Early in the book, Fanon argues that two questions are central to understanding the world: “What does man want?” and “What does the black man want?” The separation of these two inquiries emphasizes Fanon’s argument that black people are excluded from the category of humanity, and also conveys that there are important distinctions between the desires of white people and desires of black people. Following the conventions of psychoanalysis, Fanon maintains that desire must be the primary subject of any inquiry into human behavior.
Fanon argues that black people are taught to desire whiteness, and it is for this reason that many black people (both women and men) also desire white romantic and sexual partners. However, in his examination of this phenomenon, Fanon highlights differences between the ways in which black women desire white men and the ways in which black men desire white women. Fanon proposes that black women choose to date and marry white men because they have been taught to feel disgust and disapproval of blackness. They have been conditioned to believe that black men are dirty, unintelligent, irresponsible, and inferior—and that white men represent the opposite of these characteristics. According to Fanon, black women’s rejection of black men is thus a form of self-hatred, even if they themselves do not recognize it as such. As a result of internalized racism, black women wish to distance themselves from blackness, and this produces their desire for white men. Fanon suggests that black men’s desire for white women is a little different. He argues that black men feel a sense of competition with other men, and that this makes them want to “win” the most prized object within the colonial sexual economy: white women. Fanon then asserts that black men’s desire for white women can be almost vengeful in nature—a way of asserting their own power in the face of racist oppression.
Fanon also explores other ways in which black people are taught to aspire to whiteness. Just as lower classes are taught to aspire to bourgeois identity, black people are encouraged to “assimilate” and imitate white ways of thinking, speaking, and behaving. As a result, black people suppress the aspects of themselves associated with blackness and instead imitate whiteness in order to prove their own humanity to white people. However, this is a rigged game, since a black person can never truly make themselves white, and—no matter how convincingly they strive to behave like a white person—will never be fully accepted into white society. Aspiring to whiteness will only create a deeper sense of self-hatred within the black person.
Fanon also examines how nonwhite people compete with one another in their aspiration for whiteness, causing bitterness and lack of solidarity between and within non-white communities. He writes: “The Frenchman does not like the Jew, who does not like the Arab, who does not like the black man.” The stark injustices of racism mean that black people are not even presented with the opportunity to compete with white people, and thus instead pit themselves against other non-white people. Once again, this competitiveness ultimately only serves to reinforce white supremacy.
Fanon also discusses the feelings of desire white people have for black people. He mentions the fetishizing of black athletes, white women’s sexual fantasies about black men, and white men’s fears about black men’s supposed sexual superiority. Like other psychoanalysts, Fanon argues that sexual desire and competitiveness are deeply embedded into the racial order and are in fact one of the great causes of racial prejudice and oppression. Even as white people harbor deeply racist views about black people, they also feel desire toward them—however unconscious that desire may be. Fanon writes that in colonial and postcolonial culture, the black person “is yearned for; white men can’t get along without him.” Desire, aspiration, and competition are thus major elements of the psychic foundation of racism.
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition ThemeTracker
Desire, Aspiration, and Competition Quotes in Black Skin, White Masks
Less commonly he [the “educated black man”] wants to feel part of his people. And with feverish lips and frenzied heart he plunges into the great black hole. We shall see that this wonderfully generous attitude rejects the present and future in the name of a mystical past.
All colonized people––in other words, people in whom an inferiority complex has taken root, whose local cultural originality has been committed to the grave––position themselves in relation to the civilizing language: i.e., the metropolitan culture.
When an Antillean with a degree in philosophy says he is not sitting for the agrégation because of his color, my response is that philosophy never saved anybody. When another desperately tries to prove to me that the black man is as intelligent as any white man, my response is that neither did intelligence save anybody, for if equality among men is proclaimed in the name of intelligence and philosophy, it is also true that these concepts have been used to justify the extermination of man.
Both the black man, slave to his inferiority and the white man, slave to his superiority, behave along neurotic lines. As a consequence, we have been led to consider their alienation with reference to psychoanalytic descriptions.
Out of the blackest part of my soul, through the zone of hachures, surges up this desire to be suddenly white.
I want to be recognized not as Black, but as White.
But––and this is the form of recognition that Hegel never described––who better than the white woman to bring this about? By loving me, she proves to me that I am worthy of a white love. I am loved like a white man.
I am a white man.
The Frenchman does not like the Jew, who does not like the Arab, who does not like the black man. The Arab is told: 'If you are poor it's because the Jew has cheated you and robbed you of everything." The Jew is told: 'You're not of the same caliber as the Arab because in fact you are white and you have Bergson and Einstein." The black man is told: 'You are the finest soldiers in the French empire; the Arabs think they're superior to you, but they are wrong." Moreover, it's not true; they don’t say anything to the black man; they have nothing to say to him.
I came into this world anxious to uncover the meaning of things, my soul desirous to be at the origin of the world, and here I am an object among other objects.
Shame. Shame and self-contempt. Nausea. When they like me, they tell me my color has nothing to do with it. When they hate me, they add that it’s not because of my color. Either way, I am a prisoner of the vicious circle. I turn away from these prophets of doom and cling to my brothers, Negroes like myself. To my horror, they reject me. They are almost white. and then they'll probably marry a white woman and have slightly brown children. Who knows, gradually, perhaps . . .
Still on the genital level, isn't the white man who hates Blacks prompted by a feeling of impotence or sexual inferiority? Since virility is taken to be the absolute ideal, doesn't he have a feeling of inadequacy in relation to the black man, who is viewed as a penis symbol? Isn't lynching the black man a sexual revenge? We know how sexualized torture, abuse, and ill-treatment can be. You only have to read a few pages of the marquis de Sade to be convinced. Is the black man's sexual superiority real? Everyone knows it isn't. But that is beside the point. The prelogical thought of the phobic has decided it is.
The Antillean does not possess personal value of his own and is always dependent on the presence of "the Other." The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, blacker than I, or less good than I. Every self-positioning or self-fixation maintains a relationship of dependency on the collapse of the other.