Fanon and Sartre 50 Years Later: To Retain or Reject the Concept of Race
Gines, Kathryn T., Sartre Studies International
Jean-Paul Sartre's "Orphee Noir" was first published in 1948 as the preface to Leopold Senghor's Anthologie de la nouvelle poesie negre at malgache de langue francaise, a classic anthology of Negritude poetry. (1) Frantz Fanon replied to Sartre with "L'experience vecue du Noir" published in Esprit in May of 1951. (2) This essay later became the fifth chapter of Fanon's Peau noire, masques blancs, published in 1952. (3) In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon is not only confronting Sartre's analysis of Negritude in "Black Orpheus," he is also meeting head-on Sartre's analysis of race as it pertains to the Negro in "Black Orpheus" and as it pertains to the Jew in Anti-Semite and Jew. Towards that end, Fanon claims that Sartre's arguments about the Jewish experience are incompatible with the "lived-experience" of the Negro.
In what follows, I explore these aspects of the Fanon/Sartre debate, and I challenge Sartre's claim that we should reject the concept of race once an "authentic race consciousness" is attained. To understand the significance of this claim, and how Fanon is responding, we must first turn to the analysis of race in Anti-Semite and Jew, where Sartre makes the controversial assertion that the anti-Semite creates the Jew and he argues that authenticity is a viable response to negative stereotypes of the Jew. Fanon then examines the creation of the Negro and negotiates the possibility of overcoming the "myth" of the Negro. Both Sartre and Fanon emphasize the importance of attaining race consciousness, however, they do not emphasize retaining race consciousness. In the final section of this presentation I will argue that once black race consciousness is acquired, it is worth conserving and preserving. I will also argue that the "collective memory" of a race is an incentive for retaining race consciousness. Although I am fully supportive of combating racism, we should not assume that ending racism requires the elimination of racial identities altogether. Furthermore, the idea that we can simply make racial categories disappear is a naive one which does not take into account the historical significance of race. Race is not just a negative category used for the purpose of oppression and exploitation or for the purpose of establishing a sense of supremacy over others. Race has also come to represent a more positive category that encompasses a sense of membership or belonging, remembrance of struggle and overcoming, and the motivation to press forward and endeavor towards new ideals and achievements. Having outlined the aim of my paper, I will now examine how the Jew and the Negro are created.
The Creation of the Negro and the Jew
When I refer to the creation of the Jew and the Negro, I am referring to the negative stereotypes and characteristics attributed to them. I am not asserting that the Jew would not exist without the anti-Semite or that the Negro would not exist without the racist or the white man. In Anti-Semite and Jew Sartre constantly refers to the "Jewish race." Sartre does not define what race is, but he does state what it is not. He explains, "If by 'race' is understood that indefinable complex into which are tossed pell-mell both somatic characteristics and intellectual and moral traits, I believe in it no more than I do in ouija boards." (4) He does, however, assert that races imply racial inequalities, stating, "Is not race itself a pure vital value ... the very idea of race implies that of inequality?" (ASJ, 119). Sartre sees a correlation between race and racial inequality. And while racial inequalities and hierarchies have existed historically, and even persist today, I will later emphasize the importance of a more positive correlation between race and collective memory.
Sartre asks if Jews don't have a historical community, what gives any unity to this community? He answers, "To reply to this question, we must come back to the idea of situation. It is neither their past, their religion, nor their soil that unites the sons of Israel. If they have a common bond, if all of them deserve the name of Jew, it is because they have in common the situation of a Jew, that is, they live in a community which takes them for Jews." (ASJ, 67) Here it is implied that the situation is given externally. (5) Sartre also makes this implication when he states, "If I wish to know who the Jew is, I must first inquire into the situation surrounding him, since he is a being in a situation" (ASJ, 60). Adding to the externally given aspects of the Jewish situation is the role of the "inauthentic" Jew. According to Sartre, the anti-Semite takes advantage of the inauthentic Jew to forge a general mythology of the Jew (ASJ, 92). Inauthentic Jews run away from their situation, choosing to deny it. In fact this flight and denial characterize the inauthentic Jew. And while Sartre has been criticized for these claims, it is important to understand that Sartre is not making value judgments in his descriptions of authenticity and inauthenticity. (6) Rather, he is describing different ways of confronting the particularity of the Jewish situation in an anti-Semitic world.
But my focus is …
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Publication information: Article title: Fanon and Sartre 50 Years Later: To Retain or Reject the Concept of Race. Contributors: Gines, Kathryn T. - Author. Journal title: Sartre Studies International. Volume: 9. Issue: 2 Publication date: December 2003. Page number: 55+. © 2000 Berghahn Books, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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