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Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1967. 


"The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon . . . or too late. // I do not come with timeless truths" (7).

"What does a man want? // What does a black man want? // At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brothers, I will say that the black is not a man [emphasis mine; indictment of "human rights"]. // There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born" (8).

"Man is not merely a possibility of recapture or of negation. If it is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a yes that vibrates to cosmic harmonies. Uprooted, pursued, baffled, doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths that he has worked out for himself one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antinomy that coexists with him. // The black is a black man; that is, as the result of a series of aberration of affect, he is rooted at the core of a universe from which he must be extricated. // . . . two camps: the white and the black. // Stubbornly we shall investigate both metaphysics and we shall find that they are often quite fluid" (8).

"To us, the man who adores the Negro is as 'sick' as the man who abominates him. // Conversely, the black man who wants to turn his race white is as miserable as he who preaches hatred for the whites" (8-9).

"In the course of this essay we shall observe the development of an effort to understand the black-white relation. // The white man is sealed in his whiteness. // The black man in his blackness" (9).

"We shall seek to ascertain the directions of this dual narcissism and the motivations that inspire it" (10).

"There is a fact: White men consider themselves superior to black men. // There is another fact: Black men want to prove to white men, at all costs, the richness of their thought, the equal value of their intellect. // How doe we extricate ourselves?" (10).

"Man's tragedy, Nietzsche said, is that he was once a child. . . . However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white" (10)

"If there is an inferiority complex, it is the outcome of a double process: // --primarily, economic; //--subsequently, the internalization -- or, better, the epidermalization -- of this inferiority" (11)

"I believe that the fact of the juxtaposition of the white and black races has created a massive psychoexistential complex. I hope by analyzing it to destroy it. . . . The architecture of this work is rooted in the temporal" (12) . . . "I belong irreducibly to my time" (13).

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (cont'd)

"a Negro who is driven to discover the meaning of black identity. White civilization and European culture have forced an existential deviation on the Negro. I shall demonstrate elsewhere that what is often called the black soul is white man's artifact" (14; cf. Genetís Les Nègres; social, cultural construct).


"The Negro and Language":

"For it is implicit that to speak is to exist absolutely for the other. // The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white man. A Negro behaves differently with another Negro. The this self-division is a direct result of colonialist subjugation is beyond question. . . ." (17).

"To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization" (17-18).

"Mastery of a language afford remarkable power. Paul Valéry knew this, for he called language, 'the god gone astray in the flesh'" (18; internal reference to Charmes (Paris, Gallimard, 1952)).

"Sartre begins Orphée Noir thus: 'What then did you expect when you unbound the gag that had muted those black mouths? That they would chant your praises? Did you think that when those heads that our fathers had forcibly bowed down to the ground were raised again, you would find adoration in their eyes?' I do not know; but I say that he who looks into my eyes for anything but a perpetual question will have to lose his sight; neither recognition nor hate. And if I cry out, it will not be a black cry. No, from the point of view adopted here, there is no black problem. Or at any rate if there is one it concerns the whites only accidentally. It is a story that takes places in darkness, and the sun that is carried within me must shine into the smallest crannies" (29).

"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. Rather more than a year ago in Lyon, I remember, in a lecture I had drawn a parallel between the Negro and European poetry, and a French acquaintance told me enthusiastically, 'At the bottom you are a white man.' The fact that I had been able to investigate so interesting a problem through the white man's language gave me honorary citizenship" (38).


"The Fact of Blackness":

"'Dirty nigger!' Or simply, 'Look, a Negro!' // I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. // Sealed into that crushing objecthood" (109).

"every ontology is made unattainable in a colonized and civilized society" (109).

"For not only must the black man be black; he must black in relation to the white man" . . . "The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man" (110).

"The black man among his own in the twentieth century does not know at what moment his inferiority comes into being through the other" (110; cf. E. Said on 'ontological instability').

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (cont'd)

"I walk on white nails. Sheets of water threaten my soul on fire. Face to face with these rites, I am doubly alert. Black magic! Orgies, witches' sabbaths, heathen ceremonies, amulets. Coitus is an occasion to call on the gods of the clan. It is a sacred act, pure, absolute, bringing invisible forces into action. What is one to think of all these manifestations, all these limitations, all these acts? From very direction, I am assaulted by the obscenity of dances and words" (126; parody of constructions of "blackness").

"The soil, which only a moment ago was still a tamed steed, begins to revel. Are these virgins, these nymphomaniacs? Black Magic, primitive mentality, animism, animal eroticism, it all floods over me. All of it is typical of peoples that have not kept pace with the evolution of the human race. Or if one prefers this is humanity at its lowest. Having reached this point, I was long reluctant to commit myself, Aggression was in the stars. I had to choose. What do I mean? I had no choice. . . // Yes, we are -- we Negroes -- backward, simple, free in our behavior. That is because for us the body is not something opposed to what you call the mind" (126-27; parody of "white racists" and leaders of "negritude"?)

But now comes the radiance of the goddess Moon/ and the veils of the shadows fall./

Night of Africa, my black night, mystical and bright, black/ and shining.

--Léopold Senghor, Chants díombre (Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1945) (129)

"I made myself the poet of the world. The white man had found a poetry in which there was nothing poetic. The soul of the white man was corrupted, and, as I was told by a friend who was a teacher in the United States, 'The presence of the Negroes beside the whites is in a way an insurance policy on humanness. When the whites feel that they have become too mechanized, they turn to the men of color and ask them for a little human sustenance.' At last I had been recognized, I was no longer a zero" (129).

"Then I had the feeling that I was repeating a cycle" (129; mimetic: différence et répétition; Bhabha).

"For Césaire, í Senghor says, 'the white man is the symbol of capital as the Negro is that of labor. . . . Beyond the black-skinned men of his race it is the battle of the world proletariat that is his song.' // That is easy to say. But less easy to think out. And undoubtedly it is no coincidence that the most ardent poets of negritude are at the same time militant Marxists. // But that does not prevent the idea of race mingling with that of class: . . . negritude appears as the minor term of a dialectical progression: The theoretical and practical assertion of the supremacy of the white man is its thesis; the position of negritude as an antithetical value is the moment of negativity. But this negative moment is insufficient by itself, and the Negroes who employ it know this very well; they know that it is intended to prepare the synthesis of realization of the human in a society without races [emphasis added]. Thus negritude is the root of its own destruction, it is a transition and not a conclusion, a means and not an ultimate end." [quoted by Fanon from Sartre, Orphée Noir, préface to Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 19480, pp. xl ff.] (133).

 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (cont'd)

When I read that page, I felt that I had been robbed of my last chance. I said to my friends, 'The generation of the younger black poets has just suffered a blow that can never be forgiven.' Help had been sought from a friend of the colored peoples, and that friend had found no better response than to point out the relativity of what they were doing. For once, that Hegelian had forgotten that consciousness has to lose itself in the night of the absolute, the only condition to attain to consciousness of self. In opposition to rationalism, he summoned up the negative side, but he forgot that this negativity draws its worth from an almost substantive absoluteness (133-4).

"In terms of consciousness, the black consciousness is held out as an absolute density, as filled with itself, a stage preceding any invasion, any abolition of the ego by desire. Jean-Paul Sartre, in this work, has destroyed black zeal. In opposition to historical becoming, there had always been he unforeseeable. I needed to lose myself completely in negritude. One day, perhaps, in the depths of the unhappy romanticism . . ." (135).

"The dialectic that brings necessity into the foundation of my freedom drives me out of myself. It shatters my unreflected position. Still in terms of consciousness, black consciousness is immanent in its own eyes. I am not a potentiality of something, I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My Negro consciousness does not hold itself out as a lack. It is. It is its own follower" (135).

"Negro experience is not a whole, for there is not merely one Negro, there are Negroes" (136).

"But, when one has taken it into one's head to try to express existence, one runs the risk of finding only the nonexistent. What is certain is that, at the very moment when I was trying to grasp my own being, Sartre, who remained the Other, gave me a name and thus shattered my last illusion" (137).

"while I was shouting that, in the paroxysm of my being and my fury, he was reminding me that my blackness was only a minor term. . . . Without a Negro past, without a Negro future, it was impossible for me to live my Negrohood. Not yet white, no longer wholly black, I was damned" . . . "I defined myself as an absolute intensity of beginning" (138).

138fn24: "the white man is not only the Other but also the master, whether real or imaginary."

"A feeling of inferiority? No, a feeling of nonexistence. Sin is Negro as virtue is white" (139).

"So it is with the character in If He Hollers Let Him Go -- who does precisely what he did not want to do. That big blonde who was always in his way, weak, sensual, offered, open, fearing (desiring) rape, became his mistress in the end" (140).

"Yesterday, awakening to the world, I saw the sky turn upon itself utterly and wholly. I wanted to rise, but the disemboweled silence fell back upon me, its wings paralyzed. Without responsibility, straddling Nothingness and Infinity, I began to weep" (140).

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (cont'd)


"The Negro and Psychopathology":

"Whoever says rape says Negro" (166).

"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" (170).

"Good-Evil, Beauty-Ugliness, White-Black: such are the characteristic pairing of the phenomenon that, making use of an expression of Dide and Guiraud, we shall call 'manicheism delirium'" (183; internal allusion to Psychiatrie du médecin praticien (Paris, Masson, 1922) p. 164).

"For some time there has been much talk about the Negro. A little too much. The Negro would like to be dropped, so that he may regroup his forces, his authentic forces. // One day he said: 'My negritude is neither a tower . . .' // And someone came along to Hellenize him, to make an Orpheus of him . . . this Negro who is looking for the universal. He is looking for the universal!

. . . The Negro is aiming for the universal, but on the screen his Negro essence, his Negro 'nature,' is kept intact: . . . I have barely opened my eyes that had been blindfolded, and someone already wants to drown me in the universal? . . . I need to lose myself in my negritude, to see the fires, the segregations, the repressions, the rapes, the discriminations, the boycotts. We need to put our fingers on every sore that mottles the black uniform. . . . It is my belief that a true culture cannot come to life under present conditions. It will time enough to talk of the black genius when the man has regained his rightful place" (186-87).

Jungian psychology: "European civilization is characterized by the presence, at the heart of what Jung calls the collective unconscious, of an archetype: an expression of the bad instincts, of the darkness inherent in every ego, of the uncivilized savage, the Negro who slumbers in every white man" (187; cf. Kristeva, Étranger à nous-mêmes)

"But the collective unconscious . . . is purely the sum of prejudices, myths, collective attitudes of a given group. . . . the collective unconscious is cultural, which means acquired" (188).

"The archetype of the lowest values is represented by the Negro" (189).

"In the remotest depth of the European unconscious an inordinately black hollow has been made in which the most immoral impulses, the most shameful desires lie dormant. And as every man climbs up toward whiteness and light, the European has tried to repudiate this uncivilized self, which has attempted to defend itself. When European civilization came into contact with the black world, with those savage peoples, everyone agreed: Those Negroes were the principle of evil. // Jung constantly identified the foreign with the obscure, with the tendency to evil: He is perfectly right. This mechanism of projection -- or, if one prefers, transference --- has been described by classic psychoanalysis. In the degree to which I find in myself something unheard-of, something reprehensible, only one solution remains for me: to get rid of it, to ascribe its origin to someone else. In this way I eliminate a short circuit that threatens to destroy my equilibrium" (190; "Negro" relegated to the unconscious -- cf. Irigaray on 'woman'; cf. Kristeva).

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (cont'd)

"The collective unconscious is not dependent on cerebral heredity; it is the result of what I shall call the unreflected imposition of a culture" (191; emphasis mine; definition of noir, Miller).

"In the collective unconscious, black = ugliness, sin, darkness, immorality. In other words, he is Negro who is immoral" (192).

"Moral consciousness implies a kind of scission, a fracture of consciousness into a bright part and an opposing black part. In order to achieve morality, it is essential that the black, the dark, the Negro vanish from consciousness. Hence a Negro is forever in combat with his own image" (194; emphasis mine).

"By Way of Conclusion":

"As a man, I undertake to face the possibility of annihilation in order that two or three truths may cast their eternal brilliance over the world" . . . "There is no Negro mission; there is no white burden. // I find myself suddenly in a world in which things do evil; a world in which I am summoned into battle; a world in which it is always a question of annihilation or triumph" (228).

"There is no white world, there is no white ethic, any more than there is a white intelligence. // There are in every part of the world men who search. // I am not a prisoner of history. I should not seek there for the meaning of my destiny. . . . IN the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself. // I am part of Being to the degree that I go beyond it" (229; cf. Bhabha, "Introduction" to The Location of Culture: au-delà)

"The Negro is not. Any more than the white man" (231; cf. Bhabha's reading of this statement in terms of "time lag" of enunciative desire and the caesura).

"My final prayer:

O my body, make of me always a man who questions!" (232).

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