Sunday, February 3, 2013

Children of the Colonies

“He watched his body grow white out of the darkness like a Kodak print emerging from a liquid.” - William Faulkner, Light in August

I found Fanon's argument about violence incredibly compelling, but on a second read through I thought that his premise of a Manichean society was too neat to be realistic. I do not debate the sentiment of the colonizer or the colonist and their inability co-exist, but rather wonder at this implicit rejection that people on the fringes of either society exist. Fanon describes the colonial dichotomy as:“[a] compartmentalized world, [a] world divided in two, [that] is inhabited by different different species. The singularity of the colonial context lies in the fact that economic reality, inequality, and enormous disparities in lifestyles never manage to mask human reality.” (5) By calling the colonizer and the colonized different species, he implies that they can never reproduce, or intermingle. They could not co-exist long enough to do so.
However, there is an entire lexicon to discuss mixed-racial populations, and many such words find their roots in the colonies of the western world. Mestizos were originally a mix of Spanish colonists and native Latin Americans; Basters are a mix of Dutch men and African women in the Cape Colony; and Quadroon is a word that literally refers to someone who has only one fourth of a native African or Australian heritage while the rest is Caucasian. These are only a few examples of mixed-races created by the divided colonial word. It would then be historically inaccurate to say that the colonists never produced offspring with the people they colonized, and the existence of these people forces complexity to enter the Manichaen world that Fanon identifies. What, then, would be the experience of a person born into a mix of two of these “congenitally antagonistic” cultures?

The process of creating a mixed-race is almost certainly in part one of violence. I do not disagree with Fanon when he says that “The colonist is not content with physically limiting the space of the colonized i.e., with the help of his agents of law and order. . . the colonist turns the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil. Colonized society is not merely a portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with saying that the colonized society has lost its values or worse never possessed any. The 'native' is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values” (6). This is how the colonist rationalizes a discourse of violence which stems beyond atrocities that his law would allow. One form of violence in particular, an act of ownership and power in the extreme, is rape. And from rape, a mixed race is born. A race that is nearly impossible for either of its parent ethnicities to love. It is an outsider race by nature, often made other by both the colonist and the colonized.

William Faulkner's character Joe Christmas, the antihero star of Light in August is one such example of a person of mixed race, and his psychology embodies the struggle that such a people might go through. Though he looks white, a rumor circulates when he is a young child that he has a black ancestor, and from that day forward he is vilified, almost universally treated like an animal by the people who believe he is not 100% white. However, because of his color he is also an outcast from the black community. He is a man without a culture or an identity, treated as an animal and a privileged rich man at the same time. His confusion is often visually interpreted by Faulkner, as the quote at the beginning shows.

It is people like Joe that are left out by Fanon. These people that are children of the very violence that he is suggesting is the only reasonable discourse in a colony, the only coherent discourse, and they need to be included for a complete picture of the colonized world. It is no longer two distinct cultures, not even three, but some odd mix that forces complexity. It is this breeding that cannot allow Fanon's Manichaen world. There is always mixing, whether we are comfortable with it or not. Whether we can face the children of colonization or not, they certainly exist. 


  1. I take issue with your reading of Fanon's use of the word "species." I do not think he is reifying the term by saying that the colonized and colonizers are actually two distinct beings not of the same human group. Rather, much of his argument is directly invested in restoring the lost humanity of the colonized people, who have been told that they are not human. In fact, when he introduces the word species on the first page, he does so in quotations, referring to the constructed nature of the distinction between colonized and colonizers as "species" (Fanon, 1).

    As for the Manichean world, I don't think Fanon is describing the world as it must be, or as it actually is, but rather describing the Manichean logic that governs colonial mindsets. He is calling attention to the ways in which the colonizers create absolute difference and separation between their sphere and the sphere of the colonists.

  2. I think this post goes back to the difficulty of reading Fanon. I mentioned in class that I think Fanon makes some broad, sweeping generalizations in his works, but this also leads us to make generalizations in criticism.

    I think the discussion of a Manichean world is a compelling one, and is helpful in illustrating a point, but is not particularly true to the state of affairs at the time. Fanon is taking the act of colonization to task, but he is specifically talking about a direct rule situation, when many African states (and colonized territories) did not undergo direct rule or they underwent a very different type of direct rule.

    But, as one could imagine, the rhetorical value of making the simple distinction between "colonizer" and "colonized" is convenient. I think part of the value of Fanon's text is that we can repeatedly look over it and discuss our misgivings while also conceding that there is great truth and strength in the work.

  3. Becca,
    Your reading of race in Fanon’s Wretched points us to his, at times, binaristic thinking, which may seem to be based upon categories that we tend to trouble or problematize more thoroughly in our current critical moment. You are drawing our attention to an interesting conundrum when we encounter this hastily written and urgent manifesto/study, and that is that there is a lot of room to flesh out the complexities of daily life in the colonial setting. In particular, my interests would be to think through how power is lived and how power is resisted. However, Fanon does signal to race and biracial subjects in his work through his discussion of power and those individuals in colonial societies who rise to power due to their connection to the colonizer through either birth or marriage.

    Both Chelsey and Kolton’s comments are useful clarifications of and extensions of your comment, Becca, as we endeavour to determine what Fanon thought a post-colonial place/space might have looked like. Who becomes the next generation? And how do we talk about freedom from a history of hierarchy, oppression, and subjugation which often took the form of sexual exploitation so that individuals were categorized in these harmful and subhuman ways?

    Identifying the problem on place of children in Fanon’s work is compelling to me for other reasons too. Children are often left out of our discussions of politics, revolution, and social change. Though as we know from our own history of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, children played a huge role and were at times activists fighting for their future opportunities as students. Children were even enlisted in order to change people’s minds and to give a face to the education movement. In this country, children are not full citizens. What would it mean if we began to give larger responsibilities to children or even to think about their abilities in a different way? What would it mean if we gave children the vote?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.