Saturday, 26 September 2009

Black Skin White Mask

I have just finished reading the, ‘Black Skin White Mask’, by the French-Martinican writer, Franz Fanon and once again Fanon has proved himself a master in Afro-Western racial relationship. I was first introduced to Franz Fanon by my Professor of Critical Writing back in days in the higher institution.

In actual fact, it just happened this way. This professor, Dr. Osita Nwosu was lecturing my class of Mass Communications/Journalism and made a reference to, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, another beautiful and classical masterpiece written by Fanon. He then stopped and asked if anyone knows him and I answered yes, the only person in the class of Print Journalism who knows him and have read the book. He then went over to the Broadcast Journalism class and asked the same question and nobody answered in affirmative. At that point, he developed a very serious doubt about my assertion.

When he returned to my class, he asked me to stand up and I stood up. He then asked me which of his work I have read and I replied, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ and he asked me to make 5 minutes summary of the book and being a great lover of Fanon, I ended up spending about 30 minutes discussing the book. At the end of the day, I did not only receive a standing ovation from the professor, the class and the passers-by, I also made a history in his teaching career as the first student to pass his course without sitting for any examination. He gave me 50 marks as a bonus and said that whatever I get in the examination would be added to my overall mark. At the end of the term, I ended up making about 98 marks in the course.

Against this backdrop of love for the works of Fanon I decided to revisit him nearly a decade after that episode. In this classic, ‘Black Skin White Mask’, Fanon once again took up the controversial topic of racial relationship existing between the whites and the blacks. His point in the classic is that the world would never witness that utopian world where the blacks would eventually become equal with the whites since the black race has a already accepted the status of a defeated race; and even if the Blackman makes series of efforts to achieve this equality, the Whiteman would always come up with terms to ensure that the equality is not achieved.

He posited that the theory that a Blackman is not capable of governing himself is a ploy deployed by the Whiteman to perpetually subjugate the Blackman unto himself. He referred to it as a psychological warfare on the psyche of the Blackman stressing that even though the Blackman is capable of ruling himself, he is always confused whenever the Whiteman comes up with the argument of him not being capable of governing himself. He was of the opinion that this is the greatest psychological barrier to the development and advancement of the Blackman which ultimately registers in his mind the picture of a defeated race, a second class citizen, a colonised race and as a result a race not capable of making it to the same level with the White race. The consequence of this is that the egalitarianism he is trying to achieve continues to elude him.

Fanon in this classical originally published in 1952, however stressed that for the Blackman, the struggle continues. He never backs up or relents and to measure up to the same level with the Whiteman; he has to transfer that effort and frustration to sex. This is what he, through the process of psychoanalysis, referred to as a psychosexual warfare of the Blackman against the Whiteman and this term he ostensibly borrowed from Sigmund Freud. Because the Blackman feels very inferior in the presence of the Whiteman, he tries to use a weapon, an exclusive advantage he has over the Whiteman to fight him and this advantage lies in his sexual prowess and the size of his dick. It is because of this reason that when the Blackman first arrives in Europe, he voraciously looks for a Whitewoman to have sex with and the act of sexually humiliating the Whitewoman and making her cry like a baby on the bed makes him a coloniser, a conqueror and an equal with the Whiteman. Through sex, he has been able to achieve two purposes; to prove to a Whitewoman that he has every power over her and to prove to a Whiteman that his sexual power and the size of his dick, is enough to intimidate him.

“As for the Negroes, they have tremendous sexual powers. What do you expect, with all the freedom they have in their jungles! They copulate at all times and in all places. They are really genital. They have so many children that they cannot even count them. Be careful, or they will flood us with little mulattoes...Our women are at the mercy of the Negroes. For the sexual potency of the Negro is hallucinating”, quoted Fanon of what the Whiteman thinks of the Blackman and quoting a French Journalist and film maker, Michel Cournot, he added, “The black man’s sword is a sword. When he has thrust it into your wife, she has really felt something. It is a revelation. In the chasm that it has left, your little toy is lost. Pump away until the room is awash with your sweat, you might as well just be singing. This is good-by...Four Negroes with their penises exposed would fill a cathedral. They would be unable to leave the building until their erections had subsided; and in such close quarters that would not be simple matter. To be comfortable without problems, they always have the open air. But then they are faced with a constant insult: the palm tree, the breadfruit tree, and so many other proud growths that would not slacken for an empire, erect as they are for all eternity, and piercing heights that are not easily reached at any price.”

Fanon is of the opinion that this feeling is deeply and jealously entrenched in the psyche of the Whiteman, hence the reason most of them fear and loathe the Blackman and measure up or retaliate-in order to dispel that fear-through degrading punishment and anger towards the Blackman. He fears the Blackman and the idea that the Blackman has got what he has not got builds up a tension in him which he must release through racial anger and humiliation of the Blackman. As for the white woman, he continually longs for this experience or to loathe it entirely. And because the Blackman has got what her white lover has not got, she goes into a long process that would eventually shape all these frustrations into racial hatred of the Blackman.

As for the Blackman, all these experiences worsens the whole situation by putting him deeper in a very serious dilemma which in turn leads him to further question the worth and acceptability of his colour and race. He seriously develops within him an utter rejection of his race and colour and longs to be like a Whiteman. This is inferiority complex in action. He begins to feel less human and less superior to the Whiteman and tries by all means to imitate his way of life. This, he manifests daily by the way he speaks the language of the Whiteman, the way he dresses like a Whiteman, prefers to go to an only white club, date a Whitewoman, drop his indigenous name and completely adopts a White-sounding name and in a nutshell, completely associates himself with the white race and in the process becomes what Fanon called the, ‘Black Skin White Masks’ through the process of epidermalisation.
This feeling gives him that sense of, ‘Yes we have arrived’, and eventually makes him to begin to look down on his fellow blacks or refer to himself as a super black above other blacks.

‘Black Skin, White Masks’, which is Fanon’s first book, is truly a classical in every sense, a great and an in-depth of psychopathology of colonisation and just at about 200 pages, it makes for easy reading too. From the nature of the topic the book delved into, it is little wonder the reason for the obscurity of the book in the western world and its popularity amongst freedom fighters especially the African-Americans. The book inspired anti-colonial movements in various parts of the world hence its being loathed and obscurity in the west.

Cover Photograph Courtesy of Pluto Press.

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