Monday, October 17, 2011

Frantz and Russell: In Memoriam

“…If I were asked for a definition of myself, I would say that I am one who waits; I investigate my surroundings, I interpret everything in terms of what I discover, I become sensitive.”Frantz Fanon, “The Fact Of Blackness” Black Skin, White Masks (1952, trans. 1967)

I first heard of Frantz Fanon during my sophomore year at Savannah State College in 1990. I was an English major taking Shakespeare and Dr. Russell Chambers was my professor. We were having a class discussion about the Bard’s play, The Tempest. Dr. Chambers began to discuss the characters, Prospero and Caliban, in relation to what Fanon stated about the slave system in the Americas. Fanon said that the white man that supported this system had the “Prospero Complex.” In other words,“What the colonial in common with Prospero lack, is awareness of the world of Others, a world in which Others have to be respected.”
Chambers stated emphatically that the black man is the “Caliban” of the world. He is seen as the uncivilized brute who only wants to defile Miranda, the daughter of Prospero. Miranda represents the masters prized possession, his white woman. I was impressed!

Dr. Chambers was an interesting man. He was originally from Michigan, but had studied and lived in both Europe and Africa. He seemed to know all there was to know about African/African American literature and black culture across the Diaspora. He could also quote the metaphysical poet, John Donne, or the 16th century French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne. I saw him as a scholar and I admired him a great deal as a professor. “Fanon was a student of the Negritude Movement,” Dr. Chambers would state as he sucked the saliva that was forming around the corners of his mouth. “He was a brilliant young black man from the Island of Martinique!” Dr. Chambers would always become excited when he presented students with new information. He would become quite animated, and it usually caused a giggle or two.

The feelings about Dr. Chambers were mixed because there were students who appreciated his knowledge as a professor and they learned from him. There were others who despised him simply because he was a white man teaching at a historically black college. I feel  they were ashamed because someone like Dr. Chambers could tell them more about their own culture than they knew themselves. Nevertheless, Dr. Chambers inspired me to be an independent scholar in training. I graduated from college and started my own quest to find out all I can about Fanon, Stephen Biko, John Henrik Clarke and others that Dr. Chambers taught me about. My degree in English gave me the confidence and understanding to even comprehend what Fanon was saying in his essays.  Dr. Chambers is still a professor at Savannah State College (now University) and I am sure that students are still talking about that “stuff” in the corner of his mouth. I am also certain that there are some like me who admire him as a teacher and a scholar. Thanks Dr. Chambers!

Today is Frantz Fanon’s birthday. He would be 81 years old. He died in 1961 at the age of 36 in a Washington, D.C. hospital with complications from Leukemia. Two of his most famous works, Black Skin White Mask and The Wretched Of The Earth were translated into English after his death.Learn more about Fanon and his work by clicking on the title post.

Sources:“The Fact Of Blackness” Black Skin, White Masks (1952, trans. 1967)http://www.raceandhistory.com/

Originally posted:  July 20, 2006

Note:  Dr. Russel Chambers passed away at his home on Friday, October 14, 2011.  I spoke with him just a day before he died.  

28 comments:

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Stephen,
Great post. It's a permanent link now.

Rispec'
Geoffrey

Stephen Bess said...

Thank you Geoffrey. I learned so much in my research about Fanon. It was difficult not to put it all in. Thanks again for bringing his birthday to my attention.

Ananda said...

wonderful post. i like the story about dr. chambers. you tell good ones with historical references ... teaching us all of the time ... professor bess. paz, ananda

the prisoner's wife said...

this is what i miss so much about being in school. learning. to learn something new is a beautiful and exciting thing. i hope i have as great an impact on my students as Prof. Chambers had on you.

Stephen Bess said...

ananda-
Dr. Chambers was great. I haven't spoken to him in years, but he still remembers me. Thanks.

pwife-
That's why we are cool. We're both learners for life.

Cause um a be a learner for life!!!
Sorry, I was reminded of NWA. :)

UARIDI said...

You got the idea Stephen - it did not matter who Dr. Chambers was or his size or what he did, it is what he taught you and what you learnt from him.

It is interesting that most revolutionaries major in English e.g James Ngugi/ Ngugi wa Thio'ngo.

Thanks for the link, and have a good day.

Stephen Bess said...

uaridi-
Thank you ausi! I'll have to look up those names that you mentioned. I'm not familiar. See, more research. :)

Blessings~
Stephen

tryphina said...

Brillian post Stephen. Our great trailblazer, intellectual and freedom fighter's words sort of summarize my response to your post today!!

ANTON LEMBEDE
"The African natives then live and move and have their being in the spirit of Africa, in short, they are one with Africa. It is then this spirit of Africa which is the common factor of co-operation and the basis of unity among African tribes, it is African Nationalism or Africanism. So that all Africans must be converted from tribalism into African Nationalism which is a higher step or degree of the self-expression and self-realisation of the African spirit. Africa through her spirit is using us to develop that higher quality of Africanism. We have then to go out as apostles to preach the new gospel of Africanism and to hasten and bring about the birth of a new nation. Such minor insignificant differences of languages, customs, etc., will not hinder or stop the irrestible onward surge of the African spirit. This African spirit can realise itself through, and be interpreted by, Africans only. Foreigners of whatever brand and hue can never properly and correctly interpret this spirit owing to its uniqueness, peculiarity and particularity.

- Anton Lembede, "National Unity Among African Tribes", Inkundla ya Bantu, October, Second Fortnight, 1945.

tryphina said...

P.S. To our brothers and sisters in the diaspora, just in case you wondered about you "perculiarity" Mr Lembede just defined it's origin for you :)

Bougie Black Boy said...

One of your best write-ups. Love it. Yeah, I agree with what you present here: how society has created this overpowering Black image for us, assuming that we are here to pluck the bud from the bosom of the fair skinned.

Stephen Bess said...

tryphina-
Bua!!! Buaa!!!! :) I like that.

bougie-
Thanks for that! "...pluck the bud from the bosom"-very poetic. :)

Ananda said...

so professor bess, what's holding you back on teaching ... inquiring minds are waiting ...

Stephen Bess said...

ananda-
3 years ago I tried to run away from my responsibility as a teacher. Not until recently...well ok, not until last week did I decide to no longer delay the inevitable. I'll be making strides to get my certification and eventually get back into the classroom real soon. :)

tryphina said...

"society has created this overpowering Black image for us, assuming that we are here to pluck the bud from the bosom of the fair skinned"

bougie Dear, whether you admit it to yourself or not a black man is overpowering to more people than you will ever know. Hence, the need to colonize, enslave, and/or marginalize you the best way they can!! Fear, fear of the unknown!!

Sorry, that's the truth as I know it!!

Xavier said...

My dear brother, I really enjoy reading you. Your writing is full of contrast. Mentioning the “stuff” at the corner of the professor’s mouth makes him so real. I could see myself sitting in the front row, ignoring the giggles of ignorant classmates as I absorb knowledge from this human fountain of history, culture, and sweat.

I’m starting to realize that you are an incredible resource in my little on-line circle! The depth and breath of your knowledge is a source of admiration. I stand in the shadow of your giant wings. Please accept my sincerest compliments.

Stephen Bess said...

xavier-
You are one bad brother! I'm going to need you to repeat those words the next time my father comes to town. lol! :) Thank you so much for your very kind words. Your a great man and writer. Peace~

urban butterfly said...

Interesting, Stephen.

Dr. Chambers reminds me of a professor I once had, Dr. Robertson. Except, Dr. Robertson was a brilliant, young Black man who knew so much about African/African American history/culture/politics, etc. I first heard of Frantz Fanon in his "Black Politics" class. He was surprised that no one in the class had heard of him. I thought Dr. Robertson was so brilliant that I asked him to be my mentor. He gave me a reading list in which a few of Frantz Fanon's books were there. "Black skin, White masks" is the first book that I started to read, however, I never finished it. I'm going to finish reading that book and I'm glad you posted this, because it reminded me.

Also, another brilliant scholar/writer that you may be interested in reading his works is Marable Manning. I admire him, mainly for his book, "How capitalism underdeveloped Black America". He modeled that books after a man he admired, Walter Rodney, who penned "How Europe underdeveloped Africa", another book that I plan on reading. But Marable Manning's book is excellent, full of knowledge, and its dense...but it was a great read. An eye-opener, so to speak.

I first heard of Stephen Biko in one of my African history courses. We watched the movie, "Cry Freedom" which is about him. Actually, I thought Denzel Washington did an excellent job portraying Stephen Biko.

Ok...I'll stop here. I don't want to ramble! =)

urban butterfly said...

Sorry...his name is "Manning Marable"...not Marable Manning!!!

sK said...

Great point about being ashamed of self because someone outside of us know more about our past than we ourselves know or willing to embrace and acknowledge. You enlightened me on info. I wasn't aware of and inspired me to thirst for more.

I also love the beginning quote, the definition of myself.

I'll be back to read more.

Stephen Bess said...

ubfly-
I had a chance to meet Manning Marable a few months ago at Duke's restaurant on U Street. I didn't get a chance to speak to him extensively, but I just said hello and shook his hand. He interviewed Dick Gregory on stage at the Lincoln. Yes, he is a brilliant man. I'm glad to hear that you're going to finish BSWM by Fanon. I've had to put books down in past and pick them back up later. Sometimes, we just have to be in a particular place to read a book. Enjoy your weekend. :)

sk-
"...inspired me to thirst for more." Drink up! :)You sound like a life learner. I am too. Thanks.

Professor Zero said...

I keep on forgetting how relatively young FF would be if he were still alive, and how terribly young he was when he died. He got *so much done* in his short life.
Brilliant.

Great piece of writing, too, Stephen!

Ruben said...

Thanks for the Birthday wishes.

Another Conflict Theorist said...

Peace Stephen,

Sorry I got to the birthday party so late. Thanks for this, my brother.

I recall being introduced to Fanon in undergrad, circa 1992. It was a baptism by fire because I started with The Wretched of the Earth. At that time, I understood roughly less than half of it, but I knew I'd found something that was valuable and that I could reference once I got some more historical material under my belt.

It's unfortunate that some of the students with whom you had class allowed themselves to be distracted by Dr. Chambers size or hygiene. It sounds as if he had quite a wealth of African/African-American history and theory at his disposal. I've always found this a fascinating quality - particularly in a white person.

Thanks again. Keep it going.

ACT

Rose said...

I get a chance to meet some interesting folks here. Thanks for introducing me to Fanon.

NML said...

Great post that touched on the fundamental fear of the black man. I laughed at the part where you described the professor and the resentment at him knowing more than the black people he was teaching about black culture.

Stephen Bess said...

ruben-
No problem. :)

act-
Sounds like we were introduced around the same time. Thanks! :)

rose-
I'm happy that you can take something useful away.

nml-
Okay, go ahead and break it down. :) Thanks!

Maxjulian said...

Nice story. Sounds like he was a wonderful scholar; look at the affect he had on you!

Stephen Bess said...

max-
Yes, I consider myself a scholar in training. I have some ways to go, but I will continue to research and most of all to listen. Thanks Max! :)