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The following is based on Chapter 4 of Frantz Fanon’s book “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952): “The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized”:

Mannoni, a French psychoanalyst, wanted to understand the mind of the native and the white colonial based on his experience and study of Madagascar under French rule in the 1930s and 1940s. Himself  a white colonial, he wrote a book about it, “The Psychology of Colonization” (1950). Frantz Fanon, himself a native (not of Madagascar but of Martinique) spends this chapter tearing it to pieces.

French rule of Madagascar was cruel. They used Senegalese soldiers to strike fear into the hearts of natives. In 1947 the French put down an uprising, killing 80,000 natives. As if that were not enough, in the footnotes Fanon tells of the French practice of torture in Madagascar.

Fanon calls the use of black soldiers to force French rule on people of colour “the racial allocation of guilt”. He quotes Francis Jeanson:

And if, apparently, you manage not to soil your hands, it’s because others are doing the dirty work in your place. You have your henchmen, and all things considered, you are the real guilty party; for without you, without your blind indifference, such men could not undertake acts that condemn you as much as they dishonor them.

So with all that in mind, here is the picture that Mannoni paints:

  • Most natives are content to put whites above them and be dependent on them because it fulfils a deep need in their hearts, one that was there long before whites showed up. Mannoni calls this a dependency complex.
  • A few natives are unhappy because they suffer from an inferiority complex, which makes them want to be the equal of whites.
  • Not all peoples can be colonized: only those who experience the need.
  • European civilization and its agents of the highest calibre are not responsible for colonial racism. It comes from lower-level whites who blame their unhappy lives on the natives.
  • When black men with guns appear in children’s dreams at night it is not because of the terror of French rule: no, the guns stand for penises.

The only part that Fanon feels Mannoni got at least part right:

  • White colonials suffer from a Prospero complex. Just like the Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, they want to lord it over the natives. The colonies draw those whites who cannot accept others as they are, who do not want to have to take other men seriously but instead want to lord it over them.


I start suffering from not being a white man insofar as the white man discriminates against me; turns me into a colonized subject; … tells me I am a parasite in the world … So I will try quite simply to make myself white; in other words, I will force the white man to acknowledge my humanity. But, Monsieur Mannoni will tell us, you can’t, because deep down inside you there is a dependency complex.

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