Saturday, July 24, 2021

Black Skin, White Masks / Fanon - summary by chapter

"Black Skin, White Masks"  published in 1952, is Frantz Fanon's first book. The book deals with the cultural mechanisms of colonialism and their effects on individuals and cultures, as expressed in questions of identity and racism . Fanon used psychoanalytic models to describe the adapted feelings of dependence and lack of blacks in the white world, and their sense of split self after losing their cultural roots in favor of the culture of the occupying state. In addition, Fanon used a broad philosophical thought , which includes existentialism and Gallian thought .

"Black Skin, White Masks"  largely echoes the experiences of Fanon as a black, a native of the colony of Martinique, who writes after living in France and experiencing feelings of alienation and inferiority. In the book, Fanon argues that colonialism involves separation, the division of society along racial lines, and the description of blacks as "other" assumptions of the white man. Black in France is identified by stereotypes , it is perceived as intellectually inferior and threatening. This is the gaze directed towards the black person and which inevitably evokes self- alienation in him . This creates an internal split in the black person , which also connects to a metaphor that appears in the name of the book. Fanon emphasizes the importance of language in these processes and sees the black man as imprisoned between French , the language of the settler, and the possibility of using local dialects that determine his inferiority in the eyes of the white man. Fanon also points to the problematic nature of the colonial situation, in which the black man strives to resemble the white man.

Summary of "Black Skin, White Masks" by chapter


According to Fanon in "Black Skin, White Masks" the feeling of superiority of whites over blacks (and its flip side, that of black inferiority) is still a fact in Western societies (especially in the West Indies). We will study the consequences from a psychological point of view: what are the reactions of the Negro when faced with a situation born out of colonialism? “What we want is to help the Negro to free himself from the complex arsenal that germinated within the colonial situation” 

Chapter 1. The Black Man and Language

The black (Martinican) who makes a stay in France (metropolitan) undergoes a "genetic" change. He adopts the French language and rejects the Creole , against the idea of ​​a reversal of the colonized against the French language evoked by Sartre in Anthologie de la poésie nègre et malgache . To speak French is to become white, to assimilate the world of white people. The white on the other hand uses the little negro when he sees a black, even cultivated.

Chapter 2. The Woman of Color and the White Man

Mayotte Capécia in his novel Je suis martiniquaise shows this naive attraction to white people because they are white. There is in the black man a phenomenon of retraction of the ego ( Anna Freud ), "an incapacity for all human communion which confines him [s] to an intolerable insularity" (p. 40) and which is only resolved in union with a white. The " mulatto " will refuse to marry a black man, first on the pretext of his lack of finesse or his brutality, but, ultimately , especially for his skin color.

Chapter 3. The Man of Color and the White Woman

In René Maran's autobiographical novel  the young black man, Jean Veneuse, manages to compensate for his feeling of inferiority and isolation (since he was "abandoned" in metropolitan France by his parents) by academic excellence, but does not dare to start a relationship with a white woman who loves her without asking permission from her brother, who is her best friend. Ultimately, he takes refuge in the dream of being "the Other", in the sexual myth of having a white woman; but then he will always feel his inferiority and will not be able to get out of his neurosis.

Chapter 4. The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized

In Mannoni's studies, we speak of the need to be directed and of the "germ of inferiority" already present in the future colonized. Against this, we must reaffirm that the origin of this feeling of inferiority comes from the racism of the colonizer, despite the official discourse: “a society is racist or not. As long as we do not understand this evidence, we will leave aside a large number of problems. To say for example (...) that racism is the work of subordinates, therefore in no way commits the elite, that France is the least racist country in the world, is the work of men incapable of thinking correctly ” (p. 69). “Europe has a racist structure” (p. 74) and is responsible for colonial racism. Mannoni's studies, in particular on the recurring images of Malagasy dreams,

Chapter 5. The Lived Experience of the Black Man

Here is the list of the experiences which can make me understand that racism really exists: the look of people in the street and the remarks of children, the myths about the Negro (savagery, cannibalism, etc.), the justifications on the humanity of all men correlate with genetic explanations on the harmfulness of crossbreeding of ethnic origins, the discovery of negritude with Senghor with this universal complementarity of black emotion and white reason. Whites respond quickly to this that emotion has only been a historical stage in the Western world. If I look for the antiquity of the history of Africa ( Frobenius , Westermann , Delafosse), the Whites oppose me the current advancement of their civilization. Sartre in his Black Orpheus clearly says that "Negritude is to destroy itself, it is a passage and not an end, a means and not a final end". This interpretation of Sartre is contradicted by Fanon for whom "the black consciousness, gives itself as absolute density, as full of itself" (p.131); "Dark consciousness is immanent in itself. I am not the potentiality of something, I am fully what I am, I do not have to seek the universal." (p.132)

Chapter 6. The Black Man and Psychopathology

There is a collective “catharsis” for the inhabitants of the Antilles to see in American films or French comics of white heroes facing Indians or ferocious blacks. The father is respected: 97% of West Indian children will not develop aggression towards the father during the Oedipus complex stage . On the side of the whites, the intellectual acquisitions were coupled with the feeling of a loss of the sexual potential which they consequently attributed to the blacks. For them, "the negro symbolizes the biological" (p. 135), hence aggressive, masochistic (women dreams of a black so that they hurt her) or guilty behavior. Junggoes further, assimilating the archetype of the black to the obscure aspects of the soul in the white; this analysis of the collective unconscious is not false. Like the Jews described by Sartre ( Reflections on the Jewish Question ), one can become anti-Semitic in order to avoid anti-Semitism. “As I realize that the negro is the symbol of sin, I find myself hating the negro. But I find that I am a negro. To escape this conflict, two solutions. Or I ask others not to pay attention to my skin; or else I want it to be noticed ”(p. 159). But these two attitudes keep the trace of the judgment of the Whites.

Chapter 7.The Black Man and Recognition

Alfred Adler affirms nervous temperaments that one must understand the goal, the orientation to understand the psyche. This applies to the Martinicans, whose goal is the Other (that is to say the White) and explains their mentality based on the valuation of oneself, the comparison to others rather than the intimate certainty of one's worth. From the point of view of history, Hegel's thesis-antithesis-synthesis scheme , which works in the United States where blacks fight for their rights, is inapplicable in Martinique since it is the whites who have decreed the equality of men. and the liberation of slaves. The struggle is impossible.

As a conclusion :

All these problems will not arise if we know in a strong way what human is and realize that we all are.