Black Skin, White Masks

by

Frantz Fanon

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The title of Fanon’s book, Black Skin, White Masks, refers to the ways in which black Antilleans strive to be seen as white—by emulating the tastes and behaviors of white people, having white romantic partners, and generally distancing themselves from anything or anyone regarded as being stereotypically black. This phenomenon—in which black people embrace whiteness as the ultimate signifier of a person’s basic value—is the main subject of Fanon’s investigation in Black Skin, White Masks. The book’s title provides an apt symbol for understanding the essence of Fanon’s thesis: he argues that the white “masks” that black people have fashioned for themselves have resulted in a profound and totalizing sense of alienation. Black Antilleans wear these masks not only in front of white people in a hopeless gambit to secure acceptance, but also in front of black people and themselves, thereby creating unbridgeable distances between themselves and their own racial identities and cultural heritage. In this way, masks function above all as a symbol of what Fanon sees as the most significant psychological impact of colonialism on colonized people: their alienation from other black people, from a cohesive sense of themselves, and even from their own bodies.

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