Black Skin, White Masks is a poetic book in which Fanon makes frequent use of metaphor, simile, and imagery. His language is often evocative, and in the opening pages of the book, it is especially on display because he writes one sentence per paragraph, giving each line its emphasis:
The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon . . . or too late. I do not come with timeless truths. My consciousness is not illuminated with ultimate radiances. Nevertheless, in complete composure, I think it would be good if certain things were said. (1)
In this opening image, Fanon alludes to spectacular things but, modestly, claims he does not come bearing them. This book will not be a sun around which to orient a movement, but it does hope to lay out some important lessons about the experience of race and racism.
Imagery of Adventure Stories
In his discussion of the ways in which racist society only provides positive images of white people, leading in turn to psychological problems for Black children who identify with white heroes only to be confronted with their own Blackness, Fanon provides this image of children’s reading materials:
The magazines are put together by white men for little white men. This is the heart of the problem. In the Antilles—and there is every reason to think that the situation is the same in the other colonies—these same magazines are devoured by the local children. In the magazines the Wolf, the Devil, the Evil Spirit, the Bad Man, the Savage are always symbolized by Negroes or Indians; since there is always identification with the victor, the little Negro, quite as easily as the little white boy, becomes an explorer, an adventurer, a missionary “who faces the danger of being eaten by the wicked Negroes.” (113)
From this image, one can see the seduction of identifying with white heroes and the shock of realizing, as a Black child, that one is actually one of the “bad guys.” From this results a number of psychological problems Fanon discusses in the chapter on “The Negro and Psychopathology.”
Racist Images of Black Men
In “The Negro and Psychopathology,” Fanon discusses cultural representations of Black people in Europeans society. He claims that in these representations, Black people are primarily seen as physical and sexual beings, rather than thinking or feeling people. He provides this image:
The Negro symbolizes the biological. First of all, he enters puberty at the age of nine and is a father at the age of ten; he is hot-blooded, and his blood is strong; he is tough. (128)
Here, Fanon shows how this over-sexualization of Black men, which starts young, also leads to a number of frightening images. European culture is scared of the virulent and over-sexual Black man, which leads as well to racist ideas about needing to “protect” white women from Black men.
Image of the Beast
Fanon continues his discussion of the over-sexualization of Black men by describing how white people see, or imagine, Black men:
The white man is convinced that the Negro is a beast; if it is not the length of the penis, then it is the sexual potency that impresses him. Face to face with this man who is “different from himself,” he needs to defend himself. In other words, to personify The Other. The Other will become the mainstay of his preoccupations and his desires. (131)
Here, we see what Fanon means when he says the Black man is reduced to the “genital,” so that he is seen as a symbol of sex rather than as a complete human being. The Black man is made into an image of an animal with exaggerated sexual organs in the white cultural representations that perpetuate his oppression.
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.