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Black Skin, White Masks

Frantz Omar Fanon

“Dirty nigger!” Or simply, “Look, a Negro!”


I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire
to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects.
Sealed into that crushing objecthood, I turned beseechingly to others. Their attention was a liberation,
running over my body suddenly abraded into nonbeing, endowing me once more with an agility that I had
thought lost, and by taking me out of the world, restoring me to it. But just as I reached the other side, I
stumbled and the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the other fixed me there, in the sense in which a
chemical solution is fixed by a dye. I was indignant; I demanded an explanation. Nothing happened. I burst
apart. Now the fragments have been put together again by another self.
As long as the black man is among his own, he will have no occasion, except in minor internal
conflicts, to experience his being through others. There is of course the moment of “being for others,” of
which Hegel speaks, but every ontology is made unattainable in a colonized and civilized society. It would
seem that this fact has not been given sufficient attention by those who have discussed the question. In the
Weltanschauung of a colonized people there is an impurity, a flaw that outlaws any ontological
explanation. Someone may object that this is the case with every individual, but such an objection merely
conceals a basic problem. Ontology--once it is finally admitted as leaving existence by the wayside--does
not permit us to understand the being of the black man. For not only must the black man be black; he must
be black in relation to the white man. Some critics will take it on themselves to remind us that this
proposition has a converse. I say that this is false. The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes
of the white man. Overnight the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has had to
place himself. His metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, his customs and the sources on which they were
based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that he did not know and that
imposed itself on him.
The black man among his own in the twentieth century does not know at what moment his inferiority
comes into being through the other. Of course I have talked about the black problem with friends, or, more
rarely, with American Negroes. Together we protested, we asserted the equality of all men in the world. In
the Antilles there was also that little gulf that exists among the almost-white, the mulatto, and the nigger.
But I was satisfied with an intellectual understanding of these differences. It was not really dramatic. And
then….
And then the occasion arose when I had to meet the white man’s eyes. An unfamiliar weight burdened
me. The real world challenged my claims. In the white world the man of color encounters difficulties in the
development of his bodily schema. Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third-
person consciousness. The body is surrounded by an atmosphere of certain uncertainty. I know that if I
want to smoke, I shall have to reach out my right arm and take the pack of cigarettes lying at the other end
of the table. The matches, however, are in the drawer on the left, and I shall have to lean back slightly. And
all these movements are made not out of habit but out of implicit knowledge. A slow composition of my
self as a body in the middle of a spatial and temporal world--such seems to be the schema. It does not
impose itself on me; it is, rather, a definitive structuring of the self and of the world--definitive because it
creates a real dialectic between my body and the world.
The Negro recognizes the unreality of many of the beliefs that he has adopted with reference to the
subjective attitude of the white man. When he does, his real apprenticeship begins. And reality proves to be
extremely resistant. But, it will be objected, you are merely describing a universal phenomenon, the
criterion of maturity being in fact adaptation to society. My answer is that such a criticism goes off in the
wrong direction, for I have just shown that for the Negro there is a myth to be faced. A solidly established
myth. The Negro is unaware of it as long as his existence is limited to his own environment; but the first
encounter with a white man oppresses him with the whole weight of his blackness.
Then there is the unconscious. Since the racial drama is played out in the open, the black man has no
time to “make it unconscious.” The white man, on the other hand, succeeds in doing so to a certain extent,
because a new element appears: guilt. The Negro’s inferiority or superiority complex or his feeling of
equality is conscious. These feelings forever chill him. They make his drama. In him there is none of the
affective amnesia characteristic of the typical neurotic.
Whenever I have read a psychoanalytic work, discussed problems with my professors, or talked with
European patients, I have been struck by the disparity between the corresponding schemas and the reality
that the Negro presents. It has led me progressively to the conclusion that there is a dialectical substitution
when one goes from the psychology of the white man to that of the black.
The earliest values, which Charles Odier describes, are different in the white man and in the black
man. The drive toward socialization does not stem from the same motivations. In cold actuality, we change
worlds. A close study should be divided into two parts:
a psychoanalytic interpretation of the life experience of the black man;
2. a psychoanalytic interpretation of the Negro myth.
But reality, which is our only recourse, prevents such procedures. The facts are much more
complicated. What are they?
The Negro is a phobogenic object, a stimulus to anxiety. From the patient treated by Sèrieux and
Capgras to the girl who confides to me that to go to bed with a Negro would be terrifying to her, one
discovers all the stages of what I shall call the Negro-phobogenesis. There has been much talk of
psychoanalysis in connection with the Negro. Distrusting the ways in which it might be applied, I have
preferred to call this chapter “The Negro and Psychopathology,” well aware that Freud and Adler and even
the cosmic Jung did not think of the Negro in all their investigations. And they were quite right not to have.
It is too often forgotten that neurosis is not a basic element of human reality. Like it or not, the Oedipus
complex is far from coming into being among Negroes. It might be argued, as Malinowski contends, that
the matriarchal structure is the only reason for its absence. But, putting aside the question whether the
ethnologists are not so imbued with the complexes of their own civilization that they are compelled to try
to find them duplicated in the peoples they study, it would be relatively easy for me to show that in the
French Antilles 97 percent of the families cannot produce one Oedipal neurosis. This incapacity is one on
which we heartily congratulate ourselves.
With the exception of a few misfits within the closed environment, we can say that every neurosis,
every abnormal manifestation, every affective erethism in an Antillean is the product of his cultural
situation. In other words, there is a constellation of postulates, a series of propositions that slowly and
subtly--with the help of books, newspapers, schools and their texts, advertisements, films, radio--work
their way into one’s mind and shape one’s view of the world of the group to which one belongs. In the
Antilles that view of the world is white because no black voice exists. The folklore of Martinique is
meager, and few children in Fort-de-France know the stories of “Compè Lapin,” twin brother of the Br’er
Rabbit of Louisiana’s Uncle Remus. A European familiar with the current trends of Negro poetry, for
example, would be amazed to learn that as late as 1940 no Antillean found it possible to think of himself as
a Negro. It was only with the appearance of Aimé Césaire that the acceptance of negritude and the
statement of its claims began to be perceptible. The most concrete proof of this, furthermore, is that feeling
which pervades each new generation of students arriving in Paris: It takes them several weeks to recognize
that contact with Europe compels them to face a certain number of problems that until their arrival had
never touched them. And yet these problems were by no means invisible.
Whenever I had a discussion with my professors or talked with European patients, I became aware of
the differences that might prevail between the two worlds. Talking recently to a physician who had always
practiced in Fort-de-France, I told him what conclusions I had arrived at; he went farther, saying that they
were valid not only in psychopathology but also in general medicine. “In the same way,” he added, “you
never encounter a case of pure typhoid such as you studied in the textbooks; there is always a more or less
manifest complication of malaria.” It would be interesting to study, for example, a case of schizophrenia as
experienced by a Negro--if indeed that kind of malady were to be found there.
What am I getting at? Quite simply this: When the Negro makes contact with the white world, a
certain sensitizing action takes place. If his psychic structure is weak, one observes a collapse of the ego.
The black man stops behaving as an actional person. The goal of his behavior will be The Other (in the
guise of the white man), for The Other alone can give him worth. That is on the ethical level: self-esteem.
But there is something else.