Black Skin, White Masks

by

Frantz Fanon

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Black Skin, White Masks: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fanon argues that real love requires freedom from the conflicts in our unconscious. In this chapter, he will explore how real love is impossible until the problem of the black inferiority complex is resolved. He quotes Lucette Ceranus’s semi-autobiographical novel I Am a Martinican Woman, written under the pseudonym Mayotte Capécia. In the quotation, the narrator expresses her desire to marry a white man alongside her knowledge that, from the perspective of white men, black women are “never quite respectable.” Fanon notes that the novel was hugely popular, but he asserts that it advocates “unhealthy behavior.”
In I Am a Martinican Woman, Mayotte Capécia (unintentionally) demonstrates how the inferiority complex instilled in black people by colonialism and racism prevents them from engaging in healthy relationships. Mayotte desires a white man even though she knows that white man view her as inferior. Her desire to be seen and associated with whiteness is more powerful her desire for a healthy relationship.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
The novel portrays Mayotte’s unconditional and self-sacrificing love for a white man whom she loves because of his whiteness—and through whom she hopes to become white herself. However, she is not accepted by white society because of her race. Fanon considers ideas that associate whiteness with virtue and beauty, and blackness with the earth, the cosmos, and the id. He argues that both white and black people are doomed to remain in battle with their own racial identities. He analyzes moments in the book where Mayotte tries to symbolically blacken, and later whiten, the world around her. Fanon laments that she doesn’t provide an account of her dreams, which would provide a useful insight into her psyche.
Mayotte is not ignorant. She knows that if she chooses to date or marry a white man, he will view her as inferior to him. However, Fanon argues the psychological forces of racism have thoroughly infiltrated her subconscious, and the result is that she desires something that she knows to be irrational. Despite being aware that she will never truly be accepted by white people (and will certainly never actually become white), Mayotte still organizes her life around this impossible goal.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
Martinican women like Mayotte have been taught to believe that their race will be saved by becoming whiter. Fanon personally knows many female Martinican students in France who swear they will never marry a black man. They say that they are not demeaning black people, but that it is simply a fact that being white is better. They suggest that Césaire speaks proudly about blackness as a way of making up for this natural inferiority. Fanon worries about these women returning home to the Antillles to teach children.
The argument that white is better raises a difficult ethical dilemma. On one hand, it is obviously not true that whiteness is actually superior to blackness. This is a lie created by racist societies. At the same time, the women Fanon describes are correct in pointing out matter-of-factly that white people have more advantages in French society than blacks. Fanon doesn’t judge the women for wishing to access these advantages through marrying white men, but worries about others accepting this as a fact rather than striving to change the perception of black people as inferior.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
Fanon considered submitting a version of Black Skin, White Masks as his thesis for medical school; however, he knew he needed to first do further work in understanding the psychology of black people. He wonders if the black women who wish to marry white men will ever acknowledge that they are harboring a doomed desire. He thinks they won’t, because they simply crave “whiteness at any cost.” He mentions one black woman who claimed to be “almost white,” and another who kept a list of clubs where she was certain not to meet any other black people.
Here Fanon provides further examples of the understandable but irrational ways of thinking that racist societies engender in people of color. In their desire for “whiteness at any cost,” the women Fanon is describing abandon all respect for themselves and other black people, falling into a cycle of self-hatred. This sad reality speaks to the power of racism on people’s psychology.
Themes
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Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
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Fanon wonders if black people can overcome the feelings of “abasement” that have been instilled in them. He quotes Anna Freud on the lengths people go to in order to avoid confronting pain. Fanon notes that black people are led to believe that the only escape from suffering comes through “the white world,” and thus many black people become desperate for “white approval.” In I Am a Martinican Woman, Mayotte’s white husband leaves her, giving her instructions on how to raise their son whom he describes as being “superior” to Mayotte herself.
Although Fanon critiques the behavior of Mayotte and women like her, by explaining in detail how this behavior originates, he shows that it is hardly the fault of these women that they desire and in some cases choose to pursue white men. The tragic fate of Mayotte suggests that there is nothing inherently progressive about interracial relationships: her white husband sees their biracial son as superior to Mayotte because he is half-white.
Themes
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Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Fanon considers the nature of white Europeans’ feelings about black people, arguing that it is actually a “struggle” to acquire the feeling of hatred, since it clashes with already-existing feelings of guilt in the white psyche. He goes on to analyze the work of the Senegalese writer Abdoulaye Sadji, and in particular his novel Nini, which describes the life of a biracial woman named Nini who desperately wants to become white. Nini receives the marriage proposal of a devoted black man names Mactar, but Fann notes that their union would be “illogical” within the colonial racial hierarchy. Like Mayotte and her husband, Mactar is “the slave of Nini” because of her proximity to whiteness. Ultimately, she rejects him and even requests that the police punish him for his audacity in pursuing her.
The story of Nini is part of what has come to be known as the “tragic mulatto” narrative within literature. Because of her biracial identity, the “tragic mulatto” figure does not truly belong in either the world of white people or black people, and thus ends up isolated and alone—not fully accepted by whites, and alienated from blacks. The fact that Nini and Mactar’s relationship is “illogical” within colonial culture—despite the fact that Mactar truly loves Nini—shows how sinister the impact of colonialism is at the most personal level.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
At another point in the novel, Sadji describes the excitement Nini feels upon hearing news of a different biracial woman, Dédée, marrying a white man. Fanon notes: “Overnight the mulatto girl had gone from the rank of slave to that of master… she was no longer the girl wanting to be white; she was white.” Fanon compares Nini to another novel featuring a well-educated biracial woman who also rejects black men as “savage.” He states that it is a worldwide phenomenon for black women to desire white men due to their own internalized feelings of inferiority.
In this passage Fanon shows how the legacy of slavery continues to impact the lives of people of color long after slavery itself has ended. Dédée’s ascendance from “the rank of slave to that of master” shows that the perception of a racial hierarchy which had been the basis of slavery remains in place. The use of the word “savage” is a similar instance of black people internalizing colonial prejudice.
Themes
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Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
Black Skin, White Masks is the result of seven years of psychiatric experiments and observations, which have proven to Fanon that both white people and black people suffer from neuroses related to their imprisonment within their own conceptions of race. Black people in particular experience alienation, insecurity, and self-hatred as a result of racism. Fanon mentions the case of a black medical student who felt that he would never be respected by the white medical world, which drove him to drink. When he enlisted as an army doctor, he refused to join a colonial unit because he wanted to have white men working underneath him. Fanon brings up another example of a black customs worker who was extremely harsh to white Frenchmen because otherwise they would never respect him.
Like his teacher and friend Césaire, Fanon is careful to point out that it is not just black people who psychologically suffer as a result of race. Although white people have placed themselves on top of the colonial racial hierarchy, this doesn’t mean that white people are unaffected by race and racism. Indeed, as Césaire points out in “Discourse and Colonialism” and Fanon elaborates here, the act of being racist has a corrosive, dehumanizing effect on white people.
Themes
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Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Fanon will refer to the work of three theorists in order to build an impression of black people’s worldview: Alfred Adler, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Sigmund Freud. He returns to the characters of Nini and Mayotte, wondering if it is possible for black people to find different patterns of behavior.
Adler, Hegel, and Freud are three famous white European theorists. By applying their work to the experience of black people, Fanon continues to reject the idea that white culture belongs only to white people.
Themes
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Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon