This post is a response to your request Obifromsouthlondon…

This book written by Frantz Fanon should be seen as part of his larger struggle of decolonizing African people from the bondage of colonialism. Fanon is a Martinician psychoanalyst who wrote the great book “Wretched of the Earth” (1963). Particularly, Fanon is fighting alongside Algerians against the French. He is scarcely credited for his work by the Algerians (according to biographer David Macey).

The book is a “clinical study” as he says. The first 3 chapters deal with the modern Negro. He tries to explain the attitudes of the Negro: “the state-of-being” a Negro.

This state-of-being should not be taken carelessly or colloquially. Fanon writes with deep philosophical intention. To understand a “state-of-being” you have to start with the very fact of blackness. You cannot deny your blackness. So basically that is why the book is “Black Skin, White Masks” because many education blacks at that time and more specific to Fanon’s study, French black people, were subconsciously denying their blackness.

To quote Fanon:

“There is a fact: White men consider themselves superior to black men. There is another fact: Black men want to prove to white men, at all costs, the richness of their thought, the equal value of their intellect. How do we extricate ourselves?” (Fanon, p.10)

I’ll focus on the third Chapter here: “The Man of Colour and the White Woman”.

Basically Fanon discusses this chapter with respect to the phenomenon of “recognition”. To quote G.W. Hegel in “Phenomenology of Spirit”:

“Self-Consciousness exists in-and-for-itself insofar as it exists in-and-for-itself for ANOTHER. That is, Self-consciousness exists only in being Recognized.” (Sorry about the tangent here but to make this point and many other points you have to go back to the idea that triggered it, and Fanon is talking about recognition in the philosophical sense that Hegel used it)

To be RECOGNIZED is what makes people self-conscious both on a deeper level as in knowing themselves but also on a social level- it makes them aware of people watching. For example why do we have trouble speaking in public? We are being told who we are by other people’s reactions. It makes us nervous and vulnerable. Or, why do we dart our eyes away from someone looking at us in the elevator or at the bus stop? The recognition…we don’t trust it, so we hide.

ANYWAY.

Fanon is saying in Chapter 3 that the Black man longs to be recognized by the white women. He wants to know he is a man through her. For example, he says:

“Out of the blackest part of my soul, across the zebra striping of my mind, surges this desire to be suddenly white. I wish to be acknowledged not as black but as white.

Now–and this is a form of recognition that Hegel had not envisaged–who but a white woman can do this for me? By loving me she proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man. Her love takes me onto the noble road that leads to total realization…I marry white culture, white beauty, white whiteness. When my restless hands carress those white breasts, they grasp white civilization and dignity and make them mine.” (Fanon, 63)

Okay, Fanon is a very provacative writer! But his point is both material and symbolic: Blacks, by virtue of their oppression, want to own whiteness, to become it, for it to be internalized and for it to be theirs. However, the way the black man does this with the white woman is through an intimate/sexual encounter. He plunges into whiteness so to speak. That is the material, physical portion of it…but symbolically he is believing himself to become white. Or as Hegel put it “becoming other”. (There is a portion of the book that deals with the eroticization of the black man. He is viewed as “body” and not “mind”. The white man fears his potentcy with the white woman and the white woman views him sexually first. The interesting part is that there is very little mention of the black woman. Fanon pretty much ignores her.)

By the way, the “black man” here is a “marked” body…you can replace Black with any indigenousness and the point remains. The idea is indigenousness vs. civility (or the perception of civility).

Because as we all know:

“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. A historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.”

— Walter Benjamin, [from] Thesis X of “Theses on the Philosophy of History”

Okay. Will end this here but feel free to ask any questions would like to go back and research this stuff anyway…

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