Discussion Piece: “Black Skin, White Masks” by Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon begins by not shouting as he manipulates his own personal narrative and thoughts as a black Antilles man to show his lived truths to an audience that did not ask him to share. His audience is man, the black man, black men who wish to be white, the man who adores the negro, and those that despise it, and several other varying groups. In our discussion I will dissect the topics of objectification, colonial stripping of self-worth, inferiority complex, and highlight the author’s use of style to convey key messages, and I will conclude with several discussion questions.

Fanon proves why the black man is not a man at all in chapter five and how he comes to learn this. “I was an object in the midst of other objects… sealed into that objecthood” as a young child on a train and other white people say “Look, a Negro!”. He did not see himself as an object until he was made to feel that way, and even if he internally fought against those negative characteristics place upon him, the repetition of all the people around him seeing him that way made it too difficult. When people see him, they think; cold, ugly, and scary. He struggled to understand how he is hated, and wants to deny it but cannot, he then questions if he should hate himself, but by default does not. His role as a doctor does not matter as a black man, because what is more significant is his blackness. His blackness becomes almost synonymous to his name, the primary label a person have is their name, and a black man is described by others and introduced with their name followed by “a black man” or “Negro”. This dehumanizing makes the Negro feel distant from society but also from himself, “I occupied space. I moved toward the other… and the evanescent other, hostile but not opaque, transparent, not there, disappeared” and the dehumanization also stripping away the black man’s self-worth and internalizing inferiority.

Black culture and history are taken away by force and left to be re-created by a non-black people, this loss of self, loss of origin, and loss of history contributed to internalized inferiority and even creates a space for competition within the black community against one another. In chapter five Fanon describes the Negro’s customs as “wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that he did not know and that imposed itself on him”. That space is then replaced by whatever the colonizing power sees it to be, which is why the black man cannot look beyond the image the man places on him, it is all he knows. This is perhaps the white mask. Fanon often makes distinctions between blacks that want to sleep with white women, whites that stand up for Negros, and the ones that yell at them that are Negros, saying that some or worse than the other, this seems like he is trying to mix up the distinctions between color. When these white customs or attitudes and the acceptance of the categories of inferiority and superiority dominate over “colour prejudice” they are overpowering the direct implications of color itself. The domination of white perspective over the black’s self-identity is so powerful that their blackness becomes whiteness because the black man doesn’t exist.

This lack of self-worth is then also projected throughout the black community to one another. Chapter 7 talks about how “the Antillean is characterized by his desire to dominate the other”, and here the definition for who the other is becomes challenged and they apply their inferiority to one another and compete for that superiority. This is then continued as Fanon investigates Hegel’s master-slave dialectic where they both validate the other in their relationship. Fanon emphasized the importance of these historical constructions but then moves on to suggest that it is important to move beyond this past in order to advance to the future. In the quote used by Karl Marx, “revolution… cannot draw on its poetry from the past, but only from the future” Fanon is perhaps supporting an erasure of this past and “going beyond the historical” that is often left out of historical narrative, and this is surprising as he carefully tiptoes the line of erasure of black history and still recognizing that past to apply it to the future. In a quote that is repeated twice in the text “For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white” does he mean this literally, that the black man’s destiny will forever have a white filter over it? That their customs and beliefs have been completely bleached and that their culture therefore becomes white? Or is this a reference that their destiny is controlled by white, and therefore never free, similarly to where he states “Liberty and Justice… always white liberty and white justices”. I argue that the author blurs this line a bit too much and that the clear distinction of not forgetting about black history for the sake of progression should be further emphasized. Another aspect of the text that was challenging to navigate was the author’s alternating between his personal thoughts in a specific moment, his interjections of dialogue, and then returning the analytical thought. However challenging, it made the book more relatable, understandable, and admirable.

Fanon brilliantly uses stylistic elements such as point of view, themes, tone, capitalization, and punctuation to not just show his positionality, but reveal how it changes throughout his life experiences. One prevalent theme throughout his stories is the use of laughter versus anger and how that shows control over a situation or the lack thereof. From the beginning of the book, he highlights that he is going to not shout his story because he is often too guilty of that and says that “fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent” and that he had to wait to write his book in order to appropriately deliver his findings and avoid “burning” himself. Over and over throughout the book we see examples such as “I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible” or “Shame flooded her face… I identified my enemies and I made a scene… Now one would be able to laugh.” Fanon is going in and out of control of how he is perceived and how he reflects that in himself. His capitalization and exclamation points throughout the dialogues increase the strength of the blows of other people’s words and how they affect him. One of the examples of this that sticks out the most is “when I should have been begged, implored, I was denied the slightest recognition? I resolved, since it was impossible for me to get away from an inborn complex, to assert myself as a BLACK MAN” or one of the many names yelled at him “Why, it’s a Negro!”. The inclusion of the dialogue itself is also there to have the reader feel the impact of the exact words verbatim. The author is also very aware of his point of view in his critiques and how he can use that positionality and how it could limit him.

In his unique writing style and balancing narrative with the psychological and philosophical is important to note for a reader’s discussion, how does the narrator, a black man himself, develop his self-identity throughout the book? How does he struggle through it? What are the effects of him advancing and being set back repeatedly? Through his narration, does Fanon accomplish what he advices to his audience at the very end of his book, “always make me a man who questions!” and that the world recognizes “the open door of every consciousness”. Then returning to the beginning of the book and thinking about the audience, Fanon clearly states that “And this future is not the future of the cosmos but rather the future of my century, my country, my existence. In no fashion should I undertake to prepare the world that will come later”. However, here we are, the reader, still exploring Fanon’s theory and narrative, in what specific ways is this text still relevant to our generation despite the author’s intentions, and is it “still necessary” for our society?

Bibliography

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press, 1952 (Introduction, 1-7, The Fact of Blackness, 82-109, The Negro and Recognition, 163-172, and Conclusion, 174-181).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: