2021 Theme: By Any Means Necessary
“BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”
Although the phrase is often credited to Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1963 existentialist political drama, ‘Dirty Hands,’ it was first said by Frantz Fanon in his 1960 Address to the Accra Positive Action Conference, "Why we use violence." Erasure is a common fate in white academia of profound Black thinkers. By Any Means Necessary invokes a rhetorical assertion that any available methods, including violence, should be employed to achieve desired ends.
Frantz Omar Fanon was born and raised in the Antilles, on the island of Martinique under French colonial rule. He undertook medical school and psychiatric training in France, and practiced psychiatry in Algeria, where he would eventually join the revolution against the French. Fanon was one of the most important writers in the historic and modern anti-colonial struggle for liberation, and was fundamentally committed to the emancipation of thought and reason from colonial distortions. Violence is thought and taught to be inherently irrational, unjustifiable, and uncivilized. Yet violence, argues Fanon, has a unique potential to liberate colonial subjects from the pervasive and cumulative violences of the colonial regime.
“Violence in everyday behaviour, violence against the past that is emptied of all substance, violence against the future, for the colonial regime presents itself as necessarily eternal. We see, therefore, that the colonized people, caught in a web of a three-dimensional violence, a meeting point of multiple, diverse, repeated, cumulative violences, are soon logically confronted by the problem of ending the colonial regime by any means necessary.”
— Frantz Fanon, Alienation and Freedom: Part 3, Chapter 22, "Why we use violence". 1960
This quote is excerpted from a speech Fanon delivered to the Accra Positive Action Conference, part of an anti-colonial campaign in pre-independence Ghana. The campaign was launched by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, leading to his election as Prime Minister of Ghana after its independence in 1957. In the speech, Fanon provocatively justifies the use of anticolonial violence by the National Liberation Front of Algeria in front of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who up to that point had championed non-violent ‘positive action’ as the only means for the decolonization of Africa. With violence as the natural state of colonial rule, Fanon asserts that it is in fact the colonizers who only speak and understand the language of violence: the continuation of a system established by violence depends desperately on the continuation of that violence.
By Any Means Necessary was brought new meaning by Malcolm X in 1964 during the American Civil Rights Movement, in a speech at the founding rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity. According to Malcolm X’s speech the unity is the most vital pillar of strength and this unity is important in the fight for freedom - We will get justice, freedom, equality by any means necessary, the unity makes this motto more stronger, when there is unity, there is more strength in the process.
“That’s our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.” [...] “We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, on this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
— Malcolm X, 1964
This quote has been taken from Malcolm X’s speech at the founding rally of the organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964. This period of time plays a huge role in his life as he went through a big and vital change in it; he had a spiritual transformation, he left the nation of Islam and he was on his path of making the new organization ‘Afro American Unity’. The idea of founding this organization was the result of Malcolm X’s visit to many African countries while he was going through many realization after leaving the Nation of Islam. He was very inspired by the organization of African Unity, realizing that it created a unity among African people despite their differences and it became their strength. It formed a coalition and is working in conjunction with each other to fight a common enemy. Malcolm X emphasizes on the fact that unity itself is not a task which is achieved easily - it is one of the core means necessary to gain independence and freedom. Therefore, having an inspiration he formed the organization Afro American Unity. And the whole purpose of it was to gain independence and fight for freedom by any means necessary.
In this speech Malcolm X continues to talk about his organization and purposes. He emphasizes the identity crisis that many African Americans go through and wants to connect every African American with their descent. According to him it will create unity and it will become their strength. The common struggles of African people and Afro-American create the mutual understanding between the people of two different hemispheres. As he said;
“Conscious of the fact that freedom, equality, justice and dignity are central objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the people of African descent here in the Western Hemisphere, we will endeavor to build a bridge of understanding and create the basis for Afro American unity.”
The 1960s Black Power activist formerly known as H. Rap Brown once said that “violence is as American as cherry pie.” In recent years, cultural criticism has been called to movements like Black Lives Matter for their use of violence and nonviolence in an ongoing struggle to end white supremacy, liberate Black people, and fight state-sanctioned violence. The sentiment that “violence is never the answer” should confuse most Americans in light of a long history of the federal government’s domestic and international terrorism on communities of color. If violence is a political language, it is the native tongue of the United States Federal Government.
Throughout American history, Black Americans have employed violence in tandem with acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, such as marches, sit-ins, walk-outs and boycotts to challenge oppressive systems of control. Yet throughout American history, we see the same pattern: the moral dismissal of non-state agents of violence -- often via the labels ‘terrorist’, ‘extremist’, or ‘criminal’. Violence disrupts the status quo in a way which uniquely begets a response. Disruptive political dissent has a way of spotlighting not only the flaws in the system, but the strength of those in power. To be clear, there is no form of Black protest that white supremacy will sanction. Just as Fanon articulated in his speech of 1960 regarding European imperialism in Africa, a colonial regime’s entire existence is predicated on its continued infliction of state-sanctioned violence.
Fanon’s words are often struck from philosophical literature bases; white academia applauds George Orwell’s endorsement of armed resistance to fascism, but recoils in horror at the very idea of Black reason flirting with any exercise of force. Lewis Gordon has argued that it is our collective understanding of theory in itself that makes it so inaccessible; Gordon argues that theory is coded as white, while experience is coded as black, so Black thinkers are marginalized from accessing academia and relegated to the realm of experience. This distinct separation also allows white intellectuals to hold the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) experience at arm’s length, regarding it as purely theoretical and thus absolving themselves of any blame.
Framing Malcolm X as an angry, irrational Black man is a strategy of tone policing, and makes it easy for his salient messages to be dismissed. Tone policing suggests that marginalized people should distance themselves from their own emotions when discussing their experiences of marginalization -- but emotions like anger, fear, and frustration are at the core of those experiences. Tone policing hinges on the idea that emotions and reason cannot coexist in discussion and debate, and codes people of color as irrational, aggressive, and violent. It allows a person of privilege to regain control over dialogue and avoid the discomfort of facing the very real material and emotional impacts of oppression and marginalization.
Tone policing is typically a byproduct of white fragility- discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. White fragility can be unlearned if there is first an honest acknowledgement of one’s whiteness, and how a white supremacist society privileges their white identity at the expense of oppressing others. White people must unlearn themselves of tone policing and white fragility by all means necessary.
“By Any Means Necessary” echoes a sentiment that transcends the movements it explicitly originates from and challenges the colonized rules of resistance. It encourages accountability and self-interrogation in an effort to expose double standards in academia, and strives to open avenues for resisting systems of oppression.
“By Any Means Necessary” is the attitude in which we approach social justice. We do so unapologetically.