Black Skin, White Masks

by

Frantz Fanon

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Black Skin, White Masks: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fanon includes a quotation by Alfred Adler arguing that neuroses are shaped around a “fictitious goal” which dictates the behavior of the sufferer. Fanon wishes to consider this idea in the context of black people. He returns to the concept that black people exist “in comparison” and that they are robbed of the chance to have their own internal sense of self-worth. They constantly feel the need to prove themselves in the face of those who are supposedly superior. This creates a strong sense of competitiveness among Antilleans, who develop the “desire to dominate” one another. Fanon writes that Martinicans are desperate for assurance and recognition, desperate for the chance to “flaunt themselves.”
Again Fanon shows that colonialism indirectly promotes behavior that is toxic, unhealthy, and irrational. Because of racism, black people feel the need to constantly try to prove themselves—yet in a racist world, such a goal will never be complete, and this leaves black people in an endless quest to meet a goal that is “fictitious” insofar as it is unachievable.
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
Related Quotes
Fanon returns to Adler, arguing that Adler viewed psychology only in individual terms and that this is insufficient to describe the situation of Antilleans. The whole of the Antilles is “a neurotic society, a comparison society.” Fanon argues that the idea of “overcompensation” can be applied to the case of black people, meaning that black people strive to overcompensate for the negative stereotypes about their race. If only black people were able to see that the neuroses they develop are not their own fault but a social problem, this would lead to “the end of the world.”
Fanon’s use of the words “the end of the world” can, like other aspects of his rhetoric, seem bizarre and somewhat alarming. The apocalypse to which Fanon is referring, however, means the end of the world as it has been constructed by Western imperial power. This colonial view of the world has come to stand in for everything that the world actually is and could be—and it is for this reason that Fanon calls for its end.
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 emphasizes that people understand their humanity only in relation to others, and that they require recognition in order to feel human. He brings up Hegel’s “master-slave dialectic,” which features both the master and slave waiting for recognition from one another. Since the abolition of slavery, black men have been encouraged to adopt the master’s perspective, whereas white people remain in the position of a master who has “kindly” allowed black people “to eat at his table.” When slavery was abolished, black people suffered “psychoses and sudden death” in the same way that a patient who has made a recovery can relapse as soon as they learn that they are about to leave the asylum. The formerly enslaved were supposed to be grateful to white people for having freed them.
Although he does not spell it out explicitly here, one of the most important aspects of Fanon’s writing is the idea that while the formerly enslaved are encouraged to take on the “master’s” perspective, the whole of society is discouraged from taking on the position of the enslaved. Indeed, Fanon would argue that, for white people, inhabiting this position is actually impossible, because part of the violence of anti-black racism is that it casts black identity in relation to whiteness.
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
Fanon argues that black people have never truly “fought” for freedom: at times they have fought for “liberty and justice,” but even then their conceptions of liberty and justice were determined by white people. Black people wish that white people would openly acknowledge the racist antagonism they feel so that they could react to it, but white people often do not do so. However, Fanon clarifies that this dynamic is unique to France, while in the United States, there is more open conflict. In France, there is a false performance of unity between the races. Fanon states that all people want to be affirmed and to have access to “life,” “love,” and “generosity,” while being able to refuse the evils of the world—such as hatred and exploitation.
Fanon’s point here is that, although there is a social taboo against openly expressing racist ideas, this does not mean that racism has disappeared or even lessened in its scope. Rather, the forces of racism are simply submerged into the subconscious where they remain unspoken, which in some ways actually makes racism harder to identify and address.
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
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