a communist,[citation needed] Césaire ran on the communist ticket as a parliamentary delegate from Martinique to the first National Assembly of the Fourth Republic. Fanon stayed long enough to complete his baccalaureate and then went to France where he studied medicine and psychiatry.

He was educated in Lyon, where he also studied literature, drama and philosophy, sometimes attending Merleau-Ponty’s lectures. During this period he wrote three plays, whose manuscripts are now lost. After qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951, Fanon did a residency in psychiatry at Saint-Alban under the radical Catalan psychiatrist Francois Tosquelles, who invigorated Fanon’s thinking by emphasizing the role of culture in psychopathology. After his residency, Fanon practised psychiatry at Pontorson, near Mont St Michel, for another year and then (from 1953) in Algeria. He was chef de service at the Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital in Algeria, where he stayed until his deportation in January 1957.[7]

His service in France’s army (and his experiences in Martinique) influenced Black Skin, White Masks.


In France in 1952, Fanon wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, an analysis of the psychological effects of colonial subjugation on people identified as black. This book was originally his doctoral thesis submitted at Lyon and entitled, “Essay on the Disalienation of the Black”. The rejection of the thesis led Fanon to seek to have the book published, and Fanon eventually submitted a different thesis on a more narrow topic. It was the left-wing philosopher Francis Jeanson, leader of the pro-Algerian independence Jeanson network, who insisted on the new title and also wrote an epilogue for this publication. Jeanson was also one of the senior editors at Éditions du Seuil, a major Parisian publishing house.

When Fanon first submitted Black Skin, White Masks to Éditions du Seuil, Jeanson invited him to his office for a meeting. Both men remember that it did not go well: in an interview, Jeanson describes the young Fanon as nervous and overly sensitive. He began to praise Fanon’s work, but right away Fanon cut him off, saying, “not bad for a nigger, is it?!” Jeanson was both insulted and angry, and sent Fanon out of his office, which, he would later say, earned him Fanon’s respect for the rest of his life. Afterwards, their relationship became much easier, and Fanon agreed to Jeanson’s title suggestion, largely due to his overwhelming workload in earning his medical degree.[8]


Fanon left France for Algeria, where he had been stationed for some time during the war. He secured an appointment as a psychiatrist at Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital. It was there that he radicalized methods of treatment. In particular, he began socio-therapy which connected with his patients’ cultural backgrounds. He also trained nurses and interns. Following the outbreak of the Algerian revolution in November 1954 he joined the Front de Libération Nationale as a result of contacts with Dr Pierre Chaulet at Blida in 1955.

In The Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre), published shortly before Fanon’s death in 1961, Fanon defends the right for a colonized people to use violence to struggle for independence, arguing that human beings who are not considered as such shall not be bound by principles that apply to humanity, in their attitude towards the colonizer. His book was then censored by the French government.

Fanon made extensive trips across Algeria, mainly in the Kabyle region, to study the cultural and psychological life of Algerians. His lost study of “The marabout of Si Slimane” is an example. These trips were also a means for clandestine activities, notably in his visits to the ski resort of Chrea which hid an FLN base. By summer 1956 he wrote his “Letter of resignation to the Resident Minister” and made a clean break with his French assimilationist upbringing and education. He was expelled from Algeria in January 1957 and the “nest of fellaghas [rebels]” at Blida hospital was dismantled.

Fanon left for France and subsequently travelled secretly to Tunis. He was part of the editorial collective of El Moudjahid, for which he wrote until the end of his life. He also served as Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government (GPRA) and attended conferences in Accra, Conakry, Addis Ababa, Leopoldville, Cairo and Tripoli. Many of his shorter writings from this period were collected posthumously in the book Toward the African Revolution. In this book Fanon reveals himself as a war strategist; in one chapter he discusses how to open a southern front to the war and how to run the supply lines.[9]


On his return to Tunis, after his exhausting trip across the Sahara to open a Third Front, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia. He went to the Soviet Union for treatment and experienced some remission of his illness. On his return to Tunis he dictated his testament The Wretched of the Earth. When he was not confined to his bed, he delivered lectures to ALN (Armée de Libération Nationale) officers at Ghardimao on the Algero-Tunisian border. He made a final visit to Sartre in Rome. In 1961 the CIA arranged a trip to the U.S. for further leukemia treatment[10].

He died in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 6, 1961 under the name of Ibrahim Fanon. He was buried in Algeria, after lying in state in Tunisia. Later his body was moved to a martyrs’ (chouhada) graveyard at Ain Kerma in eastern Algeria. Fanon was survived by his wife Josie (née Dublé), a French woman, their son Olivier, and his daughter (from a previous relationship) Mireille. Mireille married Bernard Mendès-France, son of the French politician Pierre Mendès-France. Josie took her own life in Algiers in 1989[11], Olivier still works for the Algerian Embassy in Paris.


Although Fanon wrote Black Skin, White Masks while still in France, most of his work was written while in North Africa. It was during this time that he produced works such as L’An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne in 1959 (Year Five of the Algerian Revolution, later republished as Sociology of a Revolution and later still as A Dying Colonialism). The irony of this was that Fanon’s original title was “Reality of a Nation”; however, the publisher, Francois Maspero, refused to accept this title.

Fanon is best known for the classic on decolonization The Wretched of the Earth.[12] The Wretched of the Earth was first published in 1961 by François Maspero and has a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre.[13] In it Fanon analyzes the role of class, race, national culture and violence in the struggle for national liberation. Both books established Fanon in the eyes of much of the Third World as the leading anti-colonial thinker of the 20th century.

Fanon’s three books were supplemented by numerous psychiatry articles as well as radical critiques of French colonialism in journals such as Esprit and El Moudjahid.

The reception of his work has been affected by English translations which are recognized to contain numerous omissions and errors, while his unpublished work, including his doctoral thesis, has received little attention. As a result, Fanon has often been portrayed as an advocate of violence (it would be more accurate to characterize him as a dialectical opponent of nonviolence) and his ideas have been extremely oversimplified. This reductionist vision of Fanon’s work ignores the subtlety of his understanding of the colonial system. For example, the fifth chapter of Black Skin, White Masks translates, literally, as “The Lived Experience of the Black,” but Markmann’s translation is “The Fact of Blackness,” which leaves out the massive influence of phenomenology on Fanon’s early work.[14]

For Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, the colonizer’s presence in Algeria is based on sheer military strength. Any resistance to this strength must also be of a violent nature because it is the only ‘language’ the colonizer speaks. Thus, violent resistance is a necessity imposed by the colonists upon the colonized. The relevance of language and the reformation of discourse pervades much of his work, which is why it is so interdisciplinary, spanning psychiatric concerns to encompass politics, sociology, anthropology, linguistics and literature.[citation needed]

His participation in the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale from 1955 determined his audience as the Algerian colonized. It was to them that his final work, Les damnés de la terre (translated into English by Constance Farrington as The Wretched of the Earth) was directed. It constitutes a warning to the oppressed of the dangers they face in the whirlwind of decolonization and the transition to a neo-colonialist, globalized world.[15]


Fanon was influenced by a variety of thinkers and intellectual movements including Aimé Césaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Lacan, Négritude and Marxism.[16]


Fanon has had an influence on anti-colonial and national liberation movements. In particular, Les damnés de la terre was a major influence on the work of revolutionary leaders such as Ali Shariati in Iran, Steve Biko in South Africa, Malcolm X in the United States and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba. Of these only Guevara was primarily concerned with Fanon’s theories on violence; for Shariati and Biko the main interest in Fanon was “the new man” and “black consciousness” respectively.[17]

Pre-eminent Bolivian indianist Fausto Reinaga also had some Fanon influence and he mentions The Wretched of the Earth in his magnum opus La Revolución India, advocating for decolonisation of native South Americans from European influence.

Fanon’s influence extended to the liberation movements of the Palestinians, the Tamils, African Americans and others. His work was a key influence on the Black Panther Party, particularly his ideas concerning nationalism, violence and the lumpenproletariat. More recently, radical South African poor people’s movements, such as the influential Abahlali baseMjondolo (meaning ‘people who live in shacks’ in Zulu), have been influenced by Fanon’s work.[18] His work was a key influence on Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, as well. Barack Obama references Fanon in his book, Dreams from My Father.[19]

The Caribbean Philosophical Association offers the Frantz Fanon Prize for work that furthers the decolonization and liberation of mankind.[20]


Fanon’s writings

  • Black Skin, White Masks (1952),      (1967 translation by Charles Lam Markmann: New York, Grove      Press)
  • A Dying Colonialism (1959), (1965      translation by Haakon Chavalier: New York, Grove Press)
  • The Wretched of the Earth,      (1961), (1963 translation by Constance Farrington: New York, Grove      Weidenfeld)
  • Toward the      African Revolution, (1964), (1969 translation by Haakon Chavalier:      New York, Grove Press)

Books on Fanon

  • Irene Gendzier, Frantz      Fanon: A Critical Study (1974: London, Wildwood House) ISBN      0-7045-0002-7
  • Hussein      Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon And The Psychology Of Oppression      (1985: New York NY, Plenum Press) ISBN      0-306-41950-5
  • Lewis      R. Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on      Philosophy and the Human Sciences (1995: New York, Routledge)
  • Lewis R.      Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, & Renee T. White [eds.] Fanon:      A Critical Reader (1996: Oxford, Blackwell)
  • Ato      Sekyi-Otu, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience (1996: Cambridge,      MA, Harvard University Press)
  • T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Frantz      Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms (1998: Lanham, MD, Rowman &      Littlefield Publishers Inc.)
  • Nigel      C. Gibson [ed.], Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue      (1999: Amherst, New York, Humanity Books)
  • Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon. Portrait(2000: Paris,      Seuil)
  • David      Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000: New York, NY, Picador      Press) ISBN      0-312-27550-1
  • Patrick      Ehlen, Frantz Fanon: A Spiritual Biography (2001: New York, NY,      Crossroad 8th Avenue) ISBN      0-8245-2354-7
  • Nigel C.      Gibson, Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (2003: Oxford, Polity      Press)
  • Nigel C.      Gibson, Fanonian Practices in South Africa (2011: London, Palgrave      Macmillan)
  • Nigel C.      Gibson [Ed.], Living Fanon: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2011:      London, Palgrave Mamcillan)

Films on Fanon

  • Isaac      Julien, “Frantz      Fanon: Black Skin White Mask” (a documentary) (1996: San      Francisco, California Newsreel)


  1. ^ Fanon & the Crisis of European Man, Lewis Gordon, New York, Routledge, 1995
  2. ^ Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, “Frantz Fanon And The Psychology Of Oppression” (1985: New York NY, Plenum Press
  3. ^ Alice Cherki, “Frantz Fanon. Portrait” (2000: Paris, Seuil), David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000: New York, NY, Picador Press)
  4. ^ Petri Liukkonen (2002). “Frantz Fanon (1925–1961)”. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
  5. ^ “Project MUSE – History Workshop Journal – Frantz Fanon, or the Difficulty of Being Martinican”. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  6. ^ Fanon, David Macey
  7. ^ Alice Cherki, “Frantz Fanon. Portrait” (2000: Paris, Seuil), David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000: New York, NY, Picador Press) ISBN
  8. ^ Cherki, Alice (2006). Frantz Fanon: A Portrait. London: Cornell University Press. pp. 24. ISBN 978-0-8014-7308-1.
  9. ^ Alice Cherki, “Frantz Fanon. Portrait” (2000: Paris, Seuil), David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000: New York, NY, Picador Press) ISBN
  10. ^ Angelo Codevilla, Informing Statecraft (1992: New York)
  11. ^ Alice Cherki, “Frantz Fanon. Portrait” (2000: Paris, Seuil), David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2000: New York, NY, Picador Press) ISBN
  12. ^ Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Preface”. Fanon, Franz. Black Skin, White Masks, transl. Charles Lam Markmann (1967: New York, Grove Press)
  13. ^ “Extraits de la préface de Jean-Paul Sartre au “Les Damnés de la Terre” (Extracts from the preface by Jean-Paul Sartre to The Wretched of the Eeath)” (in French). Tambour Journal. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
  14. ^ Moten, Fred (Spring 2008). “The Case of Blackness”. Criticism 50 (2): 177–218. DOI:10.1353/crt.0.0062.
  15. ^ Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions. Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? […] It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity. And in the framework of the collectivity there were the differentiations, the stratification and the bloodthirsty tensions fed by classes; and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, there were racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men. So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her.” The wretched of the earth – “Conclusions”
  16. ^ Alice Cherki: Frantz Fanon – A Portrait
  17. ^ Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, & Renee T. White [edd] Fanon: A Critical Reader (1996: Oxford, Blackwell) p 163 & Bianchi, Eugene C. The Religious Experience of Revolutionaries (1972 Doubleday) p 206
  18. ^ Upright and free: Fanon in South Africa, from Biko to the shackdwellers’ movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo), by Nigel C. Gibson, Social Identities,14:6, pp. 683–715, 2008
  19. ^ D’Souza, Dinesh, “How Obama Thinks”, Forbes magazine, 9.27.10. Cited in Michael D. Shear, “Gingrich: President Exhibits ‘Kenyan, Anticolonial Behavior’”, The New York Times “Caucus” blog, September 13, 2010, 10:02 am. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  20. ^ Enrique Dussel website

^ Rushdie, Salman (2008). The Satanic Verses. New York: Random House. pp. 561. ISBN 978-0-8129-7671-7.

External links

  • Frantz Fanon Archive at
  • Frantz Fanon Foundation (French)
  • Frantz Fanon:      the cause of colonized peoples (French)