Black Skin, White Masks

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Black Skin, White Masks
Black Skin, White Masks, French edition.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Frantz Fanon
Original title Peau noire, masques blancs
Translator Charles L. Markmann
Country France
Language French
Series Collections Esprit. La condition humaine
Subject Black race.
Racial discrimination.
Blacks--Social conditions.
Publisher Éditions du Seuil (France)
Grove Press (US)
Publication date
Published in English
Pages 222

Black Skin, White Masks (French: Peau noire, masques blancs) is a 1952 book by Frantz Fanon, in which Fanon studies the psychology of the racism and dehumanization inherent in situations of colonial domination.[1]

With the application of historical interpretation, and the concomitant underlying social indictment, the psychiatrist Frantz Fanon formulated Black Skin, White Masks to combat the oppression of black people. He applied psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that Black people experience in a White world. 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.


After its initial publication in the mid-twentieth century, Black Skin, White Masks (1952) remained an obscure book about the servile psychology imposed upon the colonised man, woman, and child — a post-colonial cultural legacy of the Mother Country to her former imperial subjects. Since the 1980s, it has become an important anti-colonial and anti-racist work in Anglophone countries; yet, in Francophone countries, the book is a relatively minor Fanon work, despite the subject’s explicit cultural connection with the societies of the black-skinned and other non-white peoples who were the French Colonial Empire (1534–1980).[3] The medical insights (psychological and psychiatric) remain valid sociologically, 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), rather than the psychoanalytic explanation of colonial relations — between the colonizer and the colonized — that is Black Skin, White Masks (1952).[4] Nevertheless, Black Skin, White Masks continues to spark intrigue and 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.