Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fanon begins the conclusion with a quotation by Karl Marx, in which Marx argues that revolution cannot rely on the past but must strive to envision the future before the future has actually happened. Fanon admits that colonized peoples from different parts of the world face markedly different issues and will need different solutions. He also notes that appealing to “reason or respect for human dignity” is not enough to change the world. In some cases, direct conflict is the only answer. Fanon criticizes “bourgeois” societies which encourage stasis over progress and discourage curiosity. He argues that black people are “locked” in their bodies and are “slave[s] to the past.” They are often forced to defend their history and culture in the face of the supposed “purity” of European culture, but Fanon points out that this is absurd.
At the beginning of the book, Fanon announces that he is not writing for the future, but for the present. In this passage, he further clarifies that he is not writing for the past either, and that he in fact wants to leave the past behind. Fanon’s desire not to dwell on the past may seem difficult to reconcile with the knowledge that the historical suffering of black people is often too easily dismissed, and also that those who do not understand history will make the same mistakes as were made in the past—but he is not suggesting that readers forget the past. Rather, he wants readers to use what they know of the past and present to focus on imagining a better future now.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Fanon writes that he feels a sense of “solidarity” with anyone from the past who has refused to participate in injustice. Yet he will not devote his life to focusing on the past and attempting to prove the existence of historical black civilization. A friend of Fanon’s who was at war in Vietnam reported to him that Vietnamese teenagers facing the firing squad were amazingly calm. Fanon suggests that these teenagers “accept death for the sake of the present and the future.” Fanon, meanwhile, chooses to dedicate his life to trying to ensure that no one is ever enslaved again, and “risk[s] annihilation” in order to reveal the truth. He then states: “I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors.” He also does not have the right to hurl either hatred or gratitude at white people.
Fanon’s disavowal of the duty or need to demand reparations is highly surprising in the current political climate, given that contemporary anticolonial and antiracist figures place a large emphasis on reparations as being essential to the process of decolonization and racial justice. Perhaps Fanon is rejecting reparations because he sees them as a way of assuaging guilt or achieving catharsis for the oppressor. Perhaps he is pointing out that the legacy of colonialism, slavery, and genocide is a crime that can simply never be forgiven.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Fanon rejects the idea of a “white world” with specifically white morality and intelligence. He also clarifies that he is not “a slave” in the same way that his ancestors were enslaved. He does not want to remain stuck in “a world of retroactive reparations”; what he does want is for “man never to be instrumentalized.” Fanon writes that both black people and white people must leave behind the voices of their ancestors and forget about superiority and inferiority. He hopes that the reader now has a sense of “the open dimension of every consciousness.” He concludes: “Always make me a man who questions!”
Again, Fanon’s concluding lines are provocative and controversial. For many black people, the prospect of giving up on reparations and letting go of the voices of the ancestors is precisely the opposite course of action needed to enable healing and flourishing. On the other hand, Fanon’s emphasis on curiosity and openness suggests that there is perhaps some degree to which people need to let go of the pain of the past in order to thrive.
Themes
Colonialism, Diaspora, and Alienation Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Oppression Theme Icon
Knowledge vs. Ignorance Theme Icon
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Theme Icon