Black Skin, White Masks

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Black Skin, White Masks
Black Skin, White Masks, French edition.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorFrantz Fanon
Original titlePeau noire, masques blancs
TranslatorCharles L. Markmann (1967)
Richard Philcox (2008)
SeriesCollections Esprit. La condition humaine
SubjectsBlack race
Racial discrimination
Blacks--Social conditions
PublisherÉditions du Seuil (France)
Grove Press (US)
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint

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,[1] 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.[2] There is a double process that is economic and internalized through the epidermalization of inferiority.

The violent overtones in Fanon can be broken down into two categories: The violence of the colonizer through annihilation of body, psyche, culture, along with the demarcation of space. And secondly the violence of the colonized as an attempt to retrieve dignity, sense of self, and history through anti-colonial struggle.[3]


Black Skin, White Masks applies a historical critique on the complex ways in which identity, particularly Blackness, is constructed and produced. Fanon confronts complex formations of colonized psychic constructions of Blackness in the book. He applies psychoanalysis to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that black people experience. Fanon, paints the perception of white people as having a deep-seated fear of educated blacks. He explains, no matter how smart a black person may become, whites will always exercise a sense of 'inferiority', such as speaking "pidgin". This way of thinking was designed to keep 'Blacks' stuck in a "inferior status within a colonial order." The divided self-perception of a Black Subject who has lost his native cultural origin, and embraced the culture of the Mother Country, produces an inferior sense of self in the "Black Man." They will try to appropriate and imitate the culture of the colonizer where 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.

According to Fred Moten, Fanon regulates imagination in Blackness by his willingness to merely envisage through his rubric of epidermalization. Which is yet another form of enclosure.[4]

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 (the colonizer). That "a normal Negro child, having grown up in a normal Negro family, will become abnormal on the slightest contact of the white world."[5] 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. In Black Skin, White Masks, Speaks about Mayotte Capécia and Abdoulaye Sadji who are two writers that have autobiographies during this era. "I am a Martinican Woman" and "Nini" are auto-biographies that further explains some of the cultural damage colonization of Caribbean has had. Capecia a black woman, wants to marry a white man despite the social and cultural boundaries in place. Fanon disagrees with this message. He believes Capecia is desperate for white approval. The colonial culture has left an impression on black martinican women to believe, "whiteness is virtue and beauty" and that they can in turn "save their race by making themselves whiter."

In Chapter seven's subsection: The Black Man and Hegel, Fanon examines the dialectics of the philosopher, conveying his suspicions of the black man being under the rubric of philosophy modeled after whiteness. are made After recognizing opposition in place of desire, and becoming conscious of this, conflict will ensue between colonizer and colonized. According to Fanon this conflict takes form as negation of white affirmation. This is an active and careful reflection before the occurrence of violent action. Fred Moten ties this negation to the Kantian need for teleology, specifically one that is suspiciously based on "taste."[6]


First published in French in Martinique, Black Skin, White Masks (1952) did not attract much mainstream attention in English-speaking countries. It explored the effects of colonialism and imposing a servile psychology upon the colonized man, woman, and child. The adverse effects were assessed as part of the post-colonial cultural legacy of the Mother Country to former imperial subjects.

Together with Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, it received wider attention during cultural upheavals starting in the 1960s, in the United States as well as former colonial countries in the Caribbean and Africa. It is considered an important anti-colonial, anti-racist, and Afro-pessimist work in Anglophone countries. But in Francophone countries, the book is ranked as a relatively minor Fanon work in comparison to his later, more radical works. The topic is explicitly connected culturally to the societies of the ethnic African and other peoples of color living within the French Colonial Empire (1534–1980).[7]

The psychological and psychiatric insights remain valid, especially as applied by peoples of diverse colonial and imperial histories, such as the Palestinians in the Middle East, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and African Americans in the US, in their contemporary struggles for cultural and political autonomy. Contemporary theorists of nationalism and of anti-colonialism, of liberation theology and of cultural studies, have preferred Frantz Fanon's later culturally and politically revolutionary works, such as The Wretched of the Earth (1962).[8] Nevertheless, Black Skin, White Masks continues to generate debate. In 2015, leading African studies scholar Lewis R. Gordon published a book titled What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction To His Life And Thought.[9]

Anthony Elliott writes that Black Skin, White Masks is a "seminal" work.[10]

Freedom and Blackness[edit]

Freedom and Blackness[disambiguation needed] according to Sidney Mintz, is not a culture deliberately set upon breaking “cultural rules and norms” instead its focus is to be free. Free to express themselves in a way that is authentic to the Caribbean culture, and free to be able to live free from those who were once called master. A culture separate from that of their European colonizers yet still be recognized on an equal level. This movement of freedom and blackness requires knowledge on multiple interdisciplinary studies such as "politics for emancipation, racial inequalities, post emancipation, all within the context of a post colonial world. Colonization instead of helping countries has destroyed culture all over the world. Colonization has enforced the thought process of "white supremacy" and has suppressed/eradicated cultures all over the Caribbean. An example of this according to Fanon is the Malagsy culture. He explains that the Malagsy culture has been colonized so much that if they were to be liberated they would be left with nothing. Fanon regulates imagination of Blackness by his willingness to merely "envisage" through a rubric of epidermalization. Which is yet another form of enclosure.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Autotheory - Lauren Fournier". Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  2. ^ "Frantz Fanon", Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, volume 7, p. 208.
  3. ^ "Nayar, Pramod", Frantz Fanon, Routledge, p. 70.
  4. ^ "Moten, Fred", Black and Blur, Duke, p. 234.
  5. ^ Fanon, Franz (1952). "The Negro and Psychopathology", in Black Skin, White Masks. France: Éditions du Seuil.
  6. ^ "Moten, Fred", Stolen Life, Duke, p. 12-13.
  7. ^ Silverman, Maxim; Max Silverman (2006). Frantz Fanon's 'Black Skin, White Masks': New Interdisciplinary Essays. Manchester University Press. p. 1.
  8. ^ Bergner 1995, 75–76
  9. ^ Gordon, Lewis R.; Cornell, Drucilla (2015-01-01). What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823266081.
  10. ^ Elliott, Anthony (2002). Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave. p. 56. ISBN 0-333-91912-2.
  11. ^ "Moten, Fred", Black and Blur, Duke, p. 234.