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

By Tamdgidi, Mohammad H. | Human Architecture, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

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


Tamdgidi, Mohammad H., Human Architecture


Abstract: How were Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Gloria Anzaldúa 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 Fanon, Said, and Anzaldúa, seeking to identify the theoretical implications such a study may have for advancing human emancipatory discourses and practices. Fanon's ideas and activism have often been associated with an advocacy for physical and cruder forms of revolutionary response to the violence brought on by colonialism and racism. Revisiting such misinterpretations of Fanon's work in conversation with Said's and Anzaldúa's writings, I argue that the differing (respectively embracing, ambiguous, and rejective) responses of the three intellectuals regarding revolutionary physical violence is reflective of the regional historical conditions of colonialism and racism confronting each intellectual. I argue, further, that what commonly motivated the highly visible and committed public discourses and struggles of these three public intellectuals were their sensitivity to deeply troubling and much subtler personal experiences of racism and colonialism each had endured in their lives, involving becoming aware of and experiencing an alienated/ing multiply-selved landscape within that accommodated both the victimhood and the perpetration of racial and colonial identities and practices in oneself. It is one thing to witness and be a victim of racial prejudice and colonial oppression in and by others, and another to realize that one and one's loved ones have been turned into perpetrators of or accomplices in the same, at times against oneself. The study points to what I have previously proposed (2004-7) as a need to move beyond Newtonian and toward quantal sociological imaginations whereby the atomic "individual" units of sociological analysis and practice are problematized and transcended in favor of recognizing the strange, sub-atomic and quantal, realities of personal and broader social lives in terms of relationalities of intra/inter/extrapersonal selfhoods. Such exercises in the sociology of self-knowledge may more effectively accommodate the subtler realization that one may be at the same time not only an oppressor and an oppressed vis-á-vis others, but also an oppressor of oneself-an awakening that is indispensable for pursuing what Fanon called the "total liberation" of humanity.

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. …

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