Having the Courage to Understand the World

Noah Tesfaye
4 min readNov 22, 2020

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in the preface of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth “Have the courage to read it, primarily because it will make you feel ashamed, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary feeling,” referring to white Europeans reading Fanon’s masterful book.

Sartre noting that fear, shame that we have learning about things we know we are not comfortable with is a practice and a skill that I find ever-evolving. In the case of the book mentioned above, the premise and the vision for a better world is one that requires a concession your people are responsible for the oppression and genocide of people everywhere. It’s a book that leaves readers with the conclusion that their very existence is predicated on the subjugation of those living in the Global South. Sartre speaks of the necessary feeling Marx recognizes as revolutionary once one feels shame. If we think that our circumstances are so utterly devoid of liberation, of freedom, what then can we do but seek a broader vision for life?

Whenever I’m approaching a new text, looking for different ways to explain what we’re all living through, I would be lying if I never do feel fear. The picture Fanon or Ruthie Gilmore paint is bleak. It is difficult to read. To say anything else, would be disingenuous. But that’s also a necessary step. It’s so crucial for me to feel that deep sense of worry because it allows me to recognize the urgency and immediacy of the conditions for which people are suffering today. I spent so much time this past summer actively fighting against that “stay in your comfort zone” with respect to studying politics because I saw how little those I thought I shared a common vision with were not worries about Black people (thinking those who came out vocally against defund and abolition). I had to feel ashamed of my ignorance and complacency with not understanding the world in a nuanced way.

Sartre also writes right before the quote in question that “You who are so liberal, so humane, who take the love of culture to the point of affectation, you pretend to forget that you have colonies where massacres committed in your name.” Too often people attempt to co-opt and profess their “anti-racism”, their “wokeness” in some sort of race to prove not to colonized peoples but to other colonizers they are better. It falls…

Noah Tesfaye

Just someone trying to share my story and find who I am, one post at a time