Black Skin, White Masks

Introduction

Black Skin, White Masks (French: Peau noire, masques blancs) is a 1952 book by Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist and intellectual from Martinique. The book is written in the style of auto-theory, in which Fanon shares his own experiences in addition to presenting a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanization, inherent in situations of colonial domination, on the human psyche.[1]

Black Skin, White Masks applies historical interpretation, and the concomitant underlying social indictment, to understand the complex ways in which identity, particularly Blackness is constructed and produced. In the book, he applies psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that black people might experience. That the divided self-perception of the Black Subject who has lost his native cultural origin, and embraced the culture of the Mother Country, produces an inferiority complex in the mind of the Black Subject, who then will try to appropriate and imitate the culture of the colonizer. Such behavior is more readily evident in upwardly mobile and educated Black people who can afford to acquire status symbols within the world of the colonial ecumene, such as an education abroad and mastery of the language of the colonizer, the white masks.

Based upon, and derived from, the concepts of the collective unconscious and collective catharsis, the sixth chapter, "The Negro and Psychopathology", presents brief, deep psychoanalyses of colonized black people, and thus proposes the inability of black people to fit into the norms (social, cultural, racial) established by white society. That "a normal Negro child, having grown up in a normal Negro family, will become abnormal on the slightest contact of the white world."[2] That, in a white society, such an extreme psychological response originates from the unconscious and unnatural training of black people, from early childhood, to associate "blackness" with "wrongness". That such unconscious mental training of black children is effected with comic books and cartoons, which are cultural media that instil and affix, in the mind of the white child, the society's cultural representations of black people as villains. Moreover, when black children are exposed to such images of villainous black people, the children will experience a psychopathology (psychological trauma), which mental wound becomes inherent to their individual, behavioral make-up; a part of his and her personality. That the early-life suffering of said psychopathology – black skin associated with villainy – creates a collective nature among the men and women who were reduced to colonized populations.


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