Fanon argues that black men desire white women because, through being loved by a white woman, black men feel recognized by the world as white and closer to the white ideal that racist culture upholds. He will examine René Maran’s seemingly autobiographical novel Un homme pareil aux autres (A Man Like Any Other), about a black Antillean called Jean Veneuse who has lived in Bordeaux, France for many years. In the novel, Jean states that white Europeans do not understand black people. It is possible to describe Jean as an “introvert” or a “sensitive person.” He is talented, but shy and anxious, and is desperate to “prove to… others that he is a man.”
At first glance, Jean Veneuse’s psychological issues don’t necessarily have anything to do with race. After all, shyness, sensitivity, and a desire to prove oneself are characteristics that anyone can experience for any number of reasons. However, as Fanon will show, racism has such a powerful impact on people’s psychology that even seemingly unrelated issues are often traceable back to race in some way.
Jean is in love with a white woman named Andrée Marielle, who has in turn written to say that she is in love with him. However, Jean feels that he needs a white man to give him permission to be with her. He seeks the advice of his white friend Coulanges, who tells him that since he left his home country as an infant and is so connected to Bordeaux, he is “really one of us.” Coulanges emphasizes: “You only look like a black… you think like a European. That’s why it’s only normal for you to love like a European.” Fanon notes that although Coulanges has given his permission for Jean to marry Andrée, he does so on the “condition” that Jean renounces his blackness and thinks of himself as a white Frenchman.
At first it may seem as if Jean’s white friend Coulanges is behaving in a kind way by accepting Jean as “one of us.” However, as this passage develops it becomes clear that even if Coulanges thinks he is being kind, in reality his words are deeply cruel and dehumanizing. Not only does Coulanges maintain the belief that white people are superior—he also denies the reality that Jean is truly black, thereby denying Jean’s existence.
Jean cannot accept Coulanges’ demand that he renounce his blackness. He knows that many black men in France desire white women not because they truly love them, but because they wish to have the vengeful “satisfaction of dominating a European woman.” He wonders if his own motivations are really different than these men. Historically, black men who were caught having sex with white women would be castrated. Fanon notes that Antillean men newly-arrived in France tend to be obsessed with the prospect of sleeping with a white woman, and that it is a “ritual of initiation” for them to stop at a brothel at the port in Le Havre before heading to Paris.
This passage contains a powerful examination of the way that racism and sexism interact. According to Maran and Fanon, black men choose to enact revenge for colonial violence on the bodies of white women. Although white women are not innocent within the colonial dynamic, the dynamic of black men using the bodies of white women as a site of revenge perpetuates a cycle of violence.
Fanon returns to analyze Jean Veneuse using Germaine Guex’s book The Abandonment Neurosis. Guex argues that the abandonment neurosis consists of an anxiety surrounding abandonment, which leads to “aggressivity” and “devaluation of self.” Fanon argues that Jean suffers from this neurosis, which manifests itself as bitterness about the past, low self-esteem, and feeling that no one understands him. His experiences of abandonment as a child make it difficult for him to desire and accept love as an adult. He does not believe he is worthy of love, and is constantly searching for acceptance by white people while believing he is not deserving of it.
In this passage Fanon demonstrates how common psychological experiences like that of abandonment can intersect with the experiences of black people and the ways in which they are shaped by racism. Anyone can develop an abandonment complex because anyone can be abandoned as a child. However, Jean’s version of this complex plays out in a very specific way due to the further alienation he experiences as a black man in a racist world.
Guex writes that as a result of these issues, the person who suffers from abandonment neurosis becomes obsessed with the feeling of being excluded from society. He is permanently in the position of “the Other” (or at least so it seems to him). Fanon adds that the abandonment neurotic can never feel certain of another person’s love, even if that person states it clearly. Although Jean Veneuse has a rich intellectual and creative life, he nonetheless feels ashamed of himself. He is socially paranoid and distrusts the possibility that anyone truly likes him. Fanon emphasizes that Jean’s problems should be understood as a general psychological condition rather than an experience unique to black people. Fanon seeks to show that black people can understand their experiences through the framework of psychoanalysis.
Much debate exists over whether a traditional psychoanalytic framework like the one Fanon employs can actually be transposed onto the lives of black people in this way. While Fanon believes that psychoanalysis is a useful tool for analyzing the experiences of black people, others have argued that psychoanalysis should not be used to try to describe the experiences of a group of people based on their racial identity alone. Fanon’s argument proceeds under the assumption that some general statements can be made about the psychological experiences of—for instance—black Antillean men, but that even these experiences vary according to the specific individual.
Fanon emphasizes that Jean Veneuse’s feelings about white women are not inherent to the condition of being a black man, but rather are the product of Jean’s own personal alienation. It is vital not to think of race as a “stain,” and not to accept the conditions of alienation that European culture imposes on black people—since the only way forward then is to aspire to become white and seek the approval of white people. Fanon claims that there is an alternative solution, but that it requires “restructuring the world.”
Here it becomes clearer that the psychoanalytic tradition can serve a useful role in understanding black experience precisely because it helps to show that not every black person’s experience and behavior is the same. Fanon emphasizes that the black population is, naturally, just as internally diverse as any other population.