Revisiting Fanon

Fanon Revisited:
Exploring the Relationship Between
African-Centered Psychology and Fanonian Psychology
DeReef F. Jamison Ph.D.
Savannah State University, Africana Studies Program
(excerpted from the original paper)

Applied Cultural Psychology
While Fanon argues that ultimately it is important for people of African descent to eventually be mutually recognized as human beings by Europeans, African-centered psychologists posit that it is more important from a mental health perspective that people  of African descent recognize their cultural selves first and place less emphasis on the need for European acceptance and/or recognition. Kambon (1998) interprets Fanon as saying that “Blacks must ultimately reject both the terms and limiting conditions of white and Black… as equally unacceptable and, thus, transcend to the level of ‘human beingness’ (p. 330). Wilson (1999) is even more to the point in acknowledging what he perceives as being the problematic nature of mutual recognition when he
Much of the pathology of Afrikan people today is this vain hope that somehow
the white man will become color blind and will not see us for whom and what we
are, that somehow we will be looked upon as some kind of abstraction-not just a
man, a human being only-without culture, without recognition, without identity.
Too many…want to shed our Afikanity for this kind of bogus, abstract existence,
which is not existence at all, and which is the ultimate acceptance of invisibility
(p. 51).
Thus, for African-centered psychologists, it is important to be recognized as a human being that exists within a cultural context and not just as a universal human being void of cultural specificity.
The correlation between culture and mental disorder is critical. Based on a reconceptualization of how mental illness is defined and understood, Black psychologists went about the task of creating new diagnostic systems that addressed mental illness from a cultural specific approach (Jamison, 2009). Kambon also argues that the origin of African American mental illness must be placed in a cultural context. Kambon (1998) states “Cultural Misorientation is [a] basic African personality disorder because it predisposes all other forms of African mental disorders associated with the European societal condition of cultural oppression” (p. 352). Similarly, Verges (1996) asserts that Fanon’s importance to the psychology of the oppressed was: (1) to insist on the importance of the cultural context in which symptoms appear and (2) to demonstrate that therapeutic institutions need to maintain a concrete link and a structural similarity to the local culture of the patients. Fanon’s articulation of the psychology of the oppressed openly “asked the vexed question about the relationship between culture and the psyche. Did culture determine the psyche, or were there universal human psychological mechanisms” (1996, p. 90). Thus, Fanon initiates a discourse centered on the relationship between culture and psychological diagnosis.
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.8, June 2010
According to Verges (1996), “Fanon…. concluded that the addition of day care centers
created and developed in highly industrialized countries could be transplanted in a so-called under-developed country without losing any of its value. Day care centers represent the form of psychiatric service most suitable to treat mental illness” (p. 94). Fanon’s work with day-care clinics in Algeria included the use of culturally specific techniques that incorporated traditional cultural practices of the population he served. Unlike the European colonials that incorporated the indigenous culture in order to control and manipulate traditions, Fanon incorporated the indigenous cultural understandings in an attempt to blend pre-colonial understandings with the contemporary situation. This blending recognized the importance of understanding and implementing the cultural values, beliefs and practices of the people he was treating. Even with his Marxist leanings, Fanon was clear that the religion/spirituality of his patients was not the
mere opiate of the masses, but a crucial component of understanding mental illnesses and howthey emerged within a cultural context. Verges (1996) suggests Fanon understood “that medical practitioners must know the historical and societal conditions of formation of the society in which they exercise, as well as its cultural practices and beliefs… Such a practice would end up ignoring, denying the subjectivities of its patients” (p. 96). Thus, as a shrewd student of the relationship between culture and psychology, Fanon understood that the implementation of cultural specific techniques are linked to improving the mental health of marginalized groups that have been historically oppressed and denied access to mental health care.


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