Janastasia Whydra's Reviews > Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
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's review
Mar 03, 2011

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bookshelves: african, black, essays, jewish, memoir, non-fiction, philosophy-theory, voice-from-the-margins
Read in October, 2012

I first heard about Frantz Fanon's "Black Skin, White Masks" in a "African Literature" course in graduate school. The course focused more on the history of European colonialism and occupation in Africa than on actual "literature" written by "Africans," but I digress. The professor had recommended this book, but it was not part of the assigned reading. So nearly two years later, I finally read the book that the professor hailed as the foundation for any study in colonialism. I have to agree with my former professor's assessment. "Black Skin, White Masks" is a jumping off point for many scholars who have studied colonialism.

I found Fanon's critique of racism that a White Man has regarding the Black Man in comparison to the anti-Semitism that the same White Man would have in regards to a Jew to be fascinating. Fanon believes when Jews are discriminated against, the White (presumably Christian) Man will attempt to exterminate the Jewish race (i.e., Adolf Hitler). However, Fanon writes, the same White Man will discriminate against the Black Man in a different manner. The White Man will allow the Black Man to live, but only as a child. The White Man fears the Jew because the Jew and the White Man have different beliefs and values. The White Man fears the Black Man because of his [the Black Man's] sexuality. The White Man fears the Black Man is sexually more powerful than the White Man, despite there being no proof of this. The White Man's ego is also fragile and he fears if the Black Man should marry and have children with the White Man's daughter, the White Man will no longer matter because he can not see himself in his grandchild. Therefore, the White Man must repress the Black Man and regress the Black Man to the age of a child. The Black Man can never be feared because in the eyes of the racist White Man, the Black Man does not exist. Only the Black Boy exists and must be taken care of like any other child, perhaps just not as good as any of the White Man's children since the White Man can not see himself in the Black Boy. In modern times, we can not only see Whites continuing to treat Blacks as children under the guise that they need to be controlled before they hurt themselves or society. The same is true for the way Men treat Women. Men will regulate the sexuality of Women, i.e. limiting access to clinics that provide safe abortions, under the guise that Men are attempting to protect the unborn life of children. The truth of the matter is that Men are afraid of Women's sexuality. Men are unable to have children and their fragile ego is afraid of not being able to pass along their genetic material into another generation. So even if a man is a rapist, in the name of masculine solidarity, the Men will force the raped Woman to have to choose between giving birth to their (the Men's) child or she can choose to risk her own life by going to an abortion clinic. When Men say Women who lose their lives because they had an unsafe abortion deserve what they get, it is not because these Men feel so deeply for the unborn children (afterall Men can continue to have children until they die), it is because they are glad to be rid of a Woman who has a womb that they could not control. White Men treat Women as inferiors by treating them like children instead of adults who have sexual and reproductive rights just like Black Men. White Men are able to control their "superior" status and continue to spread their seed into the next generation by controlling the womb of Women and limiting the sexual maturity of the Black Men.

I thought Fanon's ideas regarding the identity of race and nationality to be interesting. According to Fanon, it is the White Man who presumes all Blacks identify with each other and will support Africa. However, this is not true. Africa is not a country, but a continent with many countries at war with each other. Armies on both side of the battlefields contain Black Men. This was true then just like it is true in modern times. So, it is from the White Man's perspective there is a Black solidarity that can not be broken. Fanon states from his own experience the White Man is wrong. Fanon has had to struggle with his own identity because of the White Man's belief that was thrust upon him. Fanon, a Frenchman, grew up believing African Negroes were uneducated and inferior and he should not want to be considered Black like a Negro. So, Fanon did not think of himself as Black like a Negro. He did not think of himself as Black at all. He was just as white as snow. When he went to Africa, he was told he was just as Black as any African Negro. This, of course, would not sit well with Fanon since he never had considered himself in sync with a Negro or an African. Before a White African colonist told him he was a African Negro, Fanon always identified himself as a dark-skinned French Man. After meeting the White colonists, he began to question his identity. Many of those who are suppressed in the colony, Fanon realized, are struggling with their "identity" of being the "other." The African Man never cared about his black-ness until a White Man showed up and told him he was Black and a Negro. After "learning" his Negro-ness was bad, he'll try to Whiten himself to make him just as good as White Men. The Black Man's efforts to lighten his skin (and soul) will often lead him to avoid fellow Black Men and Women. Thus, there would be no solidarity between Blacks. There was never a problem with the African identity until the White Man came along and said 'there's is a problem with the African identity.' Never once, I'm sure, did the White Man's ego allow him to think maybe the African identity is alright, but the White Man's identity is wrong. No, the White Man's ego would never allow him to think he was wrong, therefore anyone opposite of him is actually the one that is wrong. [My note: It would be better to live in a world where there is no binary opposition and no race has to be considered right or wrong, but Fanon does not seem to mention binary oppositions in his text]

There are other nuggets of truth in Frantz Fanon's "Black Skin, White Masks" and most scholars of colonial imperialism studies have explored those topics. I merely touched on a couple of points in the book that resonated with me.

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