What’s all this about black people and a black nationality? I am French. I am interested in French culture, French civilization, and the French. We refuse to be treated as outsiders; we are well and truly part of French history and its drama. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, p. 179.
Recently, the new German Interior Minister has echoed a dangerous but growing sentiment: Islam has nothing to do with (in his case) Germany, or anything of “the West.” I’ve blogged on this before but I want to quickly (before I go to work!) connect this sentiment to my previous post by using the quote from Fanon.
For Fanon, his relentless critique of colonialism and racism is not intended to celebrate or produce a non-Western, African subjectivity that will counter it. The “gift of death” of the Western Christian Colonial Civilization (to tie it all together and to again use Derrida’s book title) has been given (and perhaps, in a certain way, it is still a gift). There is no “outside” from which to critique it. More importantly, the inside/outside is one of the binaries that must be challenged. As we see again and again, Western countries assert political power through this kind of impressive “internal” genealogy that others “outside” must adjust to and embrace. Islam, according to so many, has nothing to do with the West (even though the West formed itself as “inside” precisely through its production of Islam as the external, outside enemy). Therefore, according to this logic, Islam (and, through the racial link, the Arab) can offer nothing to the West but must instead become more civilized and human through influence of the West.
Fanon’s insistence of French identity is something shared by many of the African Diaspora. In his Mountaintop Speech, Martin Luther King Jr. deftly recapitulates a whole Judeo-Greco-Roman-Protestant Christian civilization that leads to a worldwide struggle for freedom that was being being played out in the Civil Rights Movement. In effect, King is not merely saying that the best of the Western tradition should support what he (as a not fully Western person) is doing. More forcefully, by repeating this tradition in his own context, he undoes the very exclusions that operate at its core. For the “inside” (White American, White French, White Western) now has to understand itself through the articulation of the inside-it-refuses, the black American. Fanon and King do not claim to represent an “outside” and therefore they cannot be dismissed as “outsiders” or treated as “outsiders.” They insist that they are just as “inside” as anyone else, and, in fact, even more so. Not “assimilated” to the West (which would leave them as outsiders). But, as Fanon says, I am French. No qualification.
The colonial project (with Jim Crow America as a form of this larger dynamic) lives through the continual production of an internal space that must dominate the exterior in order to stave off the contamination, disease, disorder, chaos, violence, and inhumanity of that outside. When those deemed “outside” claim to not only have “become” insiders (converted, and so still only approximating the true status of the inside) but to be an integral and essential part of the history of its very formation and the ones who, in this moment, continue its future, the logic of Western imperialism falters (who/where is the outside that must be conquered/civilized?).
Politically, in light of the fear of Islam, this means we must move beyond the mere acknowledgment that Islam “can” be “Western” (meaning, peaceful, human rights oriented, human, etc.). We must recognize that Islam might be at the heart of what it means to be Western, and therefore, perhaps, we (the white west) don’t even know what “the West” has meant but must hope to be taught this meaning by those whom we might prefer to label as the “outside” that has nothing to do with “us,” the (white) Christian West.