As noted in other themes, Fanon argues that colonialism has corrupted people’s understanding of themselves. Black people have an image of themselves that is distorted—a negative image constructed by white colonizers. Black people experience the weight of being “hated, detested, and despised” by white society. This leads to feelings of shame and self-hatred. Many black people try to become “more white” as a result, which only induces further shame due to the hopelessness of that task. Fanon describes this experience in visceral terms: “Shame. Shame and self-contempt. Nausea.”
Fanon argues that black people’s feelings of self-hatred are not only rooted in the internalization of negative stereotypes about their race—but that these feelings also stem from a general lack of recognition of black people as human. He writes: “A feeling of inferiority? No, a feeling of not existing.” Fanon implies that this sense of not existing is actually worse than the internalization of the negative ideas about black people created by the colonial mentality. One can try to overcome or disregard negative stereotypes, and even though this might not be fully successful, it can at least create a counter-discourse in opposition to the racist ideas that dominate society. By contrast, the ontological denial of black existence is a far more difficult phenomenon to address directly, and is therefore arguably even more deeply damaging. Approaching one’s understanding of oneself from a place of nothingness provides no tools for forming a sense of self-worth or a positive self-image.
Fanon laments the negative impact of colonialism on the formation of black identity. As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, black people born in the Americas have no connection to Africa, their ancestral homeland. They do not know the history, language, and customs of their ancestors, or even the specific regions of the continent from which they originate. Black people from colonized countries are encouraged to identify as colonial subjects rather than members of the African diaspora, and are taught to feel disdain for African people, as Fanon indicates when he recalls how he once felt pride in being Antillean and disgust at the “savage” Senegalese. Of course, these feelings of pride and disgust are manipulated by colonial culture in the interests of the colonizers. When black people like Fanon feel shame and hatred toward Africans, this sows division among black people generally, and furthermore becomes a form of self-hatred. All of this helps to preserve the power of the colonizers and prevent black people from seeking power and revenge against the whites who have so gravely wronged them.
Even within black communities, colonized subjects are taught to hate their own blackness and to distance themselves from members of their race who they believe embody negative stereotypes about black people. Fanon recalls that at times when he misbehaved as a child, he would be scolded for behaving like a “nigger.” Once again, Fanon argues that this kind of self-hatred fractures black people’s sense of their own identity. Anyone who is taught to hate a fundamental part of themselves will not only be tormented by self-contempt, but will also feel confused about who they are. This is related to the theme of erasure of black existence and the feeling of alienation this causes in black people. Fanon argues that white Western culture has no true understanding of the experiences of black people, only lies. As a result, Fanon argues that it is difficult for black people to gain an understanding of themselves that is separate from conceptions of whiteness, and therefore also tainted by self-hatred.
Self-Image and Self-Hatred ThemeTracker
Self-Image and Self-Hatred 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.
Hatred is not a given; it is a struggle to acquire hatred, which has to be dragged into being, clashing with acknowledged guilt complexes. Hatred cries out to exist, and he who hates must prove his hatred through action and the appropriate behavior. In a sense he has to embody hatred.
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 Malagasy no longer exists… the Malagasy exists in relation to the European. When the white man arrived in Madagascar he disrupted the psychological horizon and mechanisms.
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 . . .
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.