Intersecting Autobiography, History, and Theory: The Subtler Global Violences of Colonialism and Racism in Fanon, Said, and Anzaldua

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Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question constantly: "In reality, who am I?" (p. 203).... You are forced to come up against yourself. Here we discover the kernel of that hatred of self which is characteristic of racial conflicts in segregated societies.... Once again, the objective of the native who fights against himself is to bring about the end of domination. But he ought equally to pay attention to the liquidation of all untruths implanted in his being by oppression.... Total liberation is that which concerns all sectors of the personality (p. 250).

--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Thus it took me about fifty years to become accustomed to, or, more exactly, to feel less uncomfortable with, "Edward," a foolishly English name yoked forcibly to the unmistakably Arabic family name Said (p. 3).... The underlying motifs for me have been the emergence of a second self buried for a very long time beneath a surface of often expertly acquired and wielded social characteristics belonging to the self my parents tried to construct, the "Edward" I speak of intermittently, and how an extraordinarily increasing number of departures have unsettled my life from its earliest beginnings. To me, nothing more painful and paradoxically sought after characterizes my life than the many displacements from countries, cities, abodes, languages, environments that have kept me in motion all these years (p. 217).... I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents. I prefer this to the idea of a solid self, the identity to which so many attach so much significance (p. 295).

--Edward Said, Out of Place

Yes, yes. And then I think of the human personality. It's supposed to be one. You know, you 're one entity--one person with one identity. But that's not so. There are many personalities and subpersonalities in you and your identity shifts every time you shift positions (p. 158).... There s this heroic fallacy that it's OK to penetrate a country--rape it, conquer it, take it over--and not only to do that but to tell the inhabitants that they aren't who they are. This to me was the greatest injury: to take the identity away from these indigenous people, to put a foreign identity on them, then make them believe that that's who they were. (p. 188-9).... To take the problem of censorship one step further, there's also internal censorship. I've internalized my mom's voice, the neoconservative right voice, the morality voice. I'm always fighting those voices (p. 260).

--Gloria Anzaldua, Interviews/Entrevistas, edited by AnaLouise Keating

How were Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), Edward Said (1935-2003), and Gloria Anzaldua (1942-2004) personally troubled--in their respective regional (Martiniquan/African, Palestinian/Arab, and Chicana/Mexican) historical contexts--by the global violences of colonialism and racism, and how did such personal experiences motivate and explain (and how were they in turn informed by) their highly visible public intellectual discourses and actions? In this article, I comparatively explore the sociological imaginations of colonialism and racism as found in the writings of these three public intellectuals, seeking to identify the theoretical implications such a study may have for advancing human emancipatory discourses and practices.


The sociological imagination, C. Wright Mills wrote, "enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise" (1959:349). He further added that "No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history, and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey" (Ibid.). Such an imagination would enable its holder to relate how one's "personal troubles of the milieu" and broader "public issues of social structure" (p. …