“Black Skin, White Masks” (1952) is a book about the mindset or psychology of racism by Frantz Fanon, a Martinican psychiatrist and black, post-colonialist thinker. The book looks at what goes through the minds of blacks and whites under the conditions of white rule and the strange effects that has, especially on black people.
The book started out as his doctoral thesis that he wrote to get his degree in psychiatry. So it is written for white French psychiatrists and speaks mainly about Martinique and France in the early 1950s.
That makes it a hard book for the general reader to understand. Every now and then he says something wow that keeps you going, but it requires rereading and a good deal of thought to understand a given chapter. And even then you do not fully understand it – you just understand it better.
Yet it is well worth reading since his understanding of White French racism in the early 1950s helps you to understand White American racism in the 2010s.
I have written a post on each chapter:
- Fanon: The Black Man and Language - if you do not learn the white man’s language perfectly, you are unintelligent. Yet if you do learn it perfectly, you have washed your brain in their universe of racist ideas.
- Fanon: The Woman of Colour and the White Man - these women look down on their own race and deep down want to be white
- Fanon: The Man of Colour and the White Woman - these men want to be white too – or at least prove they are equal to whites
- Fanon: The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized - argues against Mannoni’s view that people of colour have a deep desire for white rule, that those who oppose it do not have a secure sense of self – that they have a chip on their shoulder. From this chapter I came to understand that the stereotypes of Happy Darkies, Uppity Negroes and White Saviours all come from the need of white people to feel that their power in society is good and not racist.
- Fanon: The Lived Experience of the Black Man - always black, never fully human. No matter how much education you have or how well you act. Yet shouting your blackness is a dead end too.
- Fanon: The Black Man and Psychopathology - why white people fear black men. Partly it has to do with white men’s repressed homosexuality and their strange hang-ups about black men’s penises. More generally, black men are viewed as bodies, which makes them seem like mind-less, violent, sexual, animal beings. Add to that all the bad meanings that the word “black” had even before Europeans set foot in Black Africa.
- Fanon: The Black Man and Recognition - how different styles of white rule shaped black people in America and Martinique.
- Fanon: By Way of Conclusion - escaping the prison of one’s past and one’s race