Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks

A strange category, race.

Here's my attempt to explicitly outline a rather implicit logic that constitutes the category of race in modern times:

1. Visible marks on our body, such as color, shape of nose, pattern of hair, eyes, etc., could be intuitively grouped into categories of appearance.

2. Each category of appearance is known to have its origin in a geographically distinct area, inhabited by homogeneous, discrete population.

3. Whereas each origin provides its own special background for the evolution of its inhabitants, different origins entail the origination of essentially different kinds of populations.

4. The perceived variations in visible appearances among kinds of humans are indicative of deeper differences in their nature, that is, invisible, mental characteristics such as intelligence and morality.

Loaded with "scientific knowledge", the category of race facilitates a logical implication from appearance to essential nature. A movement from the skin to the soul.

Psychologically speaking, our inside is internalizing the society's view of our color. That's how in some way the soul could be painted in the skin's color. Given such logic, the question of race could be put in phenomenological terms: how does our skin color reflect on us inwardly?

In Black Skin, White Masks, published in postwar France, Frantz Fanon investigates the lived experience of race. In this emotionally and intellectually charged text Fanon exposes the sickness inflicted on blacks by the contact with the colonizing white West. Fanon spares no criticism from the Africans nor the Europeans, and from a Freudian therapeutic standpoint pursues a phenomenology of being black as a necessary stage for the cure:

"I move slowly in the world, accustomed now to seek no longer for upheaval. I progress by crawling. And already I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am fixed. Having adjusted their microtomes, they objectively cut away slices of my reality. I am laid bare. I feel, I see in those white faces that it is not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man, a new genus. Why, it’s a Negro!

I slip into corners, and my long antennae pick up the catchphrases strewn over the surface of things - nigger underwear smells of nigger - nigger teeth are white - nigger feet are big - the nigger’s barrel chest - I slip into corners, I remain silent, I strive for anonymity, for invisibility. Look, I will accept the lot, as long as no one notices me!"

(pp. 87-88)


Questions to ponder:

* Can we talk about race without inevitably admitting the category's existence? What type of existence then should be ascribed to it?

* Can the category of race be treated in the broader context of identity - one among many others? How different, if at all, is the over-determination imposed by racial identification compared to the ones imposed by other dimensions of identity, such as gender or age?

* We apply racist judgments without hesitation when it comes to breeds of animals. Though they all belong to the same species, the breed of the Labrador is said to be smarter than the Cocker Spaniel, the Amstaff is considered to have a hotter temper than the San Bernard, and so on and so forth. Is our intuition racial?

* What would Fanon have to say about plastic transformation of one's appearance, had he lived to witness this growing trend in the last few decades? Michael Jackson could serve as an exemplar for some of the points made here.

* "Regular racism" aside, how come the identically structured "positive racism" (Asians are better at quantitative thinking, etc.) is tolerated under the post-WW2 "regime of politically correctness"?

Reading:

Chapter 5: The Fact of Blackness (pp. 82 - 93)

Black Skin, White Masks is available for download in the Files section.

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  • Howard P.

    Lively far ranging discussion on race, identity, community, existence and essence with Fanon as a catalyst. Impotysmy part of meeting on our trying to define essence- static or dynamic?

    May 12, 2013

    • Jeryl

      Sorry I missed this meet-up, I was tied up with familial obligations but in re: 'essence';

      "Everything unconditional belongs to pathology" ~ Nietzsche

      May 14, 2013

  • Jorge

    Always rewarding.

    May 12, 2013

  • Jorge

    I appreciate all forms of critical examination and in particular, the Conversation. It is foundational for individual and collective maturity/evolution. We harbor too many unconscious/implicit dynamics. To expose & own them takes deep and ongoing work. I appreciate Eran's efforts.

    May 11, 2013

  • darini

    I think this is an important reading to discuss in the context of the present and the chaning political landscape of history esp. post-colonial history and our political present. But sadly I cannot attend as work consumes me. I'll be back in 6 weeks

    1 · May 10, 2013

  • darini

    i really think that its still important to read and talk about pieces like this on the issue of race in all its shapes alongside the changing political lndscape of history, but my work is consuming me. I will see you all again in six weeks!

    May 10, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Thanks for the invite but I'll pass. To keep rehashing race with no end in sight is a dumb waste of time. If I came I would be insulting which would be dumb for me to do. Failing to understand that Jackie Robinson destroyed the idea that White people were superior baseball players. For the really dumb, Willie Mays put the frosting on that cake. There are cultural differences with people and White people lead the world in hypocrisy.

    1 · May 10, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Based on overwhelming facts God didn't create a superior or an inferior race. To argue the subject at all is as dumb as arguing if there is water in the ocean. Facts don't matter in this American swamp of hypocrisy the hypocrites named "politically correct".

    May 7, 2013

  • lawrence h.

    I want to confirm that I will be attending, since I was notified that
    a spot had opened up. Looking forward to attending this
    discussion.

    May 7, 2013

  • Daniela

    Sorry that I will no longer be able to attend. Looking forward to going to a future one!

    May 7, 2013

  • Jeryl

    "I think that kind of act of helping towards people with whom we have some shared group identity is really the modern way in which discrimination likely happens," Banaji says.

    "Now, most people might argue such favoritism is harmless, but Banaji and Greenwald think it might actually explain a lot about the modern United States, where vanishingly few people say they hold explicit prejudice toward others but wide disparities remain along class, race and gender lines."

    "we strengthen existing patterns of advantage and disadvantage because our friends, neighbors and children's classmates are overwhelmingly likely to share our own racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. When we help someone from one of these in-groups, we don't stop to ask: Whom are we not helping?"

    What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like?

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/codesw...­

    1 · April 24, 2013

    • Rob M.

      This looks like it will be very interesting. Thanks Jeryl!

      1 · April 27, 2013

  • Rev. Dillon B.

    can you imagine how the world would change if more young black people were indoctrinated about who they are and where they come from as a race? all races will become better for this!

    April 19, 2013

  • Randall

    A superb event description, Eran. Wish I could attend. Busy month.

    April 14, 2013

  • Jeryl

    +1'ed Christy

    1 · April 14, 2013

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