Black Skin, White Masks. Frantz Fanon. Few modern voices have had as profound an impact on the black identity and critical race theory as Frantz Fanon, and Black Skin, White Masks represents some of his most important work. Fanon's masterwork is now available in a new translation that updates its language for a new generation of readers. A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in , the book remains a vital force today from one of the most important theorists of revolutionary struggle, colonialism, and racial difference in history.
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A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements internationally, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in , the book remains a vital force today from one of the most important theorists of revolutionary struggle, colonialism, and racial difference in history. As a writer he demonstrates how insidiously the problem of race, of color, connects with a whole range of words and images.
Yet it is Fanon the man, rather than the medical specialist or intellectual, who makes the book so hard to put down. The black man possesses two dimensions: one with his fellow Blacks, the other with the Whites. A black man behaves differently with a white man than he does with another black man. There is no doubt whatsoever that this fissiparousness is a direct consequence of the colonial undertaking. Nobody dreams of challenging the fact that its principal inspiration is nurtured by the core of theories which represent the black man as the missing link in the slow evolution from ape to man.
These are objective facts that state reality. But once we have taken note of the situation, once we have understood it, we consider the job done. To speak means being able to use a certain syntax and possessing the morphology of such and such a language, but it means above all assuming a culture and bearing the weight of a civilization.
Since the situation is not one-sided, the study should reflect this. We would very much like to be given credit for certain points that, however unacceptable they may appear early on, will prove to be factually accurate. The problem we shall tackle in this chapter is as follows: the more the black Antillean assimilates the French language, the whiter he gets—i. A man who possesses a language possesses as an indirect consequence the world expressed and implied by this language.
You can see what we are driving at: there is an extraordinary power in the possession of a language. In a work in progress we propose to study this phenomenon. For the time being we would like to demonstrate why the black Antillean, whoever he is, always has to justify his stance in relation to language.
Going one step farther, we shall enlarge the scope of our description to include every colonized subject. All colonized people—in other words, people in whom an inferiority complex has taken root, whose local cultural originality has been committed to the grave—position themselves in relation to the civilizing language: i. The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of the metropolis, the more he will have escaped the bush.
The more he rejects his blackness and the bush, the whiter he will become. There is the town, there is the country. There is the capital, there are the provinces. Apparently, the problem is the same. Take an inhabitant of Lyon in Paris. The same process repeats itself in the case of the Martinican. Then—and this is the essential point—there is what lies beyond his island.
On this subject I shall indicate a fact that must have struck my fellow islanders. The native islander who has never left his hole, the country bumpkin, adopts a most eloquent form of ambivalence toward them. The black man who has lived in France for a certain time returns home radically transformed. Genetically speaking, his phenotype undergoes an absolute, definitive mutation.
Even before he leaves one senses from his almost aerial way of walking that new forces have been set in motion. The usually raucous voice gives way to a hushed murmur. In the French Antilles the bourgeoisie does not use Creole, except when speaking to servants. At school the young Martinican is taught to treat the dialect with contempt. Avoid Creolisms. Some families forbid speaking Creole at home, and mothers call their children little ragamuffins for using it. On the lookout for the slightest reaction of others, listening to himself speak and not trusting his own tongue, an unfortunately lazy organ, he will lock himself in his room and read for hours—desperately working on his diction.
Recently, a friend told us this story. Bwing me a dwink of beerrrr! There is a psychological phenomenon that consists in believing the world will open up as borders are broken down. The black Antillean, prisoner on his island, lost in an atmosphere without the slightest prospect, feels the call of Europe like a breath of fresh air. The city of Fort-de-France is truly lackluster and shipwrecked.
Moreover, there is nothing thematic about this change that is structural and independent of any introspection. In the United States, Pearce and Williamson have conducted an experiment called the Peckham experiment. The authors have proved that there is a biochemical modification in a married couple, and apparently they have detected in the husband certain hormones of his pregnant wife.
Or simply study his psyche before he leaves and then one month after settling in France. There is a dramatic conflict in what is commonly called the human sciences.
Should we postulate a typical human reality and describe its psychic modalities, taking into account only the imperfections, or should we not rather make a constant, solid endeavor to understand man in an ever-changing light?
When we read that a man loses his affective faculties starting at the age of twenty-nine and he has to wait until he is forty-nine to regain them, we feel the ground give way beneath our feet. All in all, I grasp my narcissism with both hands and I reject the vileness of those who want to turn man into a machine.
If the debate cannot be opened up on a philosophical level—i. On departure, the amputation of his being vanishes as the ocean liner comes into view. Let us now go and meet one of those who have returned home. The new returnee, as soon as he sets foot on the island, asserts himself; he answers only in French and often no longer understands Creole. A folktale provides us with an illustration of this. After having spent several months in France a young farmer returns home. Awesome therapy.
So here is our new returnee. He can no longer understand Creole; he talks of the Opera House, which he has probably seen only from a distance; but most of all he assumes a critical attitude toward his fellow islanders.
He reacts differently at the slightest pretext. He knows everything. He proves himself through his language. On the Savanna in Fort-de-France, a meeting place for young people, the new returnee is given the floor for a purpose. Yes, this town is a lamentable shipwreck.
This life too. They meet and talk. And the new returnee is quickly given the floor because they are waiting for him. First of all regarding form: the slightest mistake is seized upon, scrutinized, and in less than forty-eight hours it will be all over Fort-de-France.
There is no forgiving the Martinican flaunting his superiority for failing his duty. His only choice is either to get rid of his Parisian affectation or to die of ridicule. For people will never forget; once married, his wife will realize she has married a joke, and his children will have to deal with and live down the tale.
Where does this change of personality come from? What can this new way of being be ascribed to? Any idiom is a way of thinking, Damourette and Pichon said. And the fact that the newly returned Martinican adopts a language different from that of the community in which he was born is evidence of a shift and a split. Professor Westermann writes in The African Today that the feeling of inferiority by Blacks is especially evident in the educated black man who is constantly trying to overcome it. By referring to other research and our personal observations, we would like to try to show why the black man posits himself in such a characteristic way with regard to European languages.
We recall once again that our findings are valid for the French Antilles; we are well aware, however, that this same behavior can be found in any race subjected to colonization.
We have known, and unfortunately still know, comrades from Dahomey or the Congo who say they are Antillean; we have known, and still know, Antilleans who get annoyed at being taken for Senegalese. Any Antillean who has done military service in a colonial regiment of infantry is familiar with this distressing situation: on one side, the Europeans and the French Antilleans; and on the other, the Africans.
I can remember once when in the heat of action a nest of enemy machine guns had to be wiped out. Three times the Senegalese were ordered out and three times they were forced back. That would be the last straw, to put us with the niggers! The European despises the African, and the Antillean lords it as uncontested master over this black rabble. An extreme example, but nevertheless amusing, is the following: I was recently talking with a Martinican who was incensed that certain Guadeloupeans were passing for Martinican.
But, he added, the mistake was rapidly detected; they are more savage than we are—meaning once again that they are farther removed from the white man. The black man likes to palaver, and it is only a short step to a new theory that the black man is just a child. But we have to look further. We cannot hope to cover the fundamental question of language here in its entirety.
The remarkable research by Piaget has taught us to distinguish stages in its emergence, and the studies by Gelb and Goldstein have demonstrated that the function of language operates by steps and degrees. Here we are interested in the black man confronted by the French language.
We would like to understand why the Antillean is so fond of speaking good French. There may be one Gilbert Gratiant writing in Creole, but admittedly he is a rare case. Besides, the poetic worth of such writing leaves much to be desired. There is nothing comparable in the French Antilles. The official language is French; elementary-school teachers keep a close eye on their pupils to make sure they are not speaking Creole.
We will not go into the reasons why.
Find this book:. For that reason, this new edition from Pluto Press is definitely welcome. It remains a fundamental part of the contemporary constellation of intellectual and activist struggles and discourses working to denounce and contest the effects of racism on the lives and minds of black people and people of colour. At the time, I had written a response to black Brazilian feminist academics and activists who have extensively analysed the relationship between systemic racism and the solitude of black women in our country. In a blog post, I reflected about how I consciously and unconsciously reproduced racist patterns of behaviour as I grew into adulthood. You should. In contexts like Brazil and other postcolonial societies, those who denounce racism tend to be seen as over-sensitive and radical.
Book Review: Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
Born on the island of Martinique under French colonial rule, Frantz Omar Fanon — was one of the most important writers in black Atlantic theory in an age of anti-colonial liberation struggle. His work drew on a wide array of poetry, psychology, philosophy, and political theory, and its influence across the global South has been wide, deep, and enduring. Fanon engaged the fundamental issues of his day: language, affect, sexuality, gender, race and racism, religion, social formation, time, and many others. His impact was immediate upon arrival in Algeria, where in he was appointed to a position in psychiatry at Bilda-Joinville Hospital.
Black Skin, White Masks
The book is written in the style of auto-theory,  which Fanon shares his own experiences in addition to presenting a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanization, inherent in situations of colonial domination, on the human psyche. The violent overtones in Fanon can be broken down into two categories: The violence of the colonizer through annihilation of body, psyche, culture, along with the demarcation of space. And secondly the violence of the colonized as an attempt to retrieve dignity, sense of self, and history through anti-colonial struggle. Black Skin, White Masks applies a historical critique on the complex ways in which identity, particularly Blackness, is constructed and produced. Fanon confronts complex formations of colonized psychic constructions of Blackness in the book. He applies psychoanalysis to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that black people experience.
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