Black Skin White Masks General Overview
Black Skin White Masks General Overview : Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and received a conventional colonial education. When he went to France to fight in the resistance and train as psychiatrist, his assimilationist illusions were shattered by the gaze of metropolitan racism.
Black Skin White Masks General Overview
Out of his experiences of racism came his first book “Black Skin White Masks” (1952), originally titled as “an essay for the Disalienation of Blacks”. Fanon, in this book, defined the colonial relationship as the psychological non-recognition of subjectivity of the colonized.
His next work is ‘The Wretched of the Earth”. Stuart Hall describes this book as the “Bible of the Decolonization movement’. Fanon died in 1961, just as Algeria was winning its independence. But his seminal texts continue to challenge whites to liberate themselves from all forms of psychological domination.
“Black Skin White Masks” is a book about the mindset or psychology of racism. The book looks at what goes through the minds of blacks and whites under the conditions of white rule and the strange effects of that in black people.
The book is his doctoral thesis, Fanon wrote to get his degree in psychiatry. This book is worth reading since Fanon’s understanding of white French racism in early 1950 and it can also helps to understand white American racism in the 2010s.
The book is divided in 8 chapters. In these eight chapters, Fanon talks about psychology of white colonizers and black people’s desire to be like white men. He talks about issue of language, marriage between white and black and psychology behind it, white mindset of ruling, black’s inequality and struggle for human existence. He explains his all the arguments of psychology with real examples of his surrounding.
In the first chapter, “The Black Man and language”, Fanon shows that how language can present colonialism, how it can show mindset of black and white people. He says,
“The Negro will become whiter-become more human-as he masters the white man’s language”
He explains it with example that, in Martinique, where Fanon grew, people communicate with dialect Creole. But people saw French better than Creole. They started feeling shame with their dialect. It is not because of scholarly opinion but because of being under French rule.
He noticed that people came back educated from France, they act as if they no longer knew Creole and speak perfect French. He noticed that, it is not because they want to be white (because French is white’s language) or they think that white people are better or something but to prove they are equal.
But even if they speak perfect French, racism does not stop, because white people do not take it normally as other white person. They will say, “Here is a black man who handles the French language unlike any white man today.” as it is surprise for them and even their identity of ‘Black’ cannot be forgettable with their education and knowledge of white’s language.
As Fanon believes that, ‘To speak a language is appropriate its world and culture’. As language is also part of culture, they (blacks), through learning of their language, try to become culturally whiter.
The second chapter is about the psychology behind the marriage between white men and black women’ “The woman of colour and the white man”. In this chapter Fanon talks about internalize racism.
According to Fanon, the acts of love and admiration are directly tied to who and what we value. And he gave reasons that why women of colour go after white men, putting down men of their own colour!
“Authentic love …entails the mobilization of psychic drives basically freed of unconscious conflicts.”
In other words, he cannot seek to love unless he has rid himself, in this case, of his inferiority complex. Fanon explains that, these black women do not truly love white men but they just love their colour. They marry with them to deal with their own hang-ups about race. And it is because the black woman feels inferior.
Secretly she wants to be white and marring white is black girl’s way of doing this. Their racism is so profound that it blinds them to good black man. With marring white person, black woman wants to enter in white world. Mulatto or half girls don’t ever want to marry blacks again. Fanon explains this psychology of black women and their desire to marry whites with real examples in this chapter.
The third chapter “The man of colour and the White woman” is about black man’s psychology after being colonized by whites.
Fanon argues that, the nature of the relationship is also rooted in the latent desire to become white. He writes,
“By loving me she [white woman] proves to me that I am worthy of a love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man.”
Every black man and mulatto have only one thought to be like white to gratify their appetite for white woman, to marry white woman. They started denying their culture and woman and marry white girl, less for love than satisfying their ego and inferiority.
Fanon explains this desire with example of Jean Venuese, hero of a novel “Un home pareil aux autres” by Rene Maran. He is black, but like other Europeans, he falls in love with white woman. He wants to separate himself from his race and wants to marry white… Fanon, very effectively, presents hidden desire of black man to marry white woman.
Chapter four, “The so-called dependency complex of the colonized” speaks about projected dependency complex of coloured by whites. This chapter encompasses Fanon’s thoughts surrounding the work of one of his contemporaries, Octave Mannoni, his book “psychology of colonization”
Fanon is primarily concerned with the lack of subjectivity displayed by Mannoni which he believes is responsible for the scholar’s assumption that inferiority complexes are somehow inherent to “primitive” or uncivilized peoples.
Fanon criticizes Mannoni that blacks want to be white because white men discriminate them and they turn them into colonized subject, so because of inferiority complex blacks wants to be white but not because of dependency complex as Mannoni says.
Fanon, many ways, counter argues Mannoni. At the end, he rephrasing his point: that inferiority complex in people of colour is the result of the white man’s arrival and that,
“Mannoni lacks the slightest basis in which to ground any conclusion applicable to the situation, the problems of the Africans in the present time.”
“The lived experience of the black man”, chapter five about experiences of racial discrimination of black men. The chapter is about injustice, inequality and struggle for their existence as a human being.
Fanon talks about his experiences and the reasons of their desire to be white. They are suffering because of their skin colour. And it is so powerful that their education, achievements, morality do not effect much.
Instead of being person, an individual, he is as a black man, a Negro, an object, never a man. Some white people feel sympathy or injustice with them but never try to forget racial inequality.
Fanon talks about projected mentality that, “sin is black as virtue is white” without any reasons, black people becomes victim of whites hatred. It’s about struggle for their human existence. Fanon says,
“A feeling of inferiority? No, a feeling of not existing…All those white man, fingering their guns, can’t be wrong. I am guilty. I don’t know what of, but I know I’m a wretch.”
The title of the chapter 6 is “The black man and psychopathology”. In this chapter Fanon talks about white man’s mentality and their views about black people. Fanon discusses some points that why white people afraid of black man.
He argues that, because white men have fear that blacks will take white women, Because they have an assumption that black men are sexually passionate than whites. And white women also afraid of black men.
White people also believed that black man are less moral. They think that as they comes from the colour black, they are bad, immoral, dark, evil and dirty and white is a colour of pure, innocence and clean. Black men are seen as little more than animal.
Even we also thought and behave to black man as criminal or bitter, we have fear to make any relationship with them! It’s because of our constructed mentality.
Because of white men’s these mentality and assumptions, black man suffers a lot, even they are morally better than white people. Thus, in this chapter, Fanon talks about constructed identity of black men.
Fanon describes his last point in chapter seven “The black man and recognition”. In this chapter Fanon presents mentality of black people of putting their own people down to feel good.
He writes about his people of Martinique, with putting down others, they can feel better about themselves. The reason of their mentality is an inferiority complex. The fault is not of black people but it comes from white rule, which forces blacks to live in a world where their human worth is questioned. Blacks are not in a position to put down white people, so they prove their worth by putting down each other. Like mulatto girl does not want to marry with black or mulattoes feel superior and prove blacks inferior.
Fanon quotes Adler and Hegel and talks the points, they gave. Fanon relates their ideas with blacks of Martinique. He gives argument and reason of their internal fight,
“In place of honest hatred was a false smile which gave blacks nothing to fight against. All they could do was bite their tongue and smile back… still remaining unequal.”
The last chapter of this book “By way of conclusion” is, as the title suggests, a conclusion. In this chapter he talks about some solution which can try to remove this inequality and injustice between blacks and whites.
Fanon suggests forgetting past which leads them to superiority and inferiority complexes. White people may feel guilty for their inhuman ancestors and blacks may feel inferior than whites because of their past as a slave. And it also raises hatred to whites. So, Fanon rightly says, not to be prisoners of past, ‘let the dead bury the dead’
He proves his views with example of Indo-china war history. Fanon writes his views on fighting for freedom; he believes that one cannot make others rule over him. He makes very good point at the conclusion,
“I have only one right and one duty; the right to demand human behaviour from the other, and the duty to never let his decisions renounce his freedom.”
Fanon, in the whole book, tries to be analytical without attachment. He talks about black men’s desires to be white with psychological reasons. He never become insulting for blacks and also doesn’t present hatred for white people. But he fairly well describes their psychology of superiority mindset/complex.
Recent example which can prove Fanon’s psychology is great dancer Michael Jackson who tries to become white throughout his life.
The points, he describes, have an authentic reasons. He proves his psychoanalysis with his own examples. He shows his outbursts, his burning questions about his projected, constructed identity. Whites represent wealth, beauty, intelligence and virtue, but blacks projected identity is as ‘Niggers’ something to be saved from, to escape, something not to be as they are ugly, uncivilized, immoral, impure and not virtuous.
This mentality is deeply rooted in everybody’s mind. Adds for becoming white suggests success of Fanon’s psychology.
The “Black Skin White Masks” psychoanalytical work by Frantz Fanon is worthy to be studied to understand psychology of blacks and whites both. The work is true to itself and it proves many points without prejudices for whites and without sympathy for blacks.
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