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16th March 2022

Frantz Fanon, Priti Patel, and the Problem with Political Discourse

The language around Priti Patel is indicative of the laziness in our political debates, argues Ashwin Venkatakrishnan
Frantz Fanon, Priti Patel, and the Problem with Political Discourse
Photo: Taylor B @ Flickr

Through his work in Algeria as a psychiatrist, the brilliant Martiniquais psychiatrist Frantz Fanon concluded that colonialism is partially a self-imposed mindset. Confused? Let me explain.

At the height of European expansion, colonised people found their own cultures being squeezed out in favour of western culture. From music to religion, everything was disregarded like old chewing gum in favour of new western flavours. This ultimately resulted in colonised people perceiving their own culture from the perspective of their invaders. Fanon observed this process, and noticed that colonised subjects began to repeat the views of their oppressors. As a result, they began to see their own cultures as inferior. This inevitably led to an internal dilemma, in which a colonised individual struggles to come to terms with the fact that they belong to a community and culture they see as inferior. In this way, people who are colonised assist in their own oppression.

Having opened this article in the most confusing way possible, I ought to actually explain myself rather than just engage in a pointless exercise of self-congratulatory back-patting. If you say mean things to people, they will internalise it and begin to see themselves in an inferior light.

If any of you were bullied as children for your “puppy fat” for example, the trauma of that bullying remains with you for a long time. I mean, once a fat kid, always a fat kid, right? This can be applied to the experience of people of colour as well. Just because colonialism as a formal process is over, does not mean people whose ancestors were colonised subjects have not been raised to think of themselves as second-class human beings. I mean, once an inferior being, always an inferior being, right?

My parents were very aware of this and raised me to not feel the mental shackles of imperialism. My parents never stopped us from ever doing anything or dreaming too big. Nor was I ever taught to idolise ‘White culture’ or aspire to be ‘White’ (whatever that means). I’ve only recently discovered how rare this is. When I talk to other students at this university, I realise the prevalence of puerile products like skin bleaching creams. If it is that horrible for people of this generation, I cannot begin to comprehend the scale of the problem in generations past.

Having grown up in Britain during the height of the National Front, Priti Patel probably lived this nightmare. She indubitably faced more societal pressure to present herself in a very specific way as a means of survival. If our childhoods impact our global perspectives (which they obviously do), it would be a mistake to deny that she is simply a product of her generation. There are probably thousands of people who come from the same background as her who think the same way she does. So, to answer the question: ‘Why does Priti Patel hold the views she does?’, the answer could lie in her background as a child facing racial discrimination, and her desire to fight that. She sought to fight accusations of her not being English by being English.

Unlike my blatantly blissfully unaware middle-class White chums, I do not think ‘The Pritster’ is a self-hating witch who secretly wants to deport her parents. Nor do I think she is the devil reincarnate, or the spawn of Satan, a woman with mental health problems, or whatever it is people say to feel good about not sharing her views.

I do, however, think that the relentless attack on Patel for her views is indicative of a common problem: that we are unwilling to contextualise the views and beliefs of others to understand why some people believe what it is they believe. It’s far easier to assume that someone who disagrees with you does so because they are malicious, infantile, and morally reprehensible.

So what can we do to change this? This is a problem that impacts people across the political spectrum rather than just a specific group of people. I believe the answer lies in trying to understand why people hold the views that they do. Why is it that your best friend is a huge fan of small government? What about their life has influenced this decision?

Alternatively, you could question why some people are Communists in this day and age? Who were their parents and where did they grow up? By flipping the switch, we have the potential to actually make persuasive arguments and convince people of a certain perspective rather than just trying to demolish idiots using facts and logic. Yes, this is far more intellectual legwork, but it’s worth it if the nature of our political discussions improves.

I haven’t expressed any of my political opinions in this article. Not because I do not have any, but simply because I do not see the benefits of criticising one stance over another in an article on the state of politics itself. I may be a big Patel fanboy, or I could be a radical Marxist – it simply does not matter. What does matter, however, is our ability to observe the world from the perspective of others.

Ashwin Venkatakrishnan

Ashwin Venkatakrishnan

History student undergoing a quarter-life crisis

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