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)

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.  

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