Archive for the ‘Black Skin White Masks’ Category

The following is based on Chapter 6 of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952): “The Black Man and Psychopathology”:

Why white people are so afraid of black men:

  1. Black men are seen as being way less moral.
  2. White men fear they will take white women from them.

Take the last one first:

White men think that black men have bigger penises. They think that once a white woman sleeps with a black man she will never want a white man again: if it is not for their size then it is because black men are so much better in bed.

None of this is based on fact. According to science the African penis and the European penis are the same size on average. There is no proof whatsoever that “Once you go black you never come back”. And prostitutes will tell you that black men and white men are pretty much the same in bed.

Fanon finds it a bit odd that any man should be thinking that much about other men’s penises and sex appeal, that they should be saying stuff like black men have an “aura of sensuality”, etc. He says it comes from repressed homosexuality.

But white women too are afraid of black men. Fanon saw it for himself when he fought in Europe in the Second World War: he was in three or four countries and every time white women would shrink back in fear if he asked them for a dance – even though he was hardly in a position to do them harm.

Black men are seen as little better than animals. Therefore they are feared for what their bodies can do, which means they are feared for their penises, which accordingly become large in the white imagination. Thus: “whoever says rape says black man”.

In Europe Jews were feared too but no one feared Jewish rapists. When violence was turned on them no one thought to castrate them. Because they were feared for their minds, not their bodies.

But the sex thing is not all of it. Blacks are also seen as morally dark, as sinful and evil – as if blacks were born with original sin but whites were born pure.

Even in Martinique where Fanon grew up and where nearly everyone was black, his mother would tell him to “stop acting like a nigger” if he did something wrong. And if his conscience was clear he would say he was “white as snow”.

This comes from the colour black being seen as evil, bad, dark and dirty and the colour white as pure, innocent and clean. Whites thought that way long before they ever took blacks as slaves, but it did help to support the idea of black people as morally bad and whites as morally pure.

Whites  also use blacks as scapegoats: it is easier for them to imagine blacks as the screwed-up ones instead of facing up to their own morally broken nature.

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The following is based on Chapter 3 of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952): “The Man of Colour and the White Woman”:

Fanon, a black psychiatrist from Martinique,  starts by saying of himself:

I want to be recognized not as Black but as White. … who better than the white woman to bring this about? By loving me she proves to me that I am worthy of a white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man.

Yes, it gets worse:

Between these white breasts that my wandering hands fondle, white civilization and worthiness become mine.

Having lost half his readership, Fanon then turns to the case of Jean Veneuse, the hero of an autobiographical novel by Rene Maran, “Un homme pareil aux autres” (1947).

Jean Veneuse came to France from the Caribbean when he was three or four. He lost his parents and was brought up by boarding schools in France, the only black student in a sea of white. He has a lonely childhood. When the other students go home for the holidays he is left alone at school.  He withdraws into himself and into books: Aurelius, Tagore, Pascal and other writers become his only friends.

He grows up French and falls in love with a white woman. He wonders about his motives.

Maybe it is simply because he was brought up European and so desires European women just like any other man in Europe. Or, contrariwise, maybe it is because he is black:

the common mulatto and black man have only one thought on their mind as soon as they set foot in Europe: to gratify their appetite for white women.

Most of them, including those with lighter skin who often go so far as denying both their country and their mother, marry less for love than for the satisfaction of dominating a European woman, spiced with a certain taste for arrogance.

And so I wonder whether … I am unconsciously endeavoring to take my revenge on the European female for everything her ancestors have inflicted on my people throughout the centuries.

Yet when he works in Africa as a civil servant he proves to be just as bad as the whites, complete with the native girl in his hut. So maybe it is not revenge that he wants but to separate himself from his race or even somehow to become raceless.

But Fanon says that Veneuse’s troubles run much deeper than that: he was left alone in the world by his mother as a small boy and is hung up on that. So he is afraid to love and be loved. He holds everyone at arm’s length, even the woman he wants to marry. Therefore we cannot draw any general conclusions from Veneuse’s case.

I have not read the whole book – I post as I read – but at this point this chapter seems like a waste. But we shall see.

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The following is based on Chapter 2 of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952): “The Woman of Colour and the White Man” (men of colour and white women will be next week):

When women of colour go after white men and put down men of their own colour Fanon says the cause is just what many of us suspect: internalized racism.

Nor do these women truly love these white men: they just love their colour. They go with them not out of love but to deal with their own hang-ups about race.


It is because the black woman feels inferior that she aspires to gain admittance to the white world.

Secretly she wants to be white. Marrying white is her way of doing this. She looks up to white people and looks down on black people. Whites represent wealth, beauty, intelligence and virtue; blacks, on the other hand, are “niggers”, something to escape, to be saved from, something not to be. So they want to marry a white man even though they know full well that very few will marry them.

Their racism is so profound that it blinds them to good black men. They will say black men lack refinement – and turn away black men more refined than themselves. They will say black men are ugly – and grow impatient with you if you point out good-looking black men.

Fanon takes as his examples three women: Mayotte of Martinique and Nini and Dedee of Senegal. Mayotte is Mayotte Capecia who wrote a book about her life; Nini and Dedee are characters from “Nini” (1954), a story by Abdoulaye Sadji. All three are part white which makes them determined not to “slip back among the ‘nigger’ rabble”. (There was no the One Drop Rule.)

Nini is a silly typist. A man who is an accountant with the waterways company proposes marriage. She cannot believe it. What nerve this man has! There is talk of getting him fired. In the end they have the police tell him to stop his “morbid insanities”. Why? Because he is black and she is half white. He has offended her “white girl’s” honour.

Meanwhile another man with a good government job proposes to Dedee but this time it is a dream come true. Why? Because he is white:

Gone was the psychological depreciation, the feeling of debasement, and its corollary of never being able to reach the light. Overnight the mulatto girl had gone from the rank of slave to that of master. … She was entering the white world.

But a white man cannot make you white, not even in effect: Mayotte, the third woman, had an affair with a married white man. One time she asked him to take her to the white side of town. He does, taking her to a friend’s house for the evening.  But the white women there made her feel so out of place, so unworthy of him, that she never went back to the white side again.

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The following is based on Chapter 1 of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952): “The Black Man and Language”:

Fanon grew up in Martinque, an island in the Caribbean ruled by France. The capital of France, Paris, was the metropole, the centre of the empire. Martinique was the bush, the outback, the hinterland, a nowhere kind of place. All the top people in Martinique either came from France or received their university education there. They all spoke in perfect French.

But most black people in Martinique did not: they spoke Creole, a dialect of French noted for its swallowed r’s. Its closest counterpart in America is Ebonics. Everyone is taught to look down on it at school. The middle-class tries not to speak it at all – except to servants – and shame their children out of using it.

People in Martinique found Creole wanting and saw French as better. That comes not from scholarly opinion but from being colonized, from being under French rule.

Fanon noticed that when people came back from France after receiving their university education they would speak in painfully perfect French and act as if they no longer knew Creole. Why was that?

Fanon found out first-hand: in France white people talk down to you if you are black. Either they speak in fake pidgin French – “Why you left big savanna?” – or they would act too familiar, calling you old fellow and so on. French doctors, for example, would talk to their white patients with impersonal respect but to blacks and Arabs like they were their old friend or something.

The whites say that they are just trying to make blacks feel comfortable. Fanon says no, they are scumbags trying to keep blacks in their place – as perpetual children, as beings of a lesser mind. He noticed they talked to blacks the same way he talked to retarded patients.

So under such circumstances students from Martinique make it a point to speak perfect French, complete with all the r’s. Not because they want to be white or because they think white people are better or something – but to prove they are the equal of any white Frenchman, to deny whites the satisfaction of looking down on them because of their French. (And, admittedly, because French opens doors to opportunities that Creole simply cannot.)

And yet even if you speak perfect French the racism does not stop: white people will then say stuff like, “You speak such perfect French!” – something they never say to a white person with the same university education. Or they will say of one of your country’s writers, “Here is a black man who handles the French language unlike any white man today.” As if that is a surprise or something.

But then mastering perfect French puts black students in a bind: “To speak a language is to appropriate its world and culture,”  says Fanon. Through learning to speak perfect French, they have unwittingly become culturally whiter.

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Once a week I am going to do a post on a chapter of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952). This post covers the introduction. I will try to get the posts out on Friday – you know, because then I can call it Fanon Fridays in blogly fashion. But as you can see this Fanon Friday has turned into Fanon Sunday! My apologies!

“Black Skin, White Masks” is one Fanon’s main books. In it he tries to understand blacks and whites and the relationship between them by applying the ideas of psychology. He wants to examine their souls. He wants to help them:

My true wish is to get my brother, black or white, to shake off the dust from that lamentable livery built up over centuries of incomprehension.

Whites are locked in their whiteness and blacks in their blackness. It keeps them both from becoming free, from becoming truly human. But to destroy their prison we must first understand that prison.

Being black himself, Fanon is more interested in helping blacks, in helping himself. So he talks mainly about them:

We shall attempt to discover the various mental attitudes the black man adopts in the face of white civilization.

He says his observations and conclusions are valid only for the French Antilles (he is from Martinique). And, since he wrote in 1952, what he says might be way out of date by now. But given that my translation into English was done in America in 2008, and given how quickly even good books go out of print, I am going to assume, for now, that what he says applies more broadly than just the French Antilles in the 1950s, that it is useful for blacks – and whites – in America to know now in the 2010s.

And, I should think, anyone who lives in a society shaped by the white empires would get something out of it too.

He says that not all blacks – or whites – will see themselves in the book, but those who do will have made a step in the right direction.

I love how the book starts out. Here is some of it:

Why am I writing this book? Nobody asked me to.
Especially not those for whom it is intended.
So? So in all serenity my answer is that there are too many idiots on this earth. And now that I’ve said it, I have to prove it….

This books should have been written three years ago. But at the time the truths made our blood boil. Today the fever has dropped and truths can be said without having them hurled into people’s faces…. Zealousness is the arm par excellence of the powerless.

But later in the introduction he throws in this unsettling sentence:

As painful as it is for us to have to say this: there is but one destiny for the black man. And it is white.


  1. The Black Man and Language
  2. The Woman of Colour and the White Man
  3. The Man of Colour and the White Woman
  4. The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized
  5. The Lived Experience of the Black Man
  6. The Black Man and Psychopathology
  7. The Black Man and Recognition
  8. By Way of Conclusion

See also:

  • Frantz Fanon
  • Martinique
  • Freud
  • Adler
  • the colonized mind
  • the black buck stereotype

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