Violences in Fanon

I found Fanon’s On Violence particularly striking and in fact, disturbing. Fanon writes of the colonized and colonists as two polarised and homogenous groups or masses, and expounds on the violence that both groups enact. When I was reading his descriptions on the actions of the white colonisers on the native colonised, a few points struck me. Firstly, that Fanon has no problem with discussing colonialism and decolonisation in terms of a clear-cut binary of wary colonizer and envious colonised, and secondly, that in his own discussion of the violence done upon the colonised by the colonizers, Fanon himself also enacts a sort of violence upon them.

Frankly, I was quite disturbed by the way Fanon reduced and simplified the experience(s) of colonialism and decolonisation in to clear cut black and white binaries. The wary ‘colonist’ and the envious ‘colonized, both strictly at odds with one another. Fanon seems to ignore that the experience of colonialism was different in each country—yes, it can be argued that being colonised was at the root an act of violence, and the natives were, in all cases, ‘invaded’ by the white men. Yet, Fanon dismisses the different ways people—both colonialists and colonised—thought about colonialism and being colonised, and the nuances in the colonial experience and process. Granted, Fanon was writing from his own perspective and experiences, but I feel that his simplification of the issue not only makes a meaningful discussion of colonialism difficult, but is also in itself an act of violence on the colonised, and also the colonisers.

Fanon’s description of the colonized really disturbed me, especially the way he ‘condensed’ the various individuals who were colonised into a single figure—“the colonized subject”, a single, unremarkable “him”. This struck me most as the ‘violence’ in the text, not the actions of the colonizers.

The Fallacy of a “Simple Truth”

Initially I struggled with reading Fanon’s chapter “On Violence” because of his insistence on engaging with binaries – good versus evil, colonist versus colonized subject. To my mind this seemed merely simplistic and over-generalised his entire argument. However, that being said, Fanon’s exposition on the nature and result of decolonisation was fascinating precisely because in generalising the colonized subject’s automatic and, indeed, necessary response to colonialism, he formulated an essentially simple and powerful argument for violence in the process of decolonisation. 

Violence, by virtue of its forceful nature, is the status quo for both establishment and destruction of colonies. The ironic, self-defeating reality of the common language of violence for both enforcer of and rebel against colonialism, is that all parties involved suffer. For all Fanon’s argument against the cruelty of the colonist which has entrapped the colonized subject even in independence, even he comes to admit the interdependence of both on one another. The colonist still needs the (ex) colony as a market for his goods, the colonized subject finds his country slipping back into regression with the withdrawal of colonial infrastructure. True “independence”, on either party’s part is then, in more ways than one, a sheer fallacy. Violence is from the very outset of colonisation, self-defeating since it only begins a cycle to establish power and assert an independence that, even if achievable in some small way initially, falls apart in the long run under the weight of its own expectations for “something better”.

 It is thus clear that Fanon’s initial argument pitting colonist against colonized subject and then uniting them with the common thread of violence still leaves us unsatisfied precisely because it is, in its simplicity, insufficient to explain the complexity of the human condition as reflected in the exercise of power through violence, whatever the intention: to enslave or to free.