Saturday, March 12, 2011

Freedom vs. Essentialism

Negritude merely gave credit to the idea that people have inherent characteristics and exist in categories that they cannot step outside of. Because of this Fanon disapproved of the Negritude movement and believed that it was an antiracist racialism. This movement recognized separate race shifts while discouraging the application of racial prejudice. Though various traits were applied to the character of black individuals in a positive light, obviously the use of essentialism can also be used to give negative attributes to black people. Fanon felt that this movement only served to perpetuate what he called “negrophobia”. And with the negative characteristics that society applied to blacks, it was easier for negrophobia to thrive. This fear caused the dominant racial classes to isolate the black man from himself, and arrest his freedom, causing him to view himself as an object through racial prejudice.
The manner in which Fanon describes issues of maintaining an individual’s right to “freedom” reminded me of Hegel’s views of individuals as “freedoms”. Hegel’s view of freedom was fairly different from Fanon’s idea of it, however because Hegel believed that we should not enslave others, but if we were to stop, then we must stop gradually because African Americans are a very child-like freedom. It would be too hard on them if we were to abruptly gift them with the full extent of the freedom possessed by Europeans because this sudden onslaught would overwhelm them. This is far removed from Fanon’s view of freedom because he believed that every person exists as a freedom until someone else interrupts the course of that free existence. Hegel seemed to hold that certain groups were significantly more free than others. He also asserted that the struggle for individuals to prove that they are free does not end until they’re able to have the other freedoms recognize their freedom. This means that the state of your freedom is contingent on the views of those around you as in Fanon’s idea of freedom where the freedom of blacks is constantly interrupted by the views of the dominant racial class.
Race and racism are social constructs that are contingent on the support of society. They require collective agreement, acceptance and imposition to thrive and remain a threat to the "freedom" of the inferior racial classes. These human inventions have the ability to break down the healthy self-image of an individual and can manage to turn an individual who previously existed as a freedom into an object to be studied and prodded for faults. Racism is engrained in the minds of people, as well as in the structure of society and racial essentialism has the power to perpetuate it whether or not the application of the essential characteristics was meant to uplift the race or not.


  1. This is a very interesting post. I think you bring up some very interesting questions about essentialism and freedom. If a person's freedom is impeded because another person objectifies him as black, is it perceivable that any sort of struggle for the recognition of one's freedom could ever destroy this socially ingrained racial objectification? I mean, given Hegel's master/slave analogy, would such a reversal of roles, where the objectified negro overcame the objectifying colonist, would even this act put an end to racial objectification. I think they will remain white and black, but this categories will have new content. It seems very difficult to shake the race stigma.

  2. When you say that society "supports" racism, do you mean directly or indirectly? I feel as though people may directly oppose "racism," however indirectly support it because of racial perceptions that are deeply engrained in societal structure. Race is a social construct that organizes how people view one another, thus, it is impossible not to be racist in a racist society. But does that mean people support "racism"?


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