Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter begins with a quote from Aimé Césaire about how every person is implicated in the torture and humiliation of others. Fanon explains that this chapter will cover the French psychoanalyst Octave Mannoni’s book The Psychology of Colonization. Fanon admits that Mannoni’s work is “intellectually honest” and that on some level he has captured the psychological dimension of the relationship between colonizer and colonized. However, Mannoni has failed to reach the truth of the matter. Fanon criticizes Mannoni’s claim to objectivity, arguing that subjectivity is crucial to truly understanding the psychology of colonization.
Pay close attention to Fanon’s distinction between truth and objectivity; note that he does not use these terms interchangeably. Fanon believes in truth and is an ardent advocate of its importance. However, he rejects the notion that the way to get to truth is through objectivity. Particularly when it comes to an issue like colonialism, striving for objectivity is not a useful way of accessing the truth.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
One problem is that Mannoni argues that the psychological complexes that exist in colonized people have existed since childhood. Fanon objects to the idea that neuroses caused by colonialism pre-exist colonialism itself. He declares that “society is racist or is not,” and those that claim certain countries and regions are less racist than others are misguided. Fanon is resistant to the idea that only black people can understand the problem of racism, but adds that Mannoni—who is white—has not truly understood “the despair of the black man confronted with the white man.” Fanon argues that he does not write from an objective position, and that in fact such a position is impossible.
Here Fanon identifies a point of conflict between the white European psychoanalytic tradition and the experience of colonized populations. Traditionally, psychoanalysis locates the origin of all neurosis in the traumas of childhood. Yet surely the trauma of colonialism has a far greater impact on the lives of colonized peoples than ordinary childhood traumas––in this way, Fanon identifies the limits of the usefulness of traditional psychoanalysis.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Fanon argues that wealthy people encourage anti-Semitism among the less well-off because the rich benefit from popular anti-Semitism. He turns to the example of South Africa, arguing that racism does not originate with certain groups of people, but that the entire structure of the country is racist. Mannoni argues that colonial racism is different from other forms of racism, but Fanon rejects this, arguing that “all forms of exploitation are identical” because they all target other humans. Fanon is personally insulted by anti-Semitism because he is invested in the welfare of his “brother,” the Jewish man. He includes a quotation from Discourse on Colonialism in which Césaire argues that Nazism was the application of colonial violence—which had previously only been directed at non-Western people of color—to European populations.
Once again we see Fanon extending and expanding on the work of Césaire. Césaire’s argument (that Nazism was the transposition of colonial violence into the European context) is one of the most important ideas in the early development of postcolonial theory. European theorists tended to treat the Holocaust as a unique and unprecedented horror, but—as intellectuals like Césaire and Fanon point out—there are in fact many precedents to Nazism in the history of empire.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
In contrast to Césaire, Mannoni claims that “European civilization and its best representatives are not responsible for colonial racism.” Fanon argues that this statement is false. In reality, every member of a certain nation or culture is responsible for what is done on behalf of that nation. Fanon states that the whole of Europe “has a racist structure,” contradicting Mannoni’s claim that France is one the least racist countries in the world. Mannoni argues that one needs to be a member of a minority population in a certain country in order to experience racism. However, Fanon points out that white people are a minority in South Africa, and yet it is black South Africans who are the victims of racism.
Fanon’s critiques of Mannoni’s points may seem obvious: there is no denying, for example, that black South Africans experience racist persecution even though they are clearly the majority population. However, bear in mind that many of the ideas Fanon is critiquing remain powerful in the present day. For example, many people in the West cling to the belief that Western culture overall is not “responsible for colonial racism.”
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
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Fanon concludes that “it is the racist who creates the inferiorized.” This echoes Jean-Paul Sartre, who argues that “it is the anti-Semite who makes the Jew.” Fanon argues that Mannoni only leaves two options for colonized people: develop an inferiority complex, or become dependent on one’s “superiors” for a sense of self-worth. He also claims that Mannoni “forgot” to actually describe “the colonial situation.” The reality of this situation is that colonized people have stopped “existing” in their own right, and are forced to exist “in relation to the European.” The arrival of colonizers in a country creates an economic, social, and psychological “wound.”
Fanon’s statement about “the racist who creates the inferiorized” refers to the fact that concepts of race are developed through racism; unlike language or religion, “race” is not an inherently meaningful idea, nor is it neutral. Whereas differences in language, for example, can be objectively acknowledged, race is an inherently hierarchical invention.
Themes
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Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
Mannoni claims that when white people arrived in Madagascar, Malagasy people “discovered” they were human, then discovered that humanity is divided into white and black, and then sought to achieve equality with white men. However, Fanon points out that prior to colonization, Malagasy people had a coherent sense of their own identity that had nothing to do with white people. Colonized people do not suffer because they are inferior to white people—they suffer because white people treat them as inferior. In response, colonized people try to make themselves white in order to prove to white people that they are human.
Here Fanon exposes the dishonest and self-justifying logic of colonialism. Throughout the history of empire, colonizers would rationalize their violent acts by arguing that colonized people were themselves violent “savages” who believed white people were superior. Of course, in reality these ideas are all completely false.
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
Mannoni doesn’t understand this because he insists that the dependency complex is a fundamental part of colonized people, and that only some kinds of people are psychologically suitable for colonization, reemphasizing the idea that colonized people’s feelings of inferiority and dependency were instilled through colonization. Fanon comments that when he is treating black patients, he must not consider their psychological experiences in isolation but in the context of the world. He aims to help black people avoid the demand to “whiten or perish” by enabling them to understand the ways in which their psychological problems are related to the racist world around them.
As Fanon has mentioned before, at the moment the only options that society gives to black people who are struggling with psychological problems is to “become” white. This is because, in racist culture, whiteness is associated with goodness and wholeness. However, as Fanon has shown, trying to become whiter will of course not help black people—in fact, it will only serve to worsen their feelings of self-hatred and alienation.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Self-Image and Self-Hatred Theme Icon
In The Psychology of Colonization, Mannoni analyzes seven dreams that he claims are indications of am irrational fear of black people. Most of the dreams feature the dreamer being haunted, chased, or attacked by black people (or black animals that symbolically represent black people). Fanon admits that after first moving to France, he was shocked to learn that North Africans “despise” black people, but goes on to explain the way that racist culture encourages different ethnic groups to hate and look down on one another. Fanon emphasizes that people’s individual desires, fears, and neuroses are influenced and even created by the society in which they live. It is wrong to deny the real-world resonance of the symbolism in dreams by always framing these symbols in traditional psychoanalytic terms, rather than acknowledging their racial significance.
At the time Fanon is writing, many volumes of psychoanalytic literature already exist that are dedicated to the analysis of dreams. This literature theoretically explains what the symbolism in dreams refers to. However, as Fanon points out, such writing is seriously undermined by the fact that race is almost never considered an important factor in this symbolic scheme. Once again, the European psychoanalytic tradition is shown to be working with too narrow a frame of reference.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon
Mannoni describes “the Prospero complex,” which describes the colonizer’s feelings of paternalistic superiority and also his irrational fear that his daughter will be raped by “an inferior being.” Mannoni notes that those who experience the Prospero complex have failed to understand that groups of people who are different from them inhabit worlds of their own, which must be respected. Fanon concludes by reiterating that it is the colonizers who instill the “feeling of inferiority” in the colonized, and that this feeling did not preexist colonization. He argues that Mannoni has no knowledge of the psychological character of Malagasy people in precolonial times, nor does he have any sense of what the Malagasy character might be once freed from colonial domination.
Again, Fanon’s point about Mannoni’s profound lack of knowledge of the Malagasy people may seem obvious to us now. However, throughout the history of empire, the colonial dynamic encouraged European colonizers to see themselves as “experts” on the cultures of the colonized, even if they actually had little to no knowledge of these cultures. Indeed, one way in which this “expertise” proliferated was through the lie that colonized populations did not have a culture or civilization prior to colonization.
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