Black Skin, White Masks (French: Peau noire, masques blancs) is a 1952 book by Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist and intellectual from Martinique. The book is written in the style of auto-theory, in which Fanon shares his own experiences in addition to presenting a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanization, inherent in situations of colonial domination, on the human psyche.
Black Skin, White Masks applies historical interpretation, and the concomitant underlying social indictment, to understand the complex ways in which identity, particularly Blackness is constructed and produced. In the book, he applies psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that black people might experience. That the divided self-perception of the Black Subject who has lost his native cultural origin, and embraced the culture of the Mother Country, produces an inferiority complex in the mind of the Black Subject, who then will try to appropriate and imitate the culture of the colonizer. Such behavior is more readily evident in upwardly mobile and educated Black people who can afford to acquire status symbols within the world of the colonial ecumene, such as an education abroad and mastery of the language of the colonizer, the white masks.
Based upon, and derived from, the concepts of the collective unconscious and collective catharsis, the sixth chapter, "The Negro and Psychopathology", presents brief, deep psychoanalyses of colonized black people, and thus proposes the inability of black people to fit into the norms (social, cultural, racial) established by white society. That "a normal Negro child, having grown up in a normal Negro family, will become abnormal on the slightest contact of the white world." That, in a white society, such an extreme psychological response originates from the unconscious and unnatural training of black people, from early childhood, to associate "blackness" with "wrongness". That such unconscious mental training of black children is effected with comic books and cartoons, which are cultural media that instil and affix, in the mind of the white child, the society's cultural representations of black people as villains. Moreover, when black children are exposed to such images of villainous black people, the children will experience a psychopathology (psychological trauma), which mental wound becomes inherent to their individual, behavioral make-up; a part of his and her personality. That the early-life suffering of said psychopathology – black skin associated with villainy – creates a collective nature among the men and women who were reduced to colonized populations.
First published in French in Martinique, Black Skin, White Masks (1952) did not attract much mainstream attention in English-speaking countries. It explored the effects of colonialism and imposing a servile psychology upon the colonised man, woman, and child. The adverse effects were assessed as part of the post-colonial cultural legacy of the Mother Country to former imperial subjects.
Together with Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, it received wider attention during cultural upheavals starting in the 1960s, in the United States as well as former colonial countries in the Caribbean and Africa. It is considered an important anti-colonial and anti-racist work in Anglophone countries. But in Francophone countries, the book is ranked as a relatively minor Fanon work in comparison to his later, more radical works. The topic is explicitly connected culturally to the societies of the ethnic African and other peoples of color living within the French Colonial Empire (1534–1980).
The psychological and psychiatric insights remain valid, especially as applied by peoples of diverse colonial and imperial histories, such as the Palestinians in the Middle East, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and African Americans in the US, in their contemporary struggles for cultural and political autonomy. Contemporary theorists of nationalism and of anti-colonialism, of liberation theology and of cultural studies, have preferred Frantz Fanon's later culturally and politically revolutionary works, such as The Wretched of the Earth (1962). Nevertheless, Black Skin, White Masks continues to generate debate. In 2015, leading African studies scholar Lewis R. Gordon published a book titled What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction To His Life And Thought.
Anthony Elliott writes that Black Skin, White Masks is a "seminal" work.
- ^"Frantz Fanon", Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, volume 7, p. 208.
- ^Fanon, Franz (1952). "The Negro and Psychopathology", in Black Skin, White Masks. France: Éditions du Seuil.
- ^Silverman, Maxim; Max Silverman (2006). Frantz Fanon's ‘Black Skin, White Masks': New Interdisciplinary Essays. Manchester University Press. p. 1.
- ^Bergner 1995, 75–76
- ^Gordon, Lewis R.; Cornell, Drucilla (2015-01-01). What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823266081.
- ^Elliott, Anthony (2002). Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave. p. 56. ISBN 0-333-91912-2.
First published in 1952, Frantz Fanon's 'Black Skin, White Masks' is one of the most important anti-colonial works of the post-war period. It is both a profound critique of the conscious and unconcious ways in which colonialism brutalises the colonised and a passionate cry from deep within a black body alienated by the colonial system and in search of liberation from it. This volume is the first collection of essays specifically devoted to Fanon's text. It offers a wide range of interpretations of the text by leading scholars in a number of disciplines. Chapters deal with Fanon's Martinican heritage, Fanon and Creolism, ideas of race and racism and new humanism, Fanon and Sartre, representations of Blacks and Jews, and the psychoanalysis of race, gender and violence. Contributors offer new ways of reading the text and the volume as a whole constitutes an important contribution to the growing field of Fanon studies.The first collection of essays on Frantz Fanon's classic anti-colonial text, 'Black Skin, White Masks'. It offers a range of interpretations of the text by leading scholars across various disciplines.
Subjects: Language & Literature