‘Concerning Violence’ and why Franz Fanon matters

Diane Leedham


The European people must first wake up, shake themselves and stop playing the game of the Sleeping Beauty
The dreaming sleep referred to is Europe’s colonial history, whose legacy continues to impact on our lives, assumptions and imaginations, whatever our racialised group. The context for sharing it here is its presence, articulated with raspy, magisterial precision by Lauryn Hill, in ‘Concerning Violence’ which opened in the UK in November.

‘Concerning Violence’ is an archive-driven documentary, scripted from the first chapter of Frantz Fanon’s book ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. It both captures moments in the struggle for liberation in Africa during the 1960s and 1970s and explores the process of decolonization which drives historical events. Spoken by Hill, Fanon’s words are woven through nine scenes, their titles providing the film’s structure, anchoring each scene in its geographical location. The voiceover acts both as soundscape and organisational device, framing a narrative bricolage of contemporary footage which includes both vox pop interviews and fly- on- the- wall recordings, and encompasses brutality, pathos and moments of wry satirical humour. It is a film of many layers and levels. Watching it is an engrossing and challenging experience, both aurally and visually and I am unapologetically and transparently partisan on the film’s behalf.
If you already know about Franz Fanon any words of mine are probably superfluous. Be reassured. The film will not let you down.

If you don’t know about Franz Fanon then there is no hidden curriculum of prior knowledge required; the film provides all the contextual back story necessary to mediate the narratives and quotations within it. In fact, I too was in a position of blank ignorance when I watched Absent From the Academy http://vimeo.com/76725812 in the spring of 2014 and listened to a young black student explain the impact on him of reading Fanon at university. He described how he realised for the first time, that a black man had written with such academic authority and rhetorical precision. After an extended and elite education I had never even heard of Fanon and I wondered why. His intensity and passion prompted me to investigate further and to consider the gaping holes in my own cultural perspective and the white curriculum which had formed it. Logical points of intersection between my own study and Fanon had been denied, leaving me poorer and narrower, knowing and understanding less. The fact that I, in 1980, was prompted to read Camus and La Peste at A level with no reference to the psychopathology of colonial experience seems extraordinary to me now.

The re evaluation of my own educative process prompted me to see ‘Concerning Violence’ and as a result better understand the history which had previously spooled past me in the newsreel footage of my childhood. It also made me reflect further on the gaps in my knowledge, gaps I had not even known were there to fill, despite those frequent moments of necessary connection between my studies and interests and Fanon’s work. As a result I questioned what mirror my incomplete knowledge provided for my pupils. One possible answer is provided by a student in ‘Why is my Curriculum White’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dscx4h2l-Pk I listen to his description of feeling lesser and inferior in a history lesson in a London classroom, uncomfortable with the lesson’s tacit assumptions and limited viewpoints and I have to ask whether I do enough in my English lessons to avoid this trap. I doubt it.

Fanon’s challenge we have decided not to overlook this any longer inspired the young people in the screening I attended, though some viewers challenged whether the film positions itself as safely remote from the present. It’s easy for white viewers to laugh complacently at the extremes of unembarrassed Rhodesian racism and distance themselves from the need for dialogue with contemporary attitudes. But the week Concerning Violence opened saw the release of a misguided and perniciously worded Band Aid single evoking a 19thC model of racial patronage, and the concerns of my fellow audience members were proved to be alive and kicking. Before any teacher plays this track in school, please think long and hard about the messages you are conveying to our children, particularly those of African diaspora heritage.

Nevertheless, as a result of this film, for the first time I have truly understood calls for reparation in Africa. Reparation is not about handouts. It requires commitment to repair, including educational repair. The larger forces of global inequity are daunting as a target – where do you start? – but the individual process of rethinking and decolonising both the content and the viewpoint of what we teach is a step anyone can take, right here, right now. To equip oneself to do so is a necessary and rightful journey which may, depending on your starting point, require a scouring back of accrued mistruths. Rarely a day goes by during which I do not have to recognise and challenge the enduring impact on me of the contaminating distortions of my white education; to uproot them may seem a kind of penance to some but more importantly it offers regrowth and opportunity. As someone racialised as white I am a double winner. By paying what I owe I can only gain and I am humbled by that.

I really hope you will be inspired to see the film. It packs a punch.
Concerning Violence is on show around the UK 2014/15 DVD available Spring 2015

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