Frantz Fanon, George Floyd And Anti-Racist Anthems

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The unrest after Floyd’s death seemed startling and spontaneous

Makhdoom Mohi-ud-din

GEORGE FLOYD, the black American was killed in police custody on May 25. It sparked off serial protests first in USA and then in other parts of the world. Why did the killing touch off incendiary outrage and anger? Was the killing of Floyd racially motivated? If yes, why such outpouring? A re-reading and re-appraisal of Frantz Fanon’s, ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ is I think apposite. It gives insights into the psychology and psycho analogy of race and racism. Frantz Fanon, black radical and anti colonial thinker, fought on the side of Algerians in their anti colonial struggle.

The unrest after Floyd’s death seemed startling and spontaneous. Zia uddin Sardar, British Pakistani scholar and cultural critic figures out different reasons for ‘Floyd phenomenon’ and its ilk. In 2008 Sardar wrote in the foreword to ‘Black Skin White Masks: “this anger is not spontaneous phenomenon, it is not gut reaction or some recently discovered passion for justice and equity. Rather it is an anger borne out of grinding experience painfully long self analysis and even longer thought and reflection. As such it is guarded anger and directed at specific long term desire.”

George Floyd actively resisted being handcuffed, it was reported. Homi. K. Baba, Indian origin English scholar and critical theorist delineates a ‘muscular tension between the black body and white body, there is a tension of meaning and being or some would say demand and desire, which is the psychic counterpart of that muscular tension’. The phobic image of black is deeply woven into the psychic pattern of white. The killing of George Floyd again once again raises the question Homi K. Baba asked in the foreword of ‘Black Skin White Masks’ in 1986. How can human world live its difference? How can a human being live other-wise?

Thomas Lane, the police officer put his hands on George Floyd and pulled him out of the car, the prosecutors reportedly said. Fanon wrote in different but analogous context that a black is ‘predestined depository of this aggression’. Once handcuffed, Floyd became compliant, reported BBC. Aime Cesaire, radical black thinker, preceptor of Fanon puts across humiliations of racism, “I am talking of millions of men who have been skillfully injected with fear, inferiority complex, trepidation, servility, despaire and abasement”.

Alex Kuang, black police officer faces the charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s death. Fanon outlines the dilemma of a black, ‘the black man has two dimensions, one with his fellows, the other with the white man…. That this self division is direct result of colonialist subjugation is beyond question….’ This is direct result of slavery. This is direct result of white supermacism. ‘Negro (read black) is a stage in the slow evolution of monkey into man….black soul is white man’s artifact’.

A black becomes ‘insolent’ when he resists and protests. When a black talks of Marx, Fanon wrote, “the first reaction is always the same: we have brought you up to our level and now you turn against your benefactors. Ingrates! Obviously nothing can be expected of you…. He had had the impudence to read Engels….’. The ‘impudence of black has forced resignation of some editorial staff of New York Times and the narrative of ‘Cancel out Culture’ has been pushed into dissemination.

The police officers did not relent when George Floyd pleaded that he was claustrophobic. He could not throw off what Fanon calls ‘corporeal malediction’. The humanity of the black is either declined or decreased:

Those who invented neither gun powder nor the compass.

Those who never learned to conquer steam or electricity.

Those who never explored the seas and skies.

But they know the farthest corners of the land of anguish.

Those who never knew any journey save that of abduction.

Those who learned to kneel in docility.

Those who were domesticated and Christianized.

Those who were injected with bastardy

                                                                                    (Claude Norday)

Urdu has been reduced to a language of a community and vector of its religion and culture. Shunned in its own place of origin and ancestry, Urdu has puissant tradition of bohemianism and heterodoxy. Ralph Russel, proclaimed as easily the best Urdu scholar in the west picked up the language from south Indians as a conscript in second world war fighting in the north east India. The progressive writers of Urdu created a shining trove of anti racist anthems. The poems of Faiz Ahmad Faiz have been translated into Swahili. Ali Sardar Jafri, a familiar face of Progressive Writers Association expressed his solidarity with a black:

Habshi mera bhai

                        Jungle jengal phool chuney

                        Bhai ke paaoon laal gulab

            The African – (American) my brother

Picks flowers in the forest after forest

            My brother whose feet are red

            Red as roses

 (Translation Ali Hussain Mir and Raza Mir)

‘The couplet’, write Ali Hussain Mir and Raza Mir in the Anthems of Resistance ‘Jangal jangal phool chuney Bhai ke paaoon laal gulab’ is from a folk song expressing deep fraternal fondness.

Jafri felicitated Paul Robeson, an African–American stage and film actor known for his political activism:

Krishna ka geet hai, Gokhul ki haseen sham hai tu.

            Aa kaleje se lagaalen ke siyaah-faam hai tu.

You are Krishna’s song, You are Gokhul’s beautiful evening.

  Come let us embrace, for you too, like me are dark skinned.

(Translation Ali Hussain Mir and Raza Mir)

Urdu poets, expressly left-leaning, created paeans to black hero Martin Luther King. Makhdoom Mohiyuddin, Urdu poet from Hyderabad (Deccan) deeply mourned his assassination in 1968:

Yeh qatl kisi ek aadmi ka nahin,

            Yeh qatl haq ka masavaat ka, sharaafat ka,

            Yeh qatl ilm ka, hikmat ka, aadmiyat ka,

            Yeh qatl hilm-o-muravat ka, khaaksari ka.

               This is not just murder of one man.

              This is the murder of truth, of equality, of nobility.

              This is the murder of knowledge, of wisdom, of humanity.

              This is the murder of clemency, of chivalry, of humility.

(Translation Ali Hussain Mir and Raza Mir)

  • The author can be reached at mmuddin2804@gmail.com

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