John Edgar Wideman's Bookshelf
By Frantz Fanon
In 1955, I was 14, Emmett Till's age when he was murdered that year in Mississippi. The photo of his dark, mutilated face in Jet magazine mirrored my face, one more proof of how race terrorizes. Race was like weather, a force of nature. You could run, but you couldn't hide.
I didn't know about Frantz Fanon then, but he had recently published this book, a study of race unlike any that had come before. Its premise is that race is a pernicious, crippling fiction constructed to rationalize and sanction a group's control and exploitation of other groups. Fanon—psychiatrist, freedom fighter, a French-speaking, colonized subject of African descent born on the Caribbean island of Martinique—views race as the product of a kind of mental illness, a false consciousness treatable—perhaps; curable by drastic doses of reason and difficult, enlightened choices—maybe. Not conceiving of ourselves in racial terms would turn the world topsy-turvy and force us to generate, according to Fanon, a new definition of "human." This is the creative, violent upheaval Fanon imagines, the violence Fanon's critics label as hate and racism. "Make of me a person who always questions," Fanon implores.