Decolonizing the Mind: Understanding from Frantz Fanon

By Dr. Antiarbum Ranglong

September 8, 2023

Frantz Fanon was born in the French colony of Martinique on July 20, 1925. By profession, he was a psychiatrist and a Marxist political philosopher. He was one of the few extraordinary thinkers supporting the decolonization struggles occurring after World War II and remains among the most widely read and influential of these voices. His brief life was notable both for his whole-hearted engagement in the independence struggle waged by the Algerian people against France and for his astute, passionate analyses of the human impulse towards freedom in the colonial context.

Frantz Fanon, is renowned for his pivotal work on decolonization, notably ‘The Wretched of the Earth.’ This groundbreaking work is often referred to as the ‘Bible of Decolonization,’ signifying its profound impact on our understanding of this complex process. This article sets the stage for an exploration of how Fanon’s decolonization theories can be applied to the contemporary socio-political landscape of indigenous communities in Tripura. This analysis underscores the enduring relevance of Fanon’s ideas in addressing the challenges faced by indigenous populations today.

Decolonization, in essence, can be defined as the transformative process through which an institution, sphere of activity, or nation that was once subjected to the cultural and social impacts of colonization undergoes a profound transition, ultimately attaining political independence and shedding its colonial territories. However, Fanon made an attempt to understand decolonization in a microscopic way by retaining the literal meaning. Instead of interpreting decolonization solely in political terms, Fanon considered its broader implications, including cultural and psychological aspects. This approach allowed him to delve deeper into the multifaceted nature of the decolonization process.

According to Fanon, the decolonization process involves three distinct stages. Firstly, there’s the crucial step where ‘the natives must come to realize that they have been fully absorbed by the dominant colonial force.’ Fanon emphasizes the importance of a collective acknowledgment among the people regarding their comprehensive assimilation, considering it the initial condition for decolonization. This recognition and acceptance of the extent of assimilation at the community level can only occur when individuals are consciously aware of the magnitude of the influence imposed upon them. Consequently, Fanon posits that the process of decolonization primarily originates from the individual, and the awakening of each person’s consciousness is a prerequisite for decolonization. He argues that decolonization entails a profound transformation, likening it to the replacement of one’s cultural identity with another. To achieve this, a profound shift must occur in the societal norms and structures. Examining the socio-political landscape of indigenous society in Tripura, one can understand how the populace, as a whole and as individuals, may struggle to recognize and acknowledge the pervasive intellectual dominance they endure. For example, place names, localities, villages, institutions, historical landmarks, and monuments in Tripura are undergoing renaming or receiving diluted names. Despite concerns raised by certain intellectuals, the majority of indigenous leaders appear hesitant to address this issue. Without a collective enlightenment and awareness regarding the nature of assimilation, achieving meaningful political empowerment may remain elusive. Therefore, prioritizing the decolonization of the mind becomes imperative for ultimate decolonization.

Secondly, the next stage in the process of decolonization is ‘native intellectuals have to return to their history and identify the importance of native cultures.’ As a psychiatrist, Fanon could fathom the Western inclination of his fellow Black communities in Algeria. He presented this argument to sensitize the intellectual sections of Algeria. Unless history and cultures are well-established and well-documented, the society is likely to face challenges in discerning the hegemony over them. Tripura has a rich history, and there are enough testaments that testify to its glorious past. However, there is not enough documentation on the rich cultural heritage of Tripura. The responsibility of revisiting history and cultures must be taken on by native intellectuals, and the indigenous people need to champion this cause. It must be readily available to young scholars for their ready references. The common people will enable decolonization of their minds through an understanding of their glorious past. The indigenous intellectuals have to bridge this gap.

Thirdly, according to Fanon, ‘major efforts should be made to reawaken and inspire the natives through cultural and literary revival.’ He could perceive that unless the Black community revives its culture and literature, decolonization will not materialize in the real sense. In the context of Tripura, the one thing that still lacks within the indigenous sections is profound cultural and literary revivalism. Hence, the indigenous communities are more guided by the literature and cultures that do not basically belong to them. The focus is given to the culture and traditions alien to them by compromising their own. In fact, it is an established experience that most of the literature and texts of the indigenous peoples are written and researched by intellectuals who are from outside of the community. They have taken the pain of documenting so many issues about the indigenous identity from their own perspective, mostly dependent on secondary sources of data. The responsibility, therefore, lies with the indigenous communities to undertake the task of reviving the culture and literature in a rigorous manner. To decolonize the mind, understanding one’s history, cultures, and literature is of vital importance.

Fanon basically argued regarding the role of an individual’s psychology in accomplishing decolonization. The focal point is the individual and the individual’s emancipation of the mind. If the mind cannot be decolonized, political independence or, for that matter, empowerment will not free the society from what Antonio Gramsci called ‘Cultural Hegemony.’ To Fanon, the entitlement of political independence is not the only parameter of achievement in the decolonization process. It rather emanates from the individual through decolonizing the mind, in the sense of freeing the mind from any preconceived ideas and norms. When the mind is preoccupied with ideas having predetermined goals, the society tends to generate a complicated belief system – their culture is better than my culture, their language is better than my language, their food habits are better than my food habits, I am weak and they are strong, their ideas are better than my ideas, I am intellectually inferior, etc. Hence, the socio-political milieu of the indigenous sections of society in Tripura suggests that in parallel with the demand for political empowerment, decentralization, and other constitutional benefits, the need to decolonize the mind should also be considered and reconsidered.

Dr. Antiarbum Ranglong serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at MBB University, Agartala.

The opinions presented in the article are of a personal nature.

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