I’m really not sure how to feel about Black Skin, White Masks to be honest. The first thing that struck me about this compared to other texts was its ‘readability’. It seemed quite accessible to me and not dense or dry or ugh like some other things (Hobbes, Freud). Or maybe I’m just being incredibly simpleminded and enjoying the larger size of the text.
On the other hand, I really disagree with a lot of what Fanon is saying. I’ll start with something petty that bothers me about this: I hate footnotes. Really. Truly. I wish they weren’t a thing. Sometimes I read them, but never in the place I’m supposed to, and a lot of times (especially if they’re bloody long like half the ones in here) I’ll skip them entirely because the print is lighter or smaller and at the bottom and it’s honestly too much work.
Now to actual content: Fanon says in the introduction that “Many Blacks will not recognize themselves in the following pages. Likewise many Whites.” (xvi) He follows that up by saying that just because we don’t understand something fully or experience it ourselves doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality, and that all the things he puts in his book (analysis?) he has found to be true “any number of times”. This is a nice set up but a lot of the things in the text itself feel a lot like generalizations. (Also, as a ‘White’, I don’t recognize myself in this.)
As we have talked about in seminar many (many) times, I don’t like generalizations/stereotypes/assumptions. I think that Fanon overgeneralizes based on racial and ethnic group, and he compares a lot of situations that black people experience to those experienced by the Jews. (“I was drawing closer to the Jew, my brother in misfortune. Disgraceful!” (101)) Certainly, both of these groups have been through a lot of unnecessary crap. Still, comparing their situations feels overly general to me.
Towards the middle of the book (page 86) we suddenly start talking about penises. Okay. If “The fierce black bull is not the phallus” and “The Senegalese soldier’s rifle is not a penis, but a genuine Lebel 1916 model”, then why are we bringing up genitalia at all? (There was also a brief section on pages 79-80 where Fanon talked about a patient-type scenario, analyzing dreams and the unconscious. Very reminiscent of Freud.)
I could pick on any number of quotes; I’ve written down a ton of them. I’m going to end with one that I think is particularly thought-provoking:
“Sin is black as virtue is white.” (118)
I hate the footnotes too! But when you realize that 80% of the page is a giant footnote, it’s a relief because that’s one less page you have to read. I know, most random thing to comment on.
I think Fanon was focusing more on the psychic intentions behind racialised structures. Pretty sure the reason he brings up genitalia is as a critique of the Eurocentrism of Freudian analysis; an attempt to demonstrate the woeful deficiency of that method for different racial experiences.
I think that generalizations have to be made at a certain point, especially considering Fanon’s objective is to break down those generalizations (“There is no white world; there is no white ethic- any more than there is a white intelligence”). He is also careful to distinguish between the variety of black experience. I find the assumptions he makes about women living out their fear of rape by a black man as wish fulfillment fantasies much more troubling (156)…
One of the first things that does strike me about this book (before it’s content and real messages sink in) is how readable it is. Its readability is probably one of the major reasons I can keep going.