Frantz Fanon & White Queer Studies

I am currently writing on the figure of the homosexual in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. In truth, I’ve been writing about this figure since 1998, and I’ve yet to get a handle on it. What will eventually be written—the only thing I will be able to write—is an attempt to make something happen, with all the academic hubris such a statement assumes. As I return to Fanon, with thinking stimulated by Rinaldo Walcott, Katherine McKittrick, Christina Sharpe, Sylvia Wynter, Fred Moten, Hortense Spillers, Alexander Weheliye, and Simone Browne, I’m fascinated by what makes itself visible as a way of thinking about Fanon. Against my training, I have found myself naming “mainstream Queer studies” and “White Queer studies,” cringe-worthy designations that must be made. If we are to be honest, we cannot let Black Queer studies and Queer of Color critique exist alongside an ostensibly neutral Queer studies. Against and because of Queer studies’ anti-identitarian stance, we must, learning from Wynter, name Man’s overrepresentation as human, thus, White Queer studies.

I have been interested in how Fanon appears in White Queer studies from the early-to-mid 1990s, in work by Jonathan Dollimore, Lee Edelman, and Diana Fuss, even as I am disinclined to engage them in what I am writing. They are each complex thinkers from whom I have learned how to think, but to track their thinking on Fanon would take away from my own thinking and, frankly, when I had started trying to track it last year, I got so irritated that I could not continue. Sure, I think Fanon had fucked up opinions about the homosexual—I have no intentions of claiming he didn’t. The chapter in progress says a little more as one cannot have a one-sentence chapter: “Fanon had fucked up opinions about the figure of the homosexual.”

I’m irritated by the demand of the good white liberal. Here is Diana Fuss,

If racism is articulated with homosexuality instead of with homophobia, where are antiracist lesbians and gay men, of all colors, to position themselves in relation to same-sex desire? Fanon’s theory of sexuality offers little to anyone committed to both an anti-imperialist and an antihomophobic politcs. (“Interior Colonies”)

Here is Lee Edelman,

Made to articulate the “racial” dynamic of a masculinist culture, homophobia allows a certain figural logic to the pseudo-algebraic “proof” that asserts: where it is “given” that white racism equals castration and “given” that homosexuality equals castration, then it is proper to conclude that white racism equals (or expresses through displacement) homosexuality and, by the same token, in a reversal of devastating import for lesbians and gay men of color, homosexuality equals white racism. (Homographesis)

I am interested in the space being claimed by “of all colors” in Fuss and “of color” in Edelman. When I am most irritated, “of all colors” is simply trying to create a space for good white people—it is, in today’s internet parlance, #notallwhitepeople.“Of all colors” is diversity-speak for the world imagined by Man who overrepresents himself as the human. Some of us have good politics, is the cry! I am similarly unconvinced by Edelman’s desire to help “lesbians and gay men of color” enter and enjoy club homosexual. (A well-regarded white South African scholar once described making out or being attracted to a black man to the audience of a Queer symposium to demonstrate his anti-racist credentials to the mostly black room—my eyes rolled, my lips curled, and my muscles clenched—only someone who has not thought well, if at all, about blackness does this. I cannot, now, read this acclaimed scholar without tensing.)

I’m interested not only in what these scholars had to say about Fanon—there’s much more to write, but my muscles are tensing, and so I will try to spare my body—but in the effect their work had. Here’s from the chapter in progress:

I have wondered about the stakes of insisting that Fanon is homophobic, about the labor that insistence performs in mainstream, white queer studies. Given Fanon’s role as a foundational figure in Black studies and Postcolonial studies, this insistence on his homophobia has permitted mainstream, white queer studies to disengage with the conceptual problems these fields present. In other words, disavowing Fanon has permitted mainstream, white queer studies to protect its foundations in a West defined as white.

A few years ago, I attended a panel at MLA where I saw White Queer studies fighting hard to guard itself against non-white interlopers. Those of us assembled in the room were told we had misunderstood Queer studies, and were urged to return to its foundations—Sedgwick featured prominently—to figure out what it really meant. Given that Sedgwick’s work was so capacious, so enabling, so generous—even as its archive was white—I wondered what it meant to be told to return to her. If, indeed, we had misread her—but note the body of the white presenter who could diagnose our misreadings and direct how she should be read—had those misreadings been fruitful? What had they yielded? Indeed, learning from Sedgwick’s own reading practices, we could have asked about the uses of deformation, about the political work of unreading and misreading.

Using Sedgwick’s language, we might ask, is it possible for anti-homophobic practice to be anti-black? Well, yes. And rather than produce a song and dance about it, I’ll simply link to Sara Ahmed’s writing on Peter Tatchell and Jayy Dodd’s poetry.

But, I’ll be asked, what about Kobena Mercer’s critique of Fanon? There’s a politics to this move: pit one black critic against another, especially put a relatively unknown person (me) against a foundational, super-famous person (Mercer). I have zero interest in engaging in a Battle Royale. As I return to Fanon—again and again—I am compelled to ask what it means to theorize the sexuality of the object (Moten), as opposed to the juridical subject (a position that, Alex Weheliye shows, can never apply to the black in modernity), or the human (Man overrepresented as the human.)

Finally, a few sentences from ongoing writing as a placeholder:

I’m not interested in creating counternarratives based on what same-sex acts and identities were termed in pre-colonial Africa, a geohistorical designation that marks Africa out of the time of modernity by using modernity’s temporal marker. Counternarratives based on geohistorical specificity fail when blackness is forged through and in the ruptures of colonial modernity. Am I suggesting, then, that Africans prior to their contact with colonial modernity did not have diverse erotic and gendered practices and even identities? Here I can only mark the taxonomic logic (McKittrick, “Mathematics Black Life) that subtends such thinking, a logic that I cannot distinguish from the biometric logic (Browne, Dark Matters) of the ledger, and faced with those entwined logics, my impulse is to refuse them as much as I can.