esse quam videri: Fanon the modernist arguing for truth.

In reading Fanon’s article on “The Negro and Language”, I was particularly fascinated by the discussion on the use of pidgin to communicate with the Negro, the complete disregard and indeed dismissal of any possibility that the Negro may in fact be more than capable of understanding “adult” French, and not actually require a simpler form of language in order to communicate. Further, I loved Fanon’s argument that colonial discourse has been so internalised that one is unconscious about one’s condescension, and indeed as simplistic an argument as this seems, it is this kind of reflexivity that perhaps we need even now, in overcoming prejudice that undercuts even the most well-intended interactions.

Yet, Fanon’s most scathing criticism is not for the ignorant / condescending white man, but for the Westernised Negro, the native who upon returning can almost immediately be identified as “European” (hence, black skin, white masks). His greatest contention is not merely that colonialism has told the native figure he should be _____, or that he is _____, but that the native comes to believe this is true. And in believing in his inferiority, the native attempts to overcome it by being like the white man. Fanon argues this is in itself impossible, for even with a white mask, black skin is still black skin (one thinks of Michael Jackson but that is beside the point).

What Fanon stands for, at the end of the day, and what is reiterated throughout the book, then, is the concept of esse quam videri, or to BE, rather than appear to be. There is a desire for truthfulness in one’s identity that Fanon is calling out for. No shame in being “native”, only in pretending to be white when it is an impossibility. And briefly, then, Fanon fulfills the Modernist ideal of pursuing truth, and rejecting past “truths”.