Summary of Chapters 2 – 3
Chapters 2 and 3 of Black Skin, White Masks are about romantic relationships between Black and white people in white societies. Many of the examples are about love between people from Antilles and people from France within France. In Chapter 2, Fanon focuses on relationships between Black women and white men in France. In Chapter 3, it’s Black men and white women. At the beginning of Chapter 2, Fanon announces he “believe[s] in the possibility of love.” Thus, by exploring how love is made difficult across racial differences, Fanon is also trying to imagine how love could be made possible as well, if different social conditions existed.
In both chapters, Fanon focuses his analysis on novels that depict interracial romance. In Chapter 2, the primary novel is Mayotte Capécia’s Je suis Martiniquaise, a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1948, in French, with a title that translates into English as I am a Martinician Woman. Martinique is a Caribbean country colonized by France, part of the Antilles discussed in the previous chapter, and it is also where Fanon was born. Fanon observes that in the novel, Mayotte seems to be completely subservient to the white men she loves. He also notices that Mayotte wants what Fanon calls a “lactification.” This means becoming white. In dating white people, Mayotte is trying to become white herself.
Fanon explains this as a reaction to things being denied to Mayotte and other Black people as children. In a racist society in which white people have power and control education, Black people do not get to have many of the same resources or experiences as white people. This makes Black people feel inferior. They begin to think their lack of resources and negative experiences are due to their Blackness, rather than racism. As a result, they try to get rid of their Blackness in order to become “better” humans. This is what originally attracts Black women to white men, according to Fanon. It is a desire to be admitted into the white world for which the white lover is a kind of ambassador.
This inevitably leads to an “obsessive neurosis,” however, according to Fanon. In trying to become un-Black, someone like Mayotte is trying to run around from her very self. She is in, effect, trying to erase herself. This can only lead to a situation in which she becomes completely dissociated from herself. This is the double bind of the Black person in a racist society. To be Black is to be made to feel inferior. But to try and get rid of one’s Blackness is to get rid of one’s self altogether.
In Chapter 3, Fanon explores this dynamic at more length when the roles are reversed: when the male lover is Black and the female lover is white. At first, Fanon observes an identical situation. When he falls in love with a white woman, it is because he himself wants to become white. As he explains, in loving a white woman, “I marry white culture, white beauty, white whiteness.” Fanon’s primary case study in this chapter is not himself, however. It is another novel, this time by René Maran, a French Guyanese writer. The novel is Un homme pareil aux autres, or A Man the Same as Others. Through this novel, Fanon observes a repeated pattern of Black men being abandoned or left by caregivers in childhood and lovers in adulthood. This leads to a lowered self-esteem in which the Black child wonders if he is worthy of love.
Fanon turns to the psychoanalyst Germaine Guex to analyze this situation. She coined a term called “abandonment-neurotic,” which Fanon thinks expertly names the psychological problem faced by Black men. Throughout their life, people have abandoned them because of their Blackness. Now, the Black man starts to play into a self-fulfilling prophesy in which he feels inferior. This is called “negative aggression.” The Black man aggressively re-creates his negative feelings. He has become so used to being made to feel inferior that he now makes himself feel inferior. This is a kind of defense mechanism in which he damages himself in the same way the world has damaged him as a child.
Fanon concludes Chapter 3 by arguing that things don’t have to be this way. But the solution, according to Fanon, does not lie in curing each individual case of neurosis, whether an inferiority complex in a Black woman or a Black man. Because these psychological problems have been created because of the treatment of Black people as a group in society, it is society that must change. In other words, the answer isn’t just sending everyone to therapy. Rather, it’s changing the very world in which therapy became necessary.
Analysis of Chapters 2 – 3
Fanon is primarily trained as a psychiatrist, which explains his turn to psychological theory in these chapters. At the same time, it is noticeable he does not use case studies to develop his account. In his later book, The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon describes the psychology of colonialism by discussing people he has actually treated as a psychiatrist. In Black Skin, White Masks, in contrast, Fanon discusses not clinical cases but the experiences presented in novels.
It is noticeable that the novels he discusses are written by Black people in French. In the previous chapter, we saw Fanon discuss the role of language in how Black people present themselves and are treated by white society. In writing in French, the authors Fanon discusses have already demonstrated a desire to be accepted by French society, just like Fanon himself. That is the baseline for these books. Then, Fanon can explore the specific ways in which this desire manifests, especially in terms of relationships.
At the same time, by looking at novels, even if semi-autobiographically, Fanon opens himself up to questions about how representative his account is. Novels are fictionalized, and they present people in a deliberate way that may not be natural. How reliable are these novelists in presenting an experience representative of other Black people's experiences living in white societies? Fanon has to put these questions to one side and take these narratives at face value. But because he blends in some of his own reflections and experiences, the fictions acquire the weight of reality.
“Lactification” is a word Fanon invented to describe the experience of Black women trying to become white. On the one hand, the invention of new words again attests to the ways in which language conditions or even constrains experience. In order to describe the experience of Black people in French society, French itself has to change. At the same time, it is noticeable that Fanon coins a word by referring to milk, and he uses this word to apply to women, who produce milk after childbirth. There is, in other words, a way in which language is not only racialized but gendered.
The gender politics of Fanon could be explored at more length. In these chapters, it is noticeable that Fanon divides the analysis into a chapter on women and a chapter on men, and he uses different psychological theories to describe the different experiences. It is also noticeable that although Fanon makes passing reference to homosexuality, he primarily studies heterosexuality. This may be because it is marriage, even more than dating and sex, that seems to be of utmost importance in managing an attachment people have to a culture. Marriage involves private property, and it also involves the state, because it is handled through the law. Therefore, marriage is a special part of assimilating into a culture and feeling one belongs to a state. It is this sense of belonging that Fanon is primarily interested in.