Frantz Fanon's "Black Skin White Masks" (Ch. 3) [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 Three: The Man of Color and the White Woman
(Last week: Chapter Two)

Fanon argues that the nature of this relationship is also rooted in the latent desire to become white. On page 63 he writes, "By loving me [a white woman] proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man."

As in the previous chapter, Fanon uses a work of literature to illustrate the psychological character of a black man who finds himself in love with a white woman. In the novel Un homme pareil aux autres (A Man Like Any Other) by René Maran, the protagonist, Jean Veneuse, was born in the Caribbean but has lived in Bordeaux, France since he was a child. Fanon notes, "he is a European. But he is Black; so he is a Negro. There is the conflict. He does not understand his own race, and the whites do not understand him" (64). We also find that because of these circumstances, Veneuse feels lonely and has developed into what many would call an introverted bookworm. While we might be led to think that Veneuse's desire is to prove to his white counterparts that he is their equal, Fanon believes that Veneuse himself is the man that has to be convinced.

Next, Veneuse ventures to account for his love of a white woman, Andreé Marielle. He cannot explain why he has chosen her as the primary object of his affections and he even appears to show a sense of guilt; however, he concludes that

I know nothing. I have no wish to know any more except one thing: that the Negro is a man like the rest, the equal of the others, and that his heart, which only the ignorant consider simple, can be as complicated as the heart of the most complicated of Europeans. (66)

Here we are presented with yet another dimension of Veneuse's dilemma: not only does he harbor feelings of guilt over loving a white woman, he also feels that his love must be on par with "white love" in order to be validated. And validation he seeks; even after Andreé professes her mutual love for Veneuse, he seeks out his European friend Coulanges to "authorize" his feelings. Coulanges explains that since Veneuse has lived in Bordeaux since he was three or four years old he is essentially a European or "one of us" (68). He stresses this point by reminding Veneuse that he would probably be unable to communicate with anyone from the Caribbean and that he has no resemblance to them. He goes further by saying

In fact you are like us--you are "us." Your thoughts are ours. You behave as we behave, as we would behave. You think of yourself--others think of you--as a Negro? Utterly mistaken! You merely look like one. As for everything else, you think as a European. And so it is natural that you love as a European. Since European men love only European women, you can hardly marry anyone but a woman of the country where you have always lived, a woman of our good old France, your real and only country. (68)

Fanon clarifies this passage by stating that this sort of white male approval can only come about if the black man ensures that he will have nothing to do whatsoever with black people.

Veneuse turns this over in his mind but is said to reject it and instead begins to wonder if his "love" for the white woman is merely a desire to enact revenge on whites by becoming the "master" of a white woman. He wonders if

...by marrying Andreé, who [is] a European, I may not appear to be making a show of contempt for the women of my own race and above all to be drawn by desire for that white flesh that has been forbidden us Negroes as long as white men have ruled the world, so that without my knowledge I am attempting to revenge myself on a European woman for everything her ancestors inflicted on mine throughout the centuries. (70)

Next, Fanon points to a passage by Louis T. Achille which posits the idea that whereas most interracial marriages are arranged so that one of the spouses is of a lower economic or cultural standing than the other in order to achieve the "deracialization" of both partners, when a white spouse is chosen by a black person, the black person's motive seems to be one of establishing equality with whiteness.

Fanon finally concludes that the root cause of Veneuse's neurosis lay in his isolated (i.e., from blackness) upbringing. With a nod to psychoanalysis, Fanon even flirts with the possibility of Veneuse's issues being caused by his feeling abandoned by his mother. The only solution to this problem for Veneuse is acceptance by whites.

Fanon also believes that Veneuse's problems cannot be extended to all black people simply because Veneuse is black (this would risk losing objectivity). He is simply suffering from basic and universal symptoms of the psychoanalytic problem of being an abandonment-neurotic.

To conclude, Fanon reminds us once more that such problems cannot be solved by buying into color hierarchies and alludes to another solution which he will reveal later.

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