Black Skin, White Masks is Frantz Fanon’s classic statement on the psychological experience of Black men and women in societies dominated by white people, especially France. It draws from his personal experience as a man born in the Caribbean island of Martinique before going to France to study psychiatry. At the same time, it applies his psychiatric training in order to provide a provocative clinical take on the ways in which racism produces psychological problems in people of color.
The book was published when Fanon was only 27 years old, and it began as his doctoral dissertation in France. This was before Fanon would go on to work in Algeria, where he witnessed first hand the Black African fight for independence from French colonial rule. His experiences in Algeria would produce another classic book, The Wretched of the Earth, in 1961. It is this book that secured Fanon much of his legacy, even though he died shortly after. It was not until after his death that Black Skin, White Masks was finally translated into English, in 1967.
Although slow to reach the United States, Black Skin, White Masks has had a tremendous impact on postcolonial and critical race theory from the 1980s to the present. It is a widely taught book in universities because of its ground-breaking combination of psychology and the study of race. Because of Fanon’s training as a psychiatrist, the book is well-respected beyond the fields of race and colonial studies as well. In introductory books on psychoanalysis, such as Anthony Elliott’s Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction (2001), the book is singled out as one of particular importance.
Upon its publication, Black Skin, White Masks garnered positive reviews for its scholarly, yet moving, viewpoint on racial prejudice. Frantz Fanon published three more books in his lifetime: A Dying Colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth, and Toward the African Revolution. However, his literary career was unfortunately cut short when he died on December 6, 1961 at only 36 years old.