The Dual-State Character of U.S. Coloniality Notes toward Decolonization

By Martinot, Steve | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

The Dual-State Character of U.S. Coloniality Notes toward Decolonization


Martinot, Steve, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


Jack Johnson

Fanon is known as a theoretician of anti-colonialist struggle, and especially of the decolonization of the mind of the colonized. During the era of national liberation movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, his thinking, especially in The Wretched of the Earth (WE), spread widely through the third world, as well as communities in the U.S. (Black, Chicano, Native American, Puerto Rican, Asian, and others), many of whom saw themselves as "subcolonies" (in George Jackson's phrase) in solidarity with those movements. (1) It also spread within the Vietnam anti-war movement which sensed U.S. presence in Vietnam to be a colonialist project and sought to grasp what that meant for a nation that advertised itself as anti-colonialist.

The era of national liberation ended roughly at the end of the 1980s with the defeat of the Salvadorean revolution and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. A different form of EuroAmerican control had taken hold to which the prior anti-colonialist strategies were no longer adequate. Against the systematics of globalized neo-liberalism, opposition required a different form of social movement, with a different ethos, if it were to continue its project of liberation. In this current era, Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks (BSWM) has come into greater currency. (2) And this suggests the need for a redescription of coloniality, especially with respect to the U.S.

To initiate such a redescription, let us turn to the story of Jack Johnson, a black prizefighter at the turn of the 20th century, about whom PBS produced a documentary a few years ago. (3) Johnson was a quick and powerful man, an indefatiguable boxer who emerged from the illicit fight circles of Texas in the 1890s. He remained undefeated in all but one bout. Yet, as he rose in prominence defeating all opponents, black and white, he hit a wall when it came to the heavyweight title. His challenges were consistently declined by the current titleholders. In turn, John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, and Jim Jeffries refused him, saying that they would never let the title be taken by a black man.

That fear, and the forethought and premonition that it contained, revealed a certain fragility of white identity and white hegemony. Yet they were saved from the need to recognize that fragility by a vast outpouring of support for each titleholder's refusal. The white press, white politicians, devotees of the sport and much of white society all vindicated each champ's refusal. The typical racist inversions were deployed. Johnson was called lazy or a coward as a reason not to fight him. In the film, however, an image of veritable obsession with whiteness emerges in the social response to Johnson. Even that "man of the people," Jack London, chimed in on the side of white sanctity.

Yet Johnson met it all with equanimity and wit. He had an endless intuition of how to out-maneuver the white obsessions with segregation and the denigration of black people. Beyond his talent in the ring, he showed an independence of personal comportment, and a sense of self-respect, that constituted a beacon of dignity and personhood for black communities all over the U.S. His words bit into the fabric of the society that sought to exclude him, as he metaphorically kicked down its little white picket fences. He followed the heavyweight champions around the country, and even to Europe, repeating his challenges and publicizing their refusals. When Tommy Burns (the titleholder in 1909) was finally shamed into fighting him, Johnson won both the fight and the title handily.

At that moment, the attacks on him escalated to a level of social panic. He was disparaged in the press for every aspect of his life except his fighting ability--his money, his women (many of whom were white), his life style. Editorials called upon him overtly to return to his place in the racist hierarchy. Hostility toward black people in general increased, and warnings appeared in newspaper editorials and political pronouncements that black people should not think differently of themselves because of Johnson's success. …

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