Understanding that capitalism was forged from enslavement, Mireille Fanon Mendès-France, a professor at Paris Descartes University, says she cannot separate the analysis of class conflict and anti-racist movements.
“If we want to change the world, it should be through the issue of racialization, because the world is organized from that,” she told Brasil de Fato in a recent interview.
Mireille Fanon visited Brazil in 2015 as an expert for the United Nations (UN) on people of African descent. “If people understand that capitalism is built on inequality and on the racialization of part of the population, that will change the minds of the people,” she adds.
Mireille is the daughter of the black intellectual, psychiatrist, and activist Frantz Fanon, who was born in Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean colonized by France. Fanon’s work includes books such as The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks, and was central to black thinking in the 20th century. Now his daughter and scholar organizes and spreads her father’s legacy through the Frantz Fanon Foundation.
To celebrate Black Awareness Week in Brazil, read below the highlights of the interview Mireille Fanon granted to Brasil de Fato in August in Ghana, when she participated in the 3rd Pan-Africanism Today Conference.
I'm not sure we have to speak on neocolonialism. Some people want to show it as a new form of colonialization, but I don't agree.
The basis of colonialism is still there, and it's expressed in the way African countries are plunging by transnational [companies] and also Canadian extractivist mining. It's expressed also in the way, for example, the European Union obliges African countries to take charge of the issue of migration, asking them to externalize the European policy in their African countries, like in Mali, Niger, and I think Libya also. You can see how many [military] basis are in the [African] continent.
For our daily life, it's visible in the way a State takes charge of the issue of people [of African descent]. You can see that in the issue of education, housing… Or if you look at the number of people in the US who are imprisoned – it's black people. And it's not a new form of colonialism. It's a fundamental form of colonialism.
We have to pay attention to how racism, the ideology of racism was built. It was build coming from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and enslavement. I make a difference between enslavement and slavery.
Slavery was sure happening before [colonial times] in Africa and even in the south of Europe, but it was done after war, between tribes or kingdoms. They kept [the people who lost] and they were enslaved. But enslavement is totally different. It's when you take someone and de-humanize him or her – and they become a furniture. It's not a human being anymore.
That's why it's very important to make a difference between slavery and enslavement. In this sense, that’s when it becomes a market. Enslavement was a market. It's the basis of capitalism. That is why it's so important, especially in Africa.
How many people are racialized around the world? African descendants? Africans? Migrants or not migrants? Even if they are citizens of Ghana, they are coming to Europe and being racialized.
We have to interconnect and [consider the] intersectionality between being black, a woman, Muslim. These are three reasons for you to be racialized. It's very important to understand that. If we don't solve the issue of racialized racism and strict racism, we will miss the point.
I was an expert at the UN [United Nations] on the issue of African descent and I was in Brazil for a country visit at the time. [In the report produced for the organization] I used the term structural racism, but we also have to add systemic [racism], because the capitalist system is based on enslavement, and on systemic racism. If there is systemic racism, it's because there is structural racism that is very deeply rooted in the minds of people, and it is structural of the white supremacy of what they call modernity.
It's coming from when someone says “blackness and indigeneity are not true human values.” This is the point. Until now, in the minds of people, even if it's not expressed, it's still true for a lot of people.
If we want to change the world, it should be through the issue of racialization, because the world is organized from that. And if you look at it, [there is] that one percent of the population [who is] white, and they are the leaders, the masters, presidents, they [rule] the financial market, the intellectual market, universities, the construction of knowledge. They decide what you have to learn in books.
I'm from France, unfortunately [laughs]. If the French people and French education do not want you to know what they did, the atrocities, the war crimes in Madagascar, in Nigeria, in Africa, they delete this part of the program. It's not important [for them]. And even worse: they transform the reality. They say, “Colonialism was good for the African people, because they got hospitals, education, blah blah blah.”
We have to deconstruct the ideology of white supremacy, otherwise one percent of the population [will continue to be] the elite and 99 percent of the population [will remain] the “non-being.” The elite is “being” and 99 percent [of the population] are “non-being.” But inside the 99 percent, we also have a hierarchy. The whiter you are, the safer you are – or could be. The blacker you are, you are definitely damned. That excludes people. This is something that we have to take into consideration. That's why the term neocolonialism doesn't make sense.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission [created after the end of the apartheid in South Africa] was something just for façade, for showcase. How could you live in a country where a very small part of your population killed you for years, and years, and years, and after [that], [you have to] live together? It's important to put in place a real juridical process, because, when you are just a simple citizen, if you commit a crime, you are going to prison. How is it possible that, when these people commit such crimes – such high levels of crimes – they do not go to prison?
That reinforces the sentiment of impunity for these these white people and the sentiment that they are the strongest and can lead the world as they want. It's terrible.
The situation in which South Africa is now is pretty tough, because the young people are not ready to accept that anymore. When they ask the [Cecil] Rhodes statue to fall, they are right, they are right. And we have to have that everywhere. Coming from the Island of Martinique [and other places], the statute of the former colonizer is still there.
It is said that every human being is equal. No! Some human beings are more equal than others. That's all. And some are claiming and crying for equality, “We want equality for our citizens!” But it's a joke, because equality is based on inequality.
It's not enough to say we want to bash capitalism. It's not enough. We have to tackle the reason why capitalism is so strong and why the financial area is so strong. And why they are killing us. And it will become worse, because when the capitalist system is not in a good [moment], it will get worse, because they have no solution other than to kill people. When they face too much difficulty, the only possibility [they find] is to kill more and more people.
That comes from enslavement. We have that in France. It's the European mindset, mentality. It's organized like that. And it's terrible to society. That's why I really think it's very important to take charge of that.
If people understand that capitalism is built on inequality and on the racialization of part of the population, that will change the minds of the people. I really think we have not to repeat what our fathers or grandfathers did. First we have to decolonize the minds of the people. This is part of Frantz Fanon's work. It's to de-alienate the minds of the people, because society makes you crazy or mentally ill. We have to change that.
Edition: Pedro Ribeiro Nogueira