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The following is based on Chapter 5 of Frantz Fanon’s book “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952): “The Lived Experience of the Black Man”:

Frantz Fanon wants to be a man. But in the white world in which he lives his skin colour becomes everything, more important than even his education and achievements. While his neighbour or his cousin might hate him for good reason, white people hate him without even getting to know him. They are irrational.

He is seen not as Dr Fanon but as a black man who is a doctor. Everyone is watching and waiting for him to make a mistake.

I was walled in: neither my refined manners nor my literary knowledge nor my understanding of the quantum theory could find favor.

White people do not see him, they see his body:

My body was returned to me spread-eagled, disjointed, redone, draped in mourning on this white winter’s day. The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is wicked, the Negro is ugly.

Instead of being a person, a man, an individual, he is a black man, a Negro, an object, a thing that has value only in relation to whites.  Always a Negro, never a man.

Look how handsome that Negro is.
The handsome Negro says, “Fuck you”, madame.

Even though the Catholic Church and science admit that black people are every bit as human as white people – their hearts are on the same side! – and even though white people themselves admit that racism goes against all reason, they still do not want you to marry their daughter.

Seeing that reason does not work with white people, some make up their mind to shout their blackness, to secrete race. Cesaire and Senghor took this road with their philosophy of negritude: on the other side of the white world there lies a magical black culture. Blacks have rhythm, their sex is magical, “Emotion is Negro as reason is Greek” and so on. But this only feeds white stereotypes about blacks.

And then there is black history: blacks had empires, scholars, iron workers and all the rest. But that is a dead end too since currently whites have the most advanced civilization in the world. At best it allows them to see blacks as the childhood of the world.

Even Sartre, a supposed friend of blacks, saw negritude not as something in its own right but merely as a passing reaction to white supremacy.

Fanon:

A feeling of inferiority? No, a feeling of not existing. Sin is black as virtue is white. All those white men, fingering their guns, can’t be wrong. I am guilty. I don’t know what of, but I know I’m a wretch.

In the Hollywood film “Home of the Brave” (1949) a soldier hurt in the war says: “Get used to your color the way I got used to my stump. We are both casualties.”

Fanon: I refuse to accept this amputation.

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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.

Fanon:

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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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.

Fanon:

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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Vogue does blackface

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The October 2009 issue of French Vogue has a 14-page spread of Lara Stone, a white model. In five of the pictures her skin is coloured dark brown. This comes on the heels of Madrid Fashion Week which used at least two blackface models in September.

Jezebel.com accused Vogue of “cultural insensitivity”. SOS Racisme in France said it was “tactless”.

Note that this was French Vogue, not Italian Vogue which had that all-black issue last year.

So was French Vogue being racist?

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Maybe not:

  • Stone also appeared in whiteface in the same spread: in two of the pictures her skin is coloured snow white.
  • France does not have America’s history of black slaves and blackface entertainment.
  • Even in America blackface was used to stereotype blacks and make them a laughingstock. That is not being done here.
  • It is the whole Christ-in-piss thing to sell more magazines. Vogue’s sales are falling. They do stuff like this to get people talking and presumably sell more magazines. In one past issue they showed two women kissing with blood coming out of their mouths.

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Maybe so:

  • Not a single black model appears in the issue. Unfortunately that is not uncommon. Huge parts of the fashion industry still seem to live in the 1950s.
  • The photographer, Steven Klein, is American. Even if the French editor is “benevolently clueless” about blackface (which I doubt) he certainly is not.
  • France has 2.5 million blacks. It used to rule large parts of Africa and had black slaves in the Caribbean.
  • Stone appeared in dark skin before: in the February issue she had dark skin and was dressed to look like an African savage.
  • If they simply wanted to make Stone look strange and striking to draw attention, why pick dark brown of all colours? What is wrong with pure black or even, you know, purple?
  • If dark brown skin made the clothes look best, then why not use a black model?
  • It seems like white people feel they can be more openly racist these days ever since Obama became president. This spread falls a little too well into that pattern.

laraWhat I think:

  1. Even apart from this, Vogue is a racist magazine. I mean, what? No black models at all? Come on. I am not saying Vogue is cross-burning Klan but they seem to have little regard for black people.
  2. The editor and photographer knew full well what they were doing. They knew it would be taken as blackface. Vogue is not some gardening magazine in Romania which truly might not know better.
  3. It was a cheap shot to sell magazines.

They are little better than Rush Limbaugh in that they do not regard blacks as part of their customer base and so if a bit of racism will get them more customers, why not?

One of the excuses fashion designers use for not using black models is that their looks draw attention away from the clothes. If that were true, then why is Lara Stone coloured dark brown?

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Angela Davis went from Brownie to Communist, from bookworm to black revolutionary. To her it seemed natural.  To accept American society the way it is would be to accept that there is something wrong with black people.

She grew up under Jim Crow in the American South in the 1950s in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents taught her to think for herself. The black schools in Birmingham were in terrible shape, but they did teach her black pride and black history. What she did not learn at school she made up for by reading books.

In 1959 at age 15 she won a scholarship to study at a private high school in New York: Elisabeth Irwin High School. It was where all the teachers who were too left-wing for public schools went to teach. Her school did not turn her into a communist, but it did make communism a respectable opinion.

She got another scholarship, this one to Brandeis University. She was almost the only black person there. She largely kept to herself – it was easier that way – and so she read and read, read books of French and books of philosophy – and books of French philosophy.

In 1963 she went abroad to study a year in France. She was barely in France when news hit that four black girls were killed in the bombing of a Birmingham church. She knew two of them. From growing up in Birmingham she knew bombings were used to keep blacks in line by fear and terror.

She noticed that the French saw the Algerians like how whites saw blacks back home. The Algerians were fighting a war to free themselves from French rule.

After Brandeis she studied philosophy in Germany under Theodor Adorno and then under Herbert Marcuse in San Diego in America. Of all the schools of philosophy she thought Marxism was the closest to the truth.

One summer she went to Cuba with friends, helping to cut sugar cane and seeing first-hand how communism had overturned racism.

Then back in America she saw first-hand how the Los Angeles police tried to wipe out the Black Panthers.

The police ruled the ghetto by fear and terror, not law and order. Shooting a man in the back they called “justifiable homicide”. They would break up protests by blacks, not allowing them the right of peaceful assembly. They would break into houses without a warrant and start shooting.  In the prisons it was even worse. The police and the prisons did whatever they wanted to black people –  the courts and the press did not care.

The only way to make them care was to stage mass protests. She helped to do this first as part of SNCC and then the Communist Party. She joined the Communist Party in July 1968 by paying 50 cents in dues. From her study of philosophy she found they had the best-grounded ideas and from her experience of Cuba they were the only ones who proved they could overthrow racism.

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burka

burkaThe burka – or burqa as some write it – is the head-to-toe covering that some Muslim women wear over their clothes when they go out in public. Sometimes all you can see is their eyes, but sometimes even their eyes are covered (with a netting that they can see through).

Burkas are mostly seen in Afghanistan and South Asia – Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In India only one Muslim woman in 20 might wear it; in Afghanistan under the Taliban all women were forced to wear it. In Pakistan it used to be quite common, but it has been dying out, especially in the big cities.

Even though some will argue it is not in the Koran, in most of the Muslim world hijab, or modest dress, is understood to be a religious duty or virtue for women (and, to a lesser degree, for men).

The form that hijab takes is different from place to place. The burka is the most extreme form.

In Iran women wear a chador, which covers everything but their face, hands and feet. In some Arab countries women wear the abaya which does the same thing. In other places, like Turkey, women wear just a headscarf. And some Muslim women dress in a completely Western fashion, though with more of their body covered than Western women.

Burkas, abayas and chadors are just for going out in public. They are something women wear over their clothes. When they are at home they take them off and you find out that they are not dressed quite so plainly. When Neda died during the election protests in Iran in 2009, for example, we found out that under her chador she was wearing  blue jeans!

Governments sometimes force women to follow hijab, like the Taliban or Iran under Islamic rule. Yet others  have forced women to do the opposite, like Iran under the shah.

In France it has been against the law to wear a burka to public school since 2004. And now they want to go even further and outlaw it altogether. In 2009 President Sarkozy said:

The issue of the burka is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity. The burka is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory… I tell you, we must not be ashamed of our values, we must not be afraid of defending them.

This only makes sense to me as a piece of xenophobia: Muslims make him feel uncomfortable.

For many Muslim women it is in fact a matter of religion. And keeping themselves covered up from the eyes of men is a matter of dignity. Even in the West, modest dress was seen as part of a woman’s dignity until the 1900s.

Your religion – or even a lack of religion – is part of who you are. To be told you cannot express it when you are hurting no one goes against one’s freedom and dignity.

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