In Chapter 2 of Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon discusses the experience of the “Negro woman” in French society. He does this by way of Mayotte Capécia’s novel I am a Martinician Woman, which is about a woman from the Caribbean island of Martinique. According to Fanon, Black women in racist societies are taught to associate superiority with white culture, and Black women seek to marry white men as a way of accessing this culture. Entering into romances with white men is one way Black women try to become white themselves, in order to join the class of people society considers superior. But, according to Fanon, this creates a number of psychological difficulties. Black women will always be Black, and any attempt to leave behind their race will require a disassociation that leaves behind a part of themselves.
Like the Negro Woman, the Negro Man in a racist society also, according to Fanon, wants to be white. Like the Negro Woman, one way he goes about this is by dating white women, who seem to be gatekeepers to white society. But the Negro Man must also encounter psychological disturbances in this interracial relationship, because he will always be reminded of how society thinks he is inferior.
Hegel was an important German philosopher of the late 18th and early 19th century. His influence on future generations of philosophers is hard to overstate. Of importance for Fanon, Hegel developed a theory of dialectics, in which the identity of a thing is determined in part by its relationship with things that are opposite to it. Thus, the identity of master, for instance, requires an opposite identity of slave in order to make any sense. You can’t have masters without slaves or slaves without masters. For Fanon, this leads to the importance of recognition, or the process by which one understands one’s self by understanding how others see you. Fanon discusses Hegel at greatest length in the penultimate chapter of his book, “On Recognition.”
Sartre was a contemporary philosopher with whom Fanon corresponded. He is most famous for a school of philosophy called existentialism, which emphasizes the importance of humans understanding and creating the world through their actions. Sartre was also a philosopher of anti-Semitism. His essay “Anti-Semite and Jew” was published in 1944, shortly after Paris was freed from Nazi occupation. Fanon compares Sartre’s ideas about anti-Semitism with his own ideas about anti-Blackness. In both cases, European culture creates an “Other” that it considers inferior.
Black Skin, White Masks Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Black Skin, White Masks is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.