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  • Writer's pictureOmar Pusey

Is the Black Experience Shaped by Colonialism?

Investigating Fanon's Black skin, White Masks




Introduction


Frantz Fanon's works are well known, not surprising since he was an accomplished researcher in psychology and sociology. Fanon's writing was essential during an age that struggled for anti-colonial liberation. Fanon was a man who expressed his opinions vividly in his works, especially when reviewing other academics' “objective” opinions. His essay Wretched of the earth has world recognition, but the work that caught my attention was Black Skin White Masks. Have you ever read a book that left you scratching your head because it was so bizarre but made sense? Well, Franz Fanon's Black Skin White Masks may leave you questioning numerous phenomena that regularly occur in modern society. Released in 1952 (translated to English in 1967), the 6 chapter book takes an ethnographic approach where Franz incorporates his own experiences, other black experiences, and philosophical ideologies that explain how Black Individuals respond to colonial oppression. Within this article, we’ll break down 3 Chapters of Fanon's Black Skin White Masks. First I'll discuss language, which is the first concept discussed in Fanon’s essay.



Language


The language might arguably be the most important aspect of establishing the Black man's psyche. Within the first chapter dubbed “The negro and Language” Fanon explains how language perpetuates a sense of inferiority amongst Black people. Fanon describes the story of a young Antilliean man who has moved on to France to better himself. To provide context, the Antilles is a region of Islands within the West Indies including Islands like Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. In Fanon’s story, he describes multiple instances where language affects the Antillean male including his perception of the world, his social status, and his connection to his homeland. Historically, people from the Antilles left their homelands and assimilated into other cultures in hopes of becoming superior individuals. However, there were significant changes to moving away from your culture to a colonized one. Fanon explains how the young man changes how he interacts with the people from his homeland. He now knows French and feels a certain disconnection from the people that he grew up with. Since the man now understands French he feels above his countrymen, being surrounded by language and concepts that are foreign to them. However, even though the young man knows French and is exposed to a new environment his life is not prominent, eventually, the man begins to lose the language that he grew up with. The French remind the Antillean how his French is inferior to theirs, keeping Black immigrants to a high standard in comparison to white immigrants. For Mr. Antillean, illustrating the sophistication of Blackness is difficult. The Antilleans can attempt to integrate their culture but it is unlikely that the French will view Antilleans as equals. There are depictions and illustrations of Black people that existed in France to remind inhabitants that Black people were low-status, devils, and inferior creatures. Essentially, there is a rift that exists between the people of the homeland and deserting Antilleans because the Antilleans want to become superior to those they came from, even subjecting themselves to learning the language of their colonizers to achieve that feat. However, this chapter is more about the divide between white and black than a clash of cultures. The Antillean wanted to learn French in an attempt to assimilate into white culture, not just French Culture. This thought exists because the colonizer reminds Black people that they cannot have a culture, when a black person is born their culture is sealed within their skin colour. The more French the Antillean learns, the more white he becomes, though that doesn't mean much for the Antillean in a society where racism reigns supreme.


Dependency Complex of the Colonized

Within this chapter of the book, Fanon analyzes Octave Mannoni’s book called The psychology of Colonization. Throughout the chapter, Fanon admits that Mannoni’s work is intellectually truthful, capturing an element of the psychological relationship that exists between the colonizer and the colonized. However, Fanon admits that Mannoni didn't get to the truth of the matter between the colonized and colonizer, specifically around understanding the psychology of colonization in general


Mannoni wants us to believe that the inferiority complex existed before colonization started. Essentially, Mannoni believes that the inferiority and dependency complex of the colonized exists before the colonized individual is even born. Thinking about it rationally doesn't quite make sense though. Fanon disagrees and explains how people are introduced to their surroundings and eventually adopt the mindset as they develop. Mannoni also believed that a society is either racist or not. Fanon resists Mannoni’s opinion and emphasizes that Mannoni did not truly understand racism because he is white and couldn't comprehend the despair that black people hold towards white men. Essentially, Fanon believes there cannot be objectivity within the argument, Fanon believes there is an element of bias within




Afterwards, Fanon further discusses how the Black experience is subjective, but all our problems are ours together. Fanon likely saw the problems as a black issue which is likely why he investigated Black critical theory. Through Fanon’s lens objective is considered dishonest and wants to be subjective. Throughout the rest of the chapter, Fanon disregards Mannon’s opinion further through his understanding of colonialism. Fanon first provides insight into South African white supremacist views on being compared to people of colour. South Africans feel a revulsion for anyone that is a person of colour being compared to or regarded in the same light as them. Fanon also explains how Colonial exploitation is not the same as exploitation and colonial racialism is not the same as racialism all are alike. Where Fanon argues that Mannon is inherently wrong is in stating that colonialism wasn't the work of Europeans, raising the question of who would society blame if not for Europeans. When looking at something foreign to your surrounding, you must be able to perceive it and be willing to adopt a new state of mind afterwards. It’s likely that Mannon saw the truth and denied it because of the deep ties within his agency.


“Understanding something new requires us to be inclined to be prepared and ready to adopt a new state of mind afterwards” - This resonated with me especially.






Black men and recognition



Fanon in the last chapter titled “Black man and recognition” is split into 2 separate sections labelled the Black man and the alder and the Black man and Hegel. The former describes how the black person is of comparison, always comparing themselves to others, establishing the idea that the Antillean does not have values of their own. Thus the Antilleans see the “other” and want to better themselves. When Black people are constantly reminded they are inferior, some will remain humiliated while others will endlessly attempt to protest their so-called inferiority.


Black and white men should essentially shed their thoughts from the people of the past and move forward. Essentially, Fanon stated that Black people are not slaves to slavery and its horrible past. There may be black people involved in early history but finding that out won't change what is happening in their lives presently. People need to innovate and ask questions as we move forward. Fanon’s perspective is important and carries relevant even today. For the colonized individual to move forward they need to stop fixating on the past of slavery and the impact it has had on society. Though I believe as an individual there are some very important concepts to learn from the people of the past. Some significant systemic issues have not changed since Fanon wrote Black Skin White Masks. Fanon states that People born in the next 100 years will have a different collective than their ancestors which is fundamentally correct. Within most communities, Black people are no longer considered as the incarnations of evil and are generally more accepted within society. Within the euro-unconscious lives some of the most immoral and dark thoughts within, everyone aspires to white and lightness the European attempts to repudiate themselves through primitive personality to best defend themselves. Changing the collective mindset is integral to establishing decolonization successfully.


The public sphere and its counterparts are all manipulated and shaped by some form of a figure, whether that is the media or a public figure behind the scenes. The Bourgeois society is horrendous, it forces people, especially marginalized people into a moulded pre-determined society. Social class systems were established and perpetuated to an extent where differentiation seemed inescapable. By the virtue of Frantz Fanon, whoever resists this notion is likely on the path to becoming a revolutionary. Well, I undoubtedly concur but remember we are not slaves to slavery and its history. The pasts of both Black and White men are filled with traumatic and dehumanizing events, humanity cannot follow suit either if we truly want to achieve decolonization. Imagine if we all had the innocent and curious minds of a child before the ill thoughts of adults altered their worldview. Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks is a thought piece that contains the experiences of Black people from a Black intellectual's point of view. However, there is some underlying bias that exists within Fanon's work. For example, some of Fanon's thoughts towards women and homosexual men are not universally shared. Essentially stating that Black women and homosexual men want to be raped by white men. Black Skin White Masks offers a lot of insights, but looking at it from a modern perspective, it brings me more questions than answers.


Let me know what you think in the comment section!


Coffee Consumed: Too much


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