Frantz Fanon's "Black Skin, White Masks" (Ch. 2) [finger on the page]



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The goal of these posts will be to conduct a chapter-a-week close reading of Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, while analyzing, summarizing, and dialoguing with the text to provide readers with a better understanding of this crucial contribution to thinking about race. For those curious, I will be using the 1991 paperback reissue with [cover design by Liadain Warwick Smith]. Given the current debates raging about a post-racial America, the election of the nation's first black president, and continued disagreements over what really constitutes "blackness," we may find that Fanon provided some very intriguing answers -- over 50 years ago -- to our most pressing questions about black people.

Chapter Two: The Woman of Color and the White Man
(Last week: Chapter One)

"Me? a Negress? Can't you see I'm practically white? I despise Negroes. Niggers stink. They're dirty and lazy. Don't ever mention niggers to me"
~Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon

And now we move to one of the more exciting chapters in Fanon's book, "The Woman of Color and the White Man". Fanon's analysis, as we have seen, is based primarily on the Martinican relationship to France during his time. As such, he decides to analyze a book written in 1948 by a black woman--Mayotte Capecia--in which she divulges her reasons for being exclusively attracted to white men.

For Fanon, the acts of love and admiration are directly tied to who and what we value. He says, "authentic love...entails the mobilization of psychic drives basically freed of unconscious conflicts" (41). In other words, I cannot seek to love unless I have rid myself, in this case, of my inferiority complex. For black people, this becomes a humongous hindrance because, as Fanon believes, the inferiority complex is what the black world view is mainly comprised of.

In her book Je suis Martiniquiase Capecia writes of her husband, "All I know is that he had blue eyes, blond hair, and a light skin, and that I loved him" (42). She then goes on to recount a time when after much pleading she was allowed to accompany her husband to one of his high society gatherings in a neighborhood of the Martinican city of Fort-de-France called Didier. For Capecia, Didier represents a sort of "Beverly Hills" and symbolizes the height of culture and prosperity. Of course, Didier is almost exclusively white and rich and after finally gaining the chance to go she reflects,

We spent the evening in one of those little villas that I had admired since my childhood, with two officers and their wives. The women kept watching me with a condescension that I found unbearable. I felt felt that I was wearing too much makeup, that I was not properly dressed, that I was not doing Andre [her husband] credit, perhaps simply because of the color of my skin--in short, I spent so miserable an evening that I decided I would never again ask Andre to take me with him. (43)

Fanon believes that Capecia was only trying to realize a childhood wish by accompanying her husband to Didier. That wish was guided by this principle: "One is white above a certain financial level" (44). It is said that Capecia had long been dazzled by the mansions of Didier so it follows that a white husband would have been the key to fulfilling her childhood fantasies. This is the heart of the chapter, that for the woman of color, the choice of attraction to white men is based not only in the inferiority complex, but also in a desire to achieve economic comfort. But Fanon warns us that, "For the beloved should not allow me to turn my infantile fantasies into reality: On the contrary, he should help me to go beyond them" (44).

Next, Fanon delves into Capecia's into the pathological maturation of Capecia's inferiority complex. She moves from trying to "blacken" the world by pouring ink on her classmates in grade school to trying to rationalize her own "near-whiteness" when she muses on the fact that she had a white grandmother. Fanon calls the latter attempt "lactification" (the process of trying to whiten oneself as if to become like milk) (47).

What follows are several examples of black women's reasoning for preferring white men:

"...it is not that we deny that blacks have any good qualities, but you know it is so much better to be white" (48).

"Everyone of us has a white potential, but some try to ignore it and some simply reverse it. As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't marry a Negro for anything in the world" (48).

Fanon then quotes Anna Freud to support his idea that "overcompensation" is actually the root cause of many black women's inability to move beyond their inferiority complexes and achieve authentic love.

Next we are provided with two scenarios that illustrate the complex even further. A "mulatto" woman is approached via love letter by a fairly well off black man. Although his expression is sincere, she is disgusted by his forward attempt. She is especially enraged that he refers to her (endearingly) as a "Negress" when she views herself as "practically white". She dismisses him completely and even threatens to call the police and report harassment. Later, when a white man is merely rumored to be interested in her, the reply is, "Oh it can't be!...How do you know it's true?...Can such things happen?...It's sweet....It's such a scream" (57).

At the end of the chapter, Fanon reminds us that both blacks and whites are operating based on inferiority and superiority complexes, respectively. Because of this both are plagued by neurosis. For people of color, "there is a constant effort to run away from [one's] own individuality, to annihilate [one's] own presence" (60).

After mentioning that this sort of thinking is the type he wants to get rid of, Fanon closes the chapter which leads directly into the "The Man of Color and the White Woman".

Stay tuned and happy reading!

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