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, 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. 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.


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).[3]

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).[4] 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.[5]

Anthony Elliott writes that Black Skin, White Masks is a "seminal" work.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frantz Fanon", Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, volume 7, p. 208.
  2. ^ Fanon, Franz (1952). "The Negro and Psychopathology", in Black Skin, White Masks. France: Éditions du Seuil.
  3. ^ Silverman, Maxim; Max Silverman (2006). Frantz Fanon's 'Black Skin, White Masks': New Interdisciplinary Essays. Manchester University Press. p. 1.
  4. ^ Bergner 1995, 75–76
  5. ^ Gordon, Lewis R.; Cornell, Drucilla (2015-01-01). What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823266081.
  6. ^ Elliott, Anthony (2002). Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave. p. 56. ISBN 0-333-91912-2.