Questions and Concerns on Majavu's Criticisms of Fanon in "Africa: Life After Colonialism"
After emailing Mandisi Majavu this, he said he thought it would be a good idea if we opened the discussion up to the public. That is important, not to expose each other, or anything like that, but to incorporate other ideas in the democratic discussion. If we want to be a viable organization, we cannot just bask in the sweet books that are published about theories, especially when we had no active or participatory role in the decision making of the theoretical development. We have to engage our theories and find if they hold water against our questions.
I first came across Majavu writings in ZSchool, and later, bought and read Real Utopia. Since then, I have read some of his ZNet articles. What interests me here are Majavu's writings on participatory society, specifically culture and communities, because we are trying to refine our theories for what a participatory culture and community might look like. I think Majavu is a very smart, committed revolutionary; if I didn't, I wouldn't have wasted my time sending him my questions and concerns, nor would I want to engage him and other parsoc allies about the different perspectives that Majavu and presents.
One of the drawbacks to parsoc so far, has been the lack of democratic discussion among us. Since there has been no real organization, we do not engage a whole lot in our theoretical development, and I think that is problematic. Nonetheless, that is why I am writing this—because I have serious questions and concerns about Majavu's criticisms of Fanon, and I think they could be detrimental to our conception of liberation for colonized people.
"In his book entitled 'Shades of Black', William Cross (1991) argues that there are at least four factors that explain why the mental health of blacks, including any propensity toward self-hatred, are not and have never been easily predicted by measures of racial identity. These are (p.117):
1. The limited generalisability of results of racial-preference studies conducted with three and four year old children.
2. The effects of Black biculturalism, acculturation, and assimilation on Black monoracial preference trends in racial identity experiments.
3. The problem of interpreting the meaning and salience of racial preference and racial identity for Black adults operating with a multiple reference group orientation.
4. The historical failure of students and scholars of racial identity to differentiate between concepts and measures of ascriptive RGO [Reference Group Orientation] and concepts and measures of self-defined RGO."
I see the first point as an oversimplification—"The limited generalisability of results". If this is in reference to Kenneth Clark's "Doll Test", the point is unfounded. Kenneth Clark's studies were based upon Mamie (his wife)
The "Doll Test" has actually been repeated multiple times, and by different cultural communities. A somewhat famous example was among young Native American girls in Canada , but a standard, modern replication of the Kenneth Clark's "Doll Test" was done by Kiri Davis , which not only found frighteningly similar results as Kenneth Clark, but included interviews with teenagers as well. Again, there are a lot of these studies, on many cultures, in many times and places, and they do not all focus on small children.
The second point: Maybe I am misreading it; sorry if I am, but I interpret this statement as rejecting Black Nationalists in the U.S. as criticizing the "two-ness" (as W.E.B. DuBois put it) theory of identity? If so, why? Again, many people, even those who do not see themselves as "colonized," but as a minority with a marginalized identity, seem to agree with DuBois; it is not just Fanon and a handful of Black Nationalist theorists. Also, if I understood the point, it seems incomplete—what were these differences in effects? Were they the same identity results for women? If so, shouldn't similar feminist theories on identity—about slim models disempowering young women and instilling an unattainable and unhealthy body image that gives way to anorexia and depression—suddenly be thrown to the wayside, also?
The third and fourth points seem to run together, and I think they have actually been explored quite a bit, specifically in the areas of gender and sexual identity, and how they effect the "multiple reference group orientation". Kenneth Clark wanted to strip gender and sexuality out of his discussion, which was why he used children. But Mamie Clark's initial discoveries, which pre-dated Kenneth Clark's, centered on African-American working class mothers; that is pretty specific. Kiri Davis's begins like Kenneth Clark's "Doll Test", but ends with questions about these implications on teenage African-American women who are also, working class. Of course, I think Podur has a lot of worthwhile ideas about the fluidity of cultural identities, but, how many reference groups do we need to separate our study to be able to draw a conclusion from our study?
Altogether, it almost seems like we are stripping out what bothered Richard Wright about the CPUSA—social psychology. Fundamentally, it seems like that's what "
With that, it's worth keeping in mind that parsoc has very few current advocates in the
We have primarily focused on the community sphere, but we cannot wholly separate Fanon's psychology as exclusively cultural. Like all issues, it is related to other spheres. Depending on the parents, their lifestyles, and the socialization of children, Mamie and Kenneth Clark found that children self-identify themselves differently. This is also a market-related issue: Whatever consumer constituency has the most leverage in a given geographic reach will be the target market demographic. Elizabeth Chin points out this problem in many major cities, where toy stores are well aware of the fact that young white children from the suburbs have the richest parents who can buy them the most toys. As a result, when young girls from the inner city, which is in some places only a few blocks away from suburban malls, come to the toy stores, they only find dolls that reflect upper-middle class white women.
Perhaps I am wrong in my interpretations. If so, please forgive me. I did not mean to misrepresent Majavu's argument in any way.
My other main contention is a problem I see forming in parsoc, and that is the way so much of our theory focuses on one theoretical sphere: Vision. But, as Wayne Price pointed out in the recent debate with Albert, vision isn't everything; people need and want answers for the "here-and-now". If we are only interested in concocting of a grand vision, we are merely making intellectual masturbation for other idealist utopianists like ourselves, who cannot meet people on the basis of their day-to-day struggle. We need to be able to understand each aspect of our theories (history, strategy, tactics, etc.) and how they complement each other, and we need to not get them confused. Violence is often counter-productive, but it is so as a tactic. Non-violence as a principle can be counter-productive, especially if we are addressing resistance and defense by rape victims', the bloody history of
"As Albert (2004) points out, this"—Fanon's idea that violence lowers the conception of the colonizer to the place of another mortal human, not an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent superhuman who has used these misconceptions as excuses to dictate over the colonized—"is nonsense. ‘...violence has horrible effects on its perpetrators, more often than not causing them to devalue human life and elevate themselves to a higher status than others....'" Should we tell this statement to an abused wife, who has a chance at hitting her husband where it hurts? What if this self-defense was liberating and tactically practical? Does it not leave the husband/colonizer an opportunity to leave the premises, or at least until the country has socially and economically developed further to establish a self-defined, empowering community identity? This is Fanon's thinking. Nowhere does Fanon ever insinuate that Algerians should be killing French colonizers generations after a National Revolution; because he thought the French should have been gone by then, and the Algerians should have had a very literate society and a deep, internationalist outlook by that time. The idea that Fanon just wants Algerians running around the world for generations to come, slaughtering off all non-Algerian, or even non-African descended peoples, is just absurd. This misrepresentation of Fanon almost seems dishonest. Keep in mind, for almost all white activists in the
Majavu also states, "Furthermore, they do not rebel because of lust or envy or because they want to sleep with the oppressor's wife, but because they believe in justice, equity and freedom." Does Fanon actually say this is why the colonized rebel? He says they resent or envy their oppressor's luxuries, and even the idealized beauty of the colonizer's wife as "the most precious" object of affection of the oppressor. Does he say that rebellion is a fire, waiting to be ignited by the colonized people's desire to rape women? No, but it appears to be the insinuation in "Africa: Life After Colonialism"; Sheila Rowbotham actually talks about Fanon in Women, Resistance and Revolution, and I think she does a pretty good job with how his ideas relate to the overthrow of the French colonists in
I am psyched to hear that Majavu has a Project for A Participatory Society going, and he seems like a dedicated revolutionary. I would like to know, though, am I misreading "
1. J. Kenneth Morland, "Race Awareness Among American and
2. Carl F. Grindstaff, Wilda Galloway and Joanne Nixon, "Racial and Cultural Identification among Canadian Indian Children", Phylon (1960-), Vol. 34, No. 4 (4th Qtr., 1973), pp. 368-377.
4. See Elizabeth Chin "Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry", American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 101, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 305-321.
5. Lucy Parsons once wrote in a letter to Joseph Labadie:
"Anarchists are good at showing the shortcomings of others' organizations. But what have they done in the last fifty years, you say. Nothing to build up a movement; they are mere pipe-dreamers dreaming. Consequently, Anarchism does not appeal to the public. This busy, practical world cares nothing for fine-spun theories—they want facts, and too, they want a few examples shown." (Lucy Parsons, "U.S. Anarchism in the 1930s," Chicago, Charles H. Kerr Company Archives, The Newberry Library, 27 February 1934.) I find myself drawing similar conclusions about the recent financial crisis. People want answers and guidance today, and if we can't offer them in the here-and-now, but other groups can, it makes more sense to them to go elsewhere if they want an organization that will produce change they can see and believe.