Dusty's Reviews > Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
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's review
May 25, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2012

There is plenty to critique in this book, and I think the urge to critique is heightened by the author's ubiquity.

For one, Fanon is deeply misogynist and homophobic. He writes that it is in refusing to acknowledge the black man that the white man strips him of his subjectivity, and yet he writes nary a word about the black woman. The greatest irony of the book is that the chapter entitled "The Woman of Color and the White Man" is really a chapter about how black men perceive black women, and its central point is this: Black women bear the children of white men because they believe that by whitening their race they shall earn prestige, and in doing so black women abandon the role they should be playing assuring black men of their virility. (No wonder later writers like bell hooks would lash out against Fanon.) His remarks on white women and homosexual men are equally subjugating: They both want black men to rape them.

For another, Fanon is a trained psychiatrist, and as chapter titles like "The Black Man and Psychopathology" indicate, he is invested in using the psychoanalysic practices of people like the Freuds, Jung, and Lacan to analyze the relation between colonizing and colonized peoples. Perhaps it's just that psychoanalysis has run its course in cultural theory -- or perhaps that it's just become so banal, which amounts to roughly the same thing -- but I found the long passages on dream interpretations rather dull and not terribly persuasive. Appiah concedes this point in his introduction to the Grove edition.

These criticisms aside, however, what I think remains most valuable in Black Skin, White Masks is the fact that at heart it's a small, personal book -- a meditation on the author's own experiences as a black male intellectual -- that can't quite live up to the reputation it has earned as the record of an entire generation. Despite the "vintage" gender politics and analytic practices, Fanon's book conveys a palpable sense of subjective hurt, and also a surprisingly conciliatory desire to forge new, mutually beneficial relationships with white people. Of course, the second best reason to read the book remains its influence; after all, it's hard to read Glissant, Silverman, Hartman, or many others, without first making a pit-stop here. Recommended for literary and cultural historians.
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Reading Progress

May 25, 2012 – Shelved
September 18, 2012 – Started Reading
September 18, 2012 –
page 63
September 23, 2012 –
page 88
September 23, 2012 –
page 128
September 23, 2012 – Finished Reading
September 24, 2012 – Shelved as: read-in-2012

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Creativemf ...perhaps the most astute analysis on this site! (and i'm no fan of post-analysis) _ not to cause a row, but If Fanon's renderings of homosexuality are #vintage then its safe to conclude modern renderings of homosexuality could be #trendy ... nest ce pas? I'm curious what perceptions we will have 30 years hence ...(less)

message 2: by Amera (new)

Amera Mishal I love it♥ thanks

Samantha Having just finished this, I think your review is spot-on. I think if I had read it in college, say, I might find less to critique about the psychoanalytical underpinnings, etc, just because I hadn't read as much then and had less experience in parsing out the good in an impassioned work from the crap. The good in this is not to be denied, but the crap (rape fantasies, "clitoral" vs "vaginal" theories of female sexual development and such like) is crap.

message 4: by Schwinn (new)

Schwinn Your commentary makes a lot sense if the author lived his life and wrote the book in our contemporary. However, it was 1952, a time when the society, including the white colonizer, as a whole was "deeply misogynist and homophobic." I think what the author meant by "they both want black men to rape them" is that black men were very much reduced to hypersexual images by the colonizers, which is still true today. It also showed the author's deep anxiety on the black race, which was subjugated and raped by the European colonizer as a whole. This is understandable. It was 1952. Hello??! You guys didn't even allow PoC to vote.
I would recommend James Baldwin, if you prefer a psychologically easier read.

message 5: by Casey (new)

Casey Schwinn, POC well men had the right to vote well before women. I won't pretend that the south didn't surpress those rights by adding poll taxes but they still had the right to vote.

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