Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks Metaphors and Similes

Zebra Striping (Metaphor)

Fanon opens Chapter 3, which is about interracial relationships between Black men and white women, with a metaphor describing his own experience as a Black man:

Out of the blackest part of my soul, across the zebra striping of my mind, surges this desire to be suddenly white. (45)

In this quote, the “zebra striping of my mind” is a metaphor that stands in for the mix of Black and white in Fanon’s psychology. He is Black, but he also participates in certain parts of white culture, for instance as a French-speaking doctor. The point, however, is that just like the stripes of a zebra border each other without blending into gray, the different parts of Fanon’s experience will never erase the Blackness from which he comes, and will never unify into a harmonious whole.

Open Door (Metaphor)

One of the last sentences of Black Skin, White Masks provides this metaphor:

At the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness. (181)

The “open door” refers to the ways in which people can change and how the psychology that has been created under racism can still lead somewhere else. What is also important about this metaphor is that it implies movement: an open door through which one walks. This emphasizes the importance Fanon places on action and claiming freedom through acting in the world, not just knowing the world.

Talking Like a Book (Simile)

In Chapter 1, Fanon discusses the role of language. In particular, he shows how language refers to culture, so speaking French is about taking on French culture, for instance. Thus, it is in language that Black people might navigate their own desires to belong to different cultures, and it is also in language that white people can bar others from joining their culture. He then provides a simile for how speaking French in different contexts is perceived:

In any group of young men in the Antilles, the one who expresses himself well, who has mastered the language, is inordinately feared; keep an eye on that one, he is almost white. In France one says, “He talks like a book.” In Martinique, “He talks like a white man.” (11)

Here, talking “like a book” means that in France, Black people who speak French are perceived as not speaking it naturally. Rather, they are speaking it the way it is written down in a textbook. This is a way of claiming the Black person, even though he speaks French, can never be French, because he only learns the culture instead of being born into it.