At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brothers, I will say that the black is not a man.
In this provocative quote on the opening page of Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon summarizes his analysis of white-Black relations. He is saying that black and white are not just a hierarchy within the human species, or “man.” Rather, in racist society, only white people are human and people of color are instead Other to human, or beasts and animals. Black people don’t even get to be considered human in racist societies. That’s what it means to say “the black is not a man.”
The black man wants to be white. The white man slaves to reach a human level.
This quote, also early in Black Skin, White Masks, is an effective summary of the analysis Fanon provides in the first few chapters of his book. Fanon says that in a racist society, whites have more advantage than Blacks, and this creates a situation in which white people seem to be superior to Black people. As a result, Black people want to be white, because whiteness stands for power. But white people are also dehumanized in this situation, because to dehumanize others is to dehumanize one’s self. Thus, the white man, whose sin against humanity is the enslavement of others, himself slaves to become human.
To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is.
This quote is from Fanon’s chapter on language. Fanon says it is through language that we develop a sense of ourselves as well as a sense of social hierarchy. France makes Black people feel inferior by claiming their French is bad, for instance, and therefore saying that Black people can never be French or civilized like the French are. Language has this much power to police the borders of who is part of a culture and who is not.
Today I believe in the possibility of love; that is why I endeavor to trace its imperfections, its perversions.
In this quote opening Fanon’s discussion of interracial romance in Chapters 2 and 3, Fanon is clear to state he is, in the end, a romantic. In other words, the critique he is about to provide is coming from his own desire for a better world. The difficulty of interracial love in a racist society should not be grounds for eliminating interracial love, but for changing society in order to make it possible or easier.
The Negro’s behavior makes him akin to an obsessive neurotic type, or, if one prefers, he puts himself into a complete situational neurosis. In the man of color there is a constant effort to run away from his own individuality, to annihilate his own presence.
This quote has some technical language drawing from Fanon’s psychoanalytic training, but it is also a succinct summary of the condition he sees in Black people living in racist societies. The Black person wants to be white, according to Fanon, because whiteness stands for everything that is good and powerful in society. But because he is Black, the Black person has to work very hard, all the time, to run away from this fact. This is what makes their behavior “obsessive”: it has to be done over and over again, because one never actually arrives at whiteness. However, this obsession is also a neurosis because running away from Blackness is running away from one’s self. The quest to be white is also a quest to lose one’s self.
The neurotic structure of an individual is simply the elaboration, the formation, the eruption within the ego, of conflictual clusters arising in part out of the environment and in part out of the purely personal way in which that individual reacts to these influences.
Throughout Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon is careful to say that the neuroses he discusses are not just individual neuroses. When an entire class or race of people exhibit certain neurotic symptoms, the problem isn’t just individual; it’s social. In particular, the kinds of obsessive behavior and inferiority complexes he sees in Black people are a result of a racist society that produces an impossible situation, or double bind, in which Black people want to become white but cannot possible do so.
Once and for all I will state this principle: A given society is racist or it is not. Until all the evidence is available, a great number of problems will have to be put aside. Statements, for example, that the north of France is more racist than the south, that racism is the work of underlings and hence in no way involves the ruling class, that France is one of the least racist countries in the world are the product of men incapable of straight thinking.
In this quote, Fanon powerfully critiques the idea that some societies are “more racist” than others or that, within a society, there are different kinds of racism. For Fanon, racism is not a question of degree. Creating a hierarchy of humanity is always an absolute evil to humanity. There can be no degrees of this. To say there are degrees is just a distraction from or justification for the racism that already exists.
The feeling of inferiority of the colonized is the correlative to the European’s feeling of superiority. Let us have the courage to say it outright: It is the racist who creates his inferior.
In this quote, Fanon echoes his interlocutor Jean-Paul Sartre, who said in a different context that the anti-Semite creates the Jew. For Fanon, saying that the racist creates the inferior means that Black people don’t naturally feel inferior to white people. White people, instead, create this inferiority by claiming that the difference between white and Black matters and that white is better than Black. Racism creates the hierarchy, which imposes inferiority on Black people that over time Black people internalize.
As long as the black man is among his own, he will have no occasion, except in minor internal conflicts, to experience his being through others.
The logical consequence of the previous quote, that “the racist creates his inferior,” is that Black people without racists, or Black people without white people, never think of themselves in relation to others or in a hierarchy. All people think of themselves first of all as people before anything else. It is only when Black people encounter white people that they think of themselves not as people, but as Black people. From then on, a sense of self is always in relation to “others,” that is, white people.
If I were an Adlerian, then, having established the fact that my friend had fulfilled in a dream his wish to become white—that is, to be a man—I would show him that his neurosis, his psychic instability, the rupture of his ego arose out of this governing fiction, and I would say to him: “M. Mannoni has very ably described this phenomenon in the Malagasy. Look here: I think you simply have to resign yourself to remaining in the place that has been assigned to you.”
Certainly not! I will not say that at all! I will tell him, “The environment, society are responsible for your delusion.” Once that has been said, the rest will follow of itself, and what that is we know. The end of the world.
In this quote, Fanon takes on both M. Mannoni, whom Fanon critiqued at more length in his chapter on the “Dependency Complex,” and Alfred Adler, a psychotherapist who gets his own section in this chapter on “Recognition.” What both Mannoni and Adler say, according to Fanon, is that a Black person’s feeling of inferiority or any related neurosis is an individual problem that can be corrected by adjusting an individual’s expectations or desires. Fanon disagrees and says that we must adjust the social situation that creates these desires and the impossibility of realizing them. According to Fanon, we must change the world rather than the individual.
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.