The aim of this essay is to write a reflection on Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting’s insightful study of a number of feminist scholars’ reading of Frantz Fanon and his works. Many of these scholars have denounced Fanon as being anti-feminist, and as having nothing to contribute to the discipline of feminist studies. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and a number of other feminist scholars, argue that through understanding Fanon’s conception of a new-humanism, achieved through emancipatory praxis, his life and his works can contribute to the emancipation of woman. This essay, rather than articulating the debate of Fanon’s positioning within feminist discourse, is going to argue that understanding Fanon’s commitment to praxis has and can be useful to the liberation of individuals which might be under numerous guises of oppression.
In thinking about how Fanon can be used in the project of women’s emancipation Denean Sharpley-Whiting presents an alternative reading of Fanon; a reading in which his commitment to emancipation and liberation, as well as his belief in a new humanism, through action can said to represent a form of pro-feminist consciousness (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 3). Fanon’s understanding of emancipation, brought about through actively deconstructing systems of oppression speaks to “a ‘New Humanism’ profoundly grounded in the belief in ‘ [a] social democracy in which man and woman have an equal right to culture, to material well-being, and to dignity’” (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 3).
Denean Sharpley-Whiting argues that although feminist thought has often taken the form of different schisms, all feminist thought as had at its heart the tenants of a struggle towards human freedom (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 24). This then is why many of Fanons statements and beliefs can be said to be pro-feminist; as he believed that through actively resisting systems of oppression and domination relations between people would fundamentally be changed to incorporate human freedom (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 24).
Fundamental in achieving this new humanism is the deconstruction of systems of oppression; oppression in which ever form it takes at the time. Denean Sharpley-Whiting argues that it is during moments of active struggle against systems of oppression that Fanon’s thoughts can be said to embody a pro-feminist consciousness (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 3). This pro-feminist consciousness takes the form of subjects beginning to consciously and actively take hold of forming their identities and moving towards the reclaiming of human freedom in a space in which efforts of resistance and defiance can begin to unmask ideologies, ideas of race, nationalism and the tenants of patriarchal systems (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 18).
Implicit in this understanding of identity formation through action is the idea of transcendence; in other words that to be human is to continuously be involved in a process of self-creation (Birt, 2009, 2). To be more precise this process of self-creation, when thwarted or inhibited by oppression, can become manifest through actions to dismantle or destroy the source of that oppression (Birt, 2009, 2). Thus Fanon believes that through revolutionary actions and commitment to praxis, individuals can be human through this affirming process of continual self-creation.
Denean Sharpley-Whiting notes how certain feminist thinkers, like bell hooks, continue to think along a similar line and continue to be committed to praxis; in order to see the actualisation of their ideas in the world (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 88). Denean Sharpley-Whiting notes that hooks as a feminist activist continues to aspire to “’integrate feminist thinking and practice into daily life… to assist women who live in sexist households in their effort to bring about feminist change’” (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 88). Denean Sharpley-Whiting also notes how hooks acknowledges the influence of Fanon in developing her liberation framework routed in action (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 89).
Similar to the thoughts of Fanon, hooks argues that resisting and deconstructing systems of oppression is indispensable in bringing about the freedom to self-create; in other words the freedom to be human as Fanon would conceive (Birt, 2009, 2). Hooks, and I believe Fanon, argue that “Oppression is a dam which blocks the free flow of transcendence. It can be breached only with the weapons of resistance” (Birt, 2009, 2). In this vein of through consciousness needs to become oppositional; in the sense that it needs to oppose systems, such as patriarchy, that would see the persons transcendence ossified and subjugated (Birt, 2009, 2). Although taken out of context the following quote serves as an example of hooks continued belief in an actional way of being in the world; “The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom” (2001: 250).
Although only using one example I feel the scholarship and life of bell hooks serves as a powerful marker of how commitment to actualising ones values and beliefs can in part answer Denean Sharpley-Whiting statement that “the divide between theory and praxis must be bridged” (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 100). Once this divide has been bridged, through active measures of resistance, Fanons dream of world where men and women have equal claim to be human might be realised.
After having briefly explored Fanon’s understanding of a New Humanism through praxis, and relating it to the work of a few contemporary feminist theorists, such as Bell hooks and Tracey Denean Sharpley-Whiting, a conclusion can be stated. A conclusion that asserts that while acknowledging potential sexist flaws in the epistemological work of Fanon; overall his commitment to the liberation of human beings can be regarded as and utilised as a form of pro-feminist consciousness. Through a commitment to action and the act of self-creation Fanon’s life and work has inspired many individuals to develop a way of being in the world that has led and continues to lead to gradual and meaningful liberation. Bell hooks in Tracey Denean Sharpley-Whiting states that “it was the practice of being a resisting reader that enabled me to hear in Fanon’s theories of decolonisation, paradigms I could use constructively in order to liberate myself” (Denean Sharpley-Whiting, 1999: 90).
Birt, R. 2002. Transcendence in the Thought of Bell Hooks: Some Reflections on Resistance and Self-Creation. 8 (2), pp. 1-28.
Denean Sharlpey- Whiting, T. 1998. Frantz Fanon: Conflicts & feminisms. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC.Hooks, B., 2001. All About Love: New Visions. New York: Perennial.