They’re Coming For You Barbara: Frantz Fanon’s Wretched Ones and The Rise of New Colonialism

“Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty which are embodied in one maxim: the fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” – Bertrand Russell

Idaho Department of Commerce : Boise Towne Square Mall

Idaho Department of Commerce : Boise Towne Square Mall

In reading Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, I am absolutely struck by how close to the pulse he was regarding the situations and systems surrounding “colonized” peoples all over the world. Even today, his observations of the machinations of colonizers, their methodologies of exploitation, hold true to Arundhati Roy’s vision of the Maoists in India in her work Walking With the Comrades just as much as it does for the inner city impoverished minorities of urban America. His words, while frightening in their scope, do not ring hollow or unjustified.

For instance, in Roy’s account of the struggle for Adivasi peoples in rural India, her descriptions and research suggest that they are part of what Fanon calls the “expansionist phase” of capitalism; that is, they are suffering the violence of colonization in its first wave. Attempts to procure resources at all costs under the guise of “improving” or “enlightening” the condition of the helpless and hapless savage necessarily lead to violence on physical, social, mental, and economic planes. Again, as Fanon points out, the goal is first to establish control of the resources and labor force through the superior force of colonization utilizing displacement, assimilation, or death. In India, this is not only being achieved through the means of militarized violence, but also through the promotion of traditional tribal in-fighting. Through the employment of friends and family to police their own kin with violence and the support of those tribal leaders willing to “play the game,” the Indian capitalists and government officials (Is their really a difference between them I wonder?) create an atmosphere that leads to outbursts of violence not against the state, but rather toward one another. This renders the population impotent in its ability to enter the national discourse as it becomes dismissed as the savage, uncivilized other.

The same is true of urban groups in the United States today. As Fanon states, “[b]y throwing himself muscle and soul into his blood feuds, the colonized subject endeavors to convince himself that colonialism has never existed, that everything is as it used to be and history marches on (Fanon pg.17).” How is this not like the gang violence and internecine battles over drugs, sex, property, and pride so common in our most impoverished areas? Are they not subject to the second wave of capitalistic colonialism? Having their schools, businesses, transportation, homes, and utilities ravaged by poverty from low access, low wages, and low expectations of fighting a system rigged against their ascension, the next phase is then implemented. The colonizers now, as a term of its new commitment to “rebuild,” offer to sell back the fruit of colonized peoples’ labor. The demand for better schools is often quelled by the opportunity and desire to obtain contract free cell phones, or buy your favorite athlete’s jersey, or toss some cheap Happy Meals to the back seat as treats that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to give your children due to the cost of living on a Wal Mart hourly wage.

The real point and connection is that the stories of Roy and of our impoverished fellow Americans are the new colonialism at work. While Fanon and his brethren fought for the decolonization of their lands by foreign hands, we now live in a world where some of us are willing to colonize our own people. The new colonialism gets down and dirty at home, it imperializes its own. We turn our backyard into a foreign land, displace the citizenry, dehumanize them, take the money and run to the investors to sell off things that weren’t ours to begin with. The big boys “capitalize” on the opportunity to sell and develop anything they can get their hands on by any means that can get them around the obstacles without suffering consequences that outweigh the potential power grab. Then they turn and offer a hospital, or a computer lab, or free flu shots, as olive branches. Hardly a compensatory equalizer. Just because we don’t see the traditional forms and effects of colonialism in our international news feeds doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It has migrated. In many ways, our own disease has come home. At some point, the urge to dehumanize the other and feed upon them will exhaust the resource and naturally lead to the only one left, cannibalism. And, when you are reduced to consuming your own, the true zombie apocalypse begins.

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