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Essay: Frantz Fanon and Martin Luther King: Comparing Non-Violence v.s. Violence

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Azalea Banegas

POLS 2000-03

12 December 2018

Violence and Non-Violence

Social inequalities can be traced to the beginning of time through oppression, prejudice, and discrimination. These inequalities lead to social justice movements where the inequalities are addressed and attempted to be fixed or demolished. The main two method a revolution or change can be sought out is either through non-violence or violent tactics. Frantz Freud and Martin Luther King are men who have two opposing views on the use and effectiveness of the two different times of violence. Sigmund Freud describes the uses of violence by discussing the example colonization and the need for decolonization. Martin Luther King describes non-violence through his sermons and letters during the civil rights era. It is essential to recognize the uses for either non-violence or violence and in which situations they may be deemed effective.

Frantz Fanon wrote The Wretched of the Earth in 1961. This book discusses colonization and how is it dehumanizing leading to the need for a revolution. Fanon uses primarily two terms, the colonizer and the colonized, to distinguish the two types of people during colonization. The distinction and method he uses to address these two groups regarding the same fundamental problem are critical to understand his argument on violence. One of the main themes which appear in Fanon’s text is the way in which colonizers create a mindset of submission and inferiority towards the colonized. By using the terms colonized and colonizer, Fanon also subtly address how colonialism not only exploit people economically and politically, it creates subjective categories that when associated with someone is dehumanizing or disempowering.  “The famous dictum which states that all men are equal will find its illustration in the colonies only when the colonized subject states he is equal to the colonist” (Fanon 9). Colonizers will exert violence upon the colonized creating a polarized conflict between the two groups. Fanon calls out for the colonizers to fight against colonist and push for decolonization using violence. Fanon, using Algeria as an example, wrote that, “Their first confrontation was colored by violence and their cohabitation – or rather the exploitation of the colonized by the colonizer…” (Fanon 2). In other words, colonial rule is maintained through violence and oppression. Fanon strongly emphasizes that colonial rule is the source of violence, the colonized are kept powerless because of colonization. The colonizers maintain the colonized in a state of submission which means that by using violence, the colonized can overthrow their own submission. Fanon strongly believes in violence due to the idea that the colonized are able to learn to redirect the violence they have received from the colonist back at the colonist.

Martin Luther King is a social rights activist who began his movement during the civil rights era. He discusses the use of non-violent protest in order to address the political climate and injustices which were taking place during this era. In 1962, MLK wrote Ethical Demands for Integration which discusses the spiritual part of desegregation. King spoke about the self-image of America by discussing the difference between segregation, desegregation, and integration. Segregation “represents a system that is prohibitive”, desegregation “is eliminative and negative, for it simply removes these legal and social prohibitions,” and integration is “genuine intergroup, interpersonal doing.” (MLK 118). Simply, it is the law, changing the law and changing one’s mindset. Integration is the main goal of his teachings because it is going beyond into the spirit of the law because every human being is made in the image of God. He discusses a moral imperative to seek to reform desegregation because if not, it degrades the human personality. There is a call for the unity of humanity due to the notion that if one is denied access to basics necessities such as education, housing, or the freedom to live, it’s a fail to all of us. In Martin Luther King’s sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967, Why I am Opposed to War in Vietnam. King states, “There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, Be non-violent toward Jim Clark, but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children” (MLK 2). MLK is addressing the hypocrisy of protecting Alabama segregation sheriffs and brown children by calling out the white moderates. He addresses the underlying problem that according to white moderates, violence is not the issue but violence against the oppressors is. He also raises the fundamental issue of poor black men being the un-proportionately the largest to serve in Vietnam to “fight” for freedom which they can’t even enjoy. When they return from war, they cannot eat at lunch counter with who they serve with. Due to these injustices, Martin Luther King’s primary method to create change is through non-violent actions.

In 1963, MLK writes a Letter from Birmingham City Jail where he further discusses the crisis in the city such as segregation, the bombing of houses, and police brutality. This sprouted a movement of sit-ins in place of segregation. Places included restaurants where black people couldn’t eat. Knowing this sit in would lead to a mass arrest, it would become a push of economic pressure to get people to negotiating table. King describes the four basic steps of a nonviolent campaign, “1) collection of the facts 2) negotiation 3) self-purification and 4) direct action” (King 290). In this case step, one would be addressing the issues of there being “more unsolved bombings of black homes and churches in Birmingham more than any other city” in the U.S. at the time. Then realizing, they were “victims of a broken promise”. After this, comes a self-purification process where non-violent protestors must mentally prepare themselves for what they will face during the sit in. This may involve being yelled at, spit on, hit, or other cruel tactics beyond imagine. Which leads to the last step, direct action and in this case a sit in. Martin Luther King doesn’t disregard the law, in fact, he thinks it may help but this would require more of a broad change of societal norms and culture of integration. Law is critical in society because it acts as an enforcer yet it does not dictate morality. Meaning, laws can’t change minds or personal opinions but it can restrict behavior, a step in the right direction of changing racist behaviors. A differing opinion is that some may argue that legal change shouldn’t happen till social change opinions. King believes in nonviolent protest bringing social change whereas fanon argues that there is a need for violence in order for social change to take place.

Fanons sees violence is the natural state of colonial rule. This natural state derives itself from the racialized views that the colonizer has about the colonized subjects. The colonial subject is therefore dehumanized by colonialism to such an extent that it turns him into a so-called animal. Therefore, the physical act of violence reminds them of the humanity that they share with their colonizers due to it being inflicted upon them. Fanon usefully described the process of colonial revolution as man recreating himself by providing a sense of liberation. Fanon suggests that “At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self- confidence.” (Fanon, 51). Colonialism teaches the colonized that they are inferior, and it reinforces this belief through violence and the threat of violence. But when the colonized begin to exercise violence themselves, directed back at the colonists, they take the very same power that was used against them. Therefore, revolutionary violence is not just liberating, but it allows the colonized to restore the way that they were prior to colonialism. It allows the colonized person to resume a free life by creating new subjective which they are able to symbolize. The initial and most obviously negative aspect of violence is the physical harm that it inflicts upon people. Fanon urges that mere violence is not enough to construct a positive new reality. The inclusion of all of the people into the creation of the new political reality is of the utmost importance to ensure that strong foundations are set for a coherent and sustainable state. In this way, Fanon places conditions on the use of violence to ensure that it is properly able to meet its aims and does not become unjustified. Violence has the potential to be liberating in the sense that it allows a colonial subject to free themselves and recreate a positive new identity after a long time of enduring colonialism.

Using both Fanon and King’s argument for either the use of non-violence or violence to achieve political-socio gain, the main distinction between the two is a personal belief. Although both may pose convincing arguments, it comes down to the most effective for the current situation depending on who is attempting to achieve a goal. I believe that non-violence should always be the first attempt to achieve a goal yet once someone’s life is on the cusp of being taken, I feel as if a violent act must be taken. Sometimes with politics and personal beliefs, it is almost impossible to change the way someone thinks about a situation or another person. Therefore, by trying to get one's point across, maybe equivalent to talking to a brick wall. Yet, it is always important to understand both sides because if not, then one is truly unable to know where they stand and refute the opposing argument.

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