The Wretched of the Earth is a significant and important piece of revolutionary literature written by Frantz Fanon and published in 1961. The book analyses the significant roles that race, class, and violence play in acquiring freedom. In ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, Fanon explores the ways in which colonised people have been subjected to acts of violence and the ways in which they utilise violence in order to achieve their own liberation. He states that “the emergence of the new nation and the demolition of the colonial system are the result of either a violent struggle by the newly independent people or outside violence by other colonized peoples, which has an inhibiting effect on the colonial regime. They discover that violence is atmospheric, it breaks out sporadically, and here and there sweeps away the colonial regime” (Fanon, 1963, p30).

I first read The Wretched of the Earth while studying a module on postcolonial geographies at university. I read the book in order to gain more context for a film review assignment in which we had to analyse a film from a postcolonial perspective. I chose to study “The Battle of Algeirs”, which is a 1966 film directed by Gillo Pontecorvo which depicts the Algerian war of Independence. It was shot only three years after the war and it chronicles the military efforts of the Front Liberation Nationale (FLN) during the periods 1952-1962 in an effort to gain independence and to stop the French’s oppressive colonial rule. The film’s intention was to portray the birth of a nation and to evoke a strong emotional connection to the Algerian’s struggle throughout the film and, as a result, tackles many social, political and cultural issues within it, such as the role of women and children in society and methods of insurgency/resistance. I chose the Wretched of the Earth as my starting point for understanding the innate themes of the film (in addition to watching it multiple times!) because, in the book, Fanon emphasises the use of violence as the only legitimate means of escaping from under the foot of the French’s colonial oppression, and the film depicts the transition from petty violence in the opening scenes to revolutionary violence by the end.

With the United States presidential election looming, and racial tensions in the US at the highest they’ve been since the civil rights era due to the brutal and public murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, I decided to once again revisit The Wretched of the Earth as a reference point to the events that were unfolding. Unsurprisingly I found many parallels within the book that corresponded directly to the situation that occurred in the United States and represented a continuation of the circumstances and experiences that were prevalent when Fanon was writing. Unfortunately, this book still holds relevance today and its themes are still ever present in modern society. In this article I will talk about 3 quotes which I found particularly pertinent and will discuss their significance to specific situations unfolding worldwide.

1.“National liberation, national reawakening, restoration of the nation to the people, whatever the latest expression, decolonisation is always a violent event.”

The colonised subject is dominated by the colonist but, according to Fanon (1963), he acknowledges no authority and is not domesticated. He is made to feel inferior but doesn’t accept this image of himself. “The colonized subject is a persecuted man who is forever dreaming of becoming the persecutor” (Fanon, 1963, p16). After suffering through many years of oppression the colonised subject strikes back against the source of their oppression. The colonised subject is able to transform their situation, their reality, through the use of violence. For Fanon (1963), violence at the individual level is cleansing and rids the colonised people of their inferiority complex. It instils a newfound self-confidence within the colonised subject and emboldens them to fight for their liberation.

Race relations, and racial tensions, have been teetering on a knife’s edge for the last few years in the United States. With police killings of Travon Martin and other black citizens across the country, the situation was primed for eruption, needing only the slightest motion to set it off. And America’s police didn’t disappoint. With the Brutal killing of Breonna Taylor in her home and the subsequent, and equally brutal, killing of George Floyd, Americans took to the streets across all fifty states in protest. 


Riots eventually broke out and were sustained for weeks, even months in some cities. The looting of stores, the burning and vandalising of buildings, and a constant and intense opposition to the overly militarised American police force and dismissive American government were mainstays of the riots. This represented the pain and anger of the American people in response to the continued injustices that were impacting the black community. To make matters worse, instead of attempting to de-escalate the situation, the American police departments chose to retaliate and turn what had started as peaceful protests protected by the American constitution, into a battle between protesters and police officers. Tear gas, rubber bullets, batons, and high-powered water hoses were among the many weapons levied against the American people during these protests.

While not all of the protests that occurred turned violent, it was through the violence that did occur that caused the American police to show their true colours. This ultimately led to the development of a national awareness and consciousness of the ongoing struggle for equality faced by the Black American population on an unprecedented and widespread level. This awakening process was facilitated by the internet which was used by the population to spread information quickly and efficiently. As the quote indicated, the process of retaliating against the oppressive system ultimately turned violent and it is only through this violence that the beginning of a national reawakening/realisation can occur.

For Fanon, decolonisation involves the reversing of power relations between different groups of society (Fairchild, 1994) and is inherently a violent process regardless of the name/form it takes. This is so because in order for the people at the bottom of society, the ‘last’, to escape their current situation they must use any means necessary, including acts of violence. The relationship between the coloniser and the colonised has always been characterised through the use of violence both historically and present day (Srivastava, 2005).

2. “The colonised world is divided in two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barrack and the police stations. The spokesperson for the colonised and the regime of oppression is the police office or the soldier.”

For Fanon (1963), the subjugation of the colonised people occurred through largescale violence and the current system (the exploitation/control of colonised people by the colonisers) is maintained through continued violence. Over-policing and military presence in colonial regions ensure that the people of these areas are kept under scrutiny and are constantly contained. These pervasive images of law enforcement ensure that violence is always on the minds of the colonised subject, regardless of whether they are in the streets or at home.

Despite being only a small percentage of the American population relative to other racial demographics, there is a significantly higher ratio of police killings in the black community. Black people, not just in America, are more likely to be stopped by police offices, face longer sentences for the same type of crime, and are subject to a greater presence of police officers in their communities. This phenomenon of over policing and military presence was on full view in Portland in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. Due to the ongoing, and often violent, protests that were occurring in Portland, the national guard was called in and Portland was placed into almost a ‘police state’. Police brutality escalated with more frequent and indiscriminate attacks on protesters as well as an increase in the amount of arrests being made. On the protesters side, the amount of looting and fires increased as well as direct and targeted attacks on police officers.


The events that were occurring when Fanon was writing continue to repeat themselves in new ways and are evident all over the world. The violence and lack of empathy for its citizens displayed by the American police have led to calls to defund the polic and to use the extra resources in in communities.

3. “The colonist isn’t content with just limiting the space of the colonised, through its assertion of law and order, but stigmatises and classifies the colonised as the embodiment of evil, as a society devoid of values and ethics and morals. The colonist works to dehumanise the colonised, reducing them to a state of an animal. The language in which the colonists refers to the colonised also evolves with this mentality leading to the use of terms such as hordes, the swarming, the stink etc.”

I found this quote particularly interesting when re-reading the book. Having been bombarded with images and videos of the situation unfolding in America, it was almost impossible to avoid the news of every new fire, arrest, looting, etc unless actively shutting myself off from the internet and the news. It was also almost impossible to not be aware of the ways in which certain media/news outlets were referring to the protests and the protesters, a lot of the time missing the point of the protests and ultimately diverting attention away from the inherent issues present in America’s system and government that led to the police killings and that continue to persist in today’s society.

The most prominent of these comments came in the form of then President Donald Trump. Instead of condemning the violence on protesters or putting forward his solutions or plans for resolving the current issues and working towards the future, he instead focused on the actions of the protesters, labelling them thugs and condemning their actions. He also went on to make threats of sending in the national guard (which he eventually did in Portland) and stated, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. All of these comments were made on twitter (the last of which was hidden by twitter) showing his total lack of interest and empathy for the situation and the overall struggle of Black Americans.

Protests 2

As the quote states, the underprivileged in society are dehumanised and stigmatised. This phenomenon is felt and experienced by black people, not just in America, but also in Europe and across the world. Years after ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ was released this phenomenon, in addition to others, is still occurring and, according to Fanon, the violence that has occurred is the main vehicle in which meaningful change can be delivered.

Final thoughts

The Wretched of the Earth, as important revolutionary literature, is still significant and relevant today. There are many parallels between the themes and topics explored in the book and the current racial conflicts occurring throughout the world. The most recent of these situations came in the form of the protests and riots following the brutal murder of George Floyd. This killing led, not just to increased violence and political awareness, but also to a re-evaluation of its past and present, not just by the United States, but also by European countries. The protests, and what they signified, led to a call by citizens around the world to defund the police and to dismantle colonial monuments that are prevalent in cities and states. An example of this is the tearing down of statues of significant colonial figures. One of the most prominent instances of this occurring is the tearing down, and subsequent dumping, of a statue of Eward Colsten into the harbour in Bristol.

Colston was a prominent 17th century slave trader whose name and influence can be found throughout the city of Bristol. There have been repeated calls over the years to reduce the degree in which Colston’s name is featured throughout the city, but after being ignored for so long combined with the influence of the protests, citizens decided to take matters into their own hands.

These examples, and many more, show the continued significance of Fanon’s work and I would encourage everyone to read this book. I would also encourage people to do wider reading in order to gain a broader and more complete understanding of the current situation and the struggles that black people experience on a daily basis throughout the world as a result of colonial history and events. Only by understanding the current system we live in can we make a positive impact and work to, first, not repeating history and, second, creating meaningful and positive change for the future.