Thursday, April 5, 2012

Excerpts from Black Skin, White Masks

By Frantz Fanon as Translated from the 1952 French Original by Charles Lam Markmann in the Grove Weidenfield edition, published New York, 1967.

From the Introduction

The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon… or too late. I do not come with timeless truths. My consciousness is not illuminated with ultimate radiances. Nevertheless, in complete composure, I think it would be good if certain things were said….

Why write this book? No one has asked me for it. Especially those to whom it is directed. Well? Well, I reply quite calmly that there are too many idiots in this world. And having said it, I have the burden of proving it...

Toward a new humanism… Understanding among men… Our colored brothers… Mankind, I believe in you… Race prejudice… To understand and to love….

What does a man want? What does the black man want? At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brothers, I will say that the black is not a man. There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born. In most cases, that black man lacks the advantage of being able to accomplish this descent into a real hell. Man is not merely a possibility of recapture or of negation. If it is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a yes! that vibrates to cosmic harmonies. Uprooted, pursued, baffled, doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths he has worked out for himself one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antimony that coexists with him. The black is a black man; that is, as the result of a series of aberrations of affect, he is rooted at the core of a universe from which he must be extricated. The point is important. I propose nothing short of the liberation of the man of color from himself….

The black man wants to be white. The white man slaves to reach a human level. In the course of this essay, we shall observe the development of an effort to understand the black-white relation. The white man is sealed in his whiteness. The black in his blackness…. .

However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white. .

…This book is a clinical study. Those who recognize themselves in it, I think, will have made a step forward. I seriously hope to persuade my brother, whether black or white, to tear off with all his strength the shameful livery put together by centuries of incomprehension….

White civilization and European culture have forced an existential deviation on the Negro. I shall demonstrate elsewhere that what is often called the black soul is a white man's artifact. The educated Negro, slave of the spontaneous and cosmic Negro myth, feels at a given stage that his race no longer understands him. Or that he no longer understands it. Then he congratulates himself on this, and enlarging the difference, the incomprehension, the disharmony, he finds in them the meaning of his real humanity. Or more rarely he wants to belong to his people. And it is with rage in his mouth and abandon in his heart that he buries himself in the vast black abyss. We shall see that this attitude, so heroically absolute, renounces the present and the future in the name of a mythical past….

From Chapter One: The Negro and Language.

I ascribe a basic importance to the phenomenon of language. That is why I find it necessary to begin with this subject, which should provide us with one of the elements in the colored man's comprehension of the dimension of the other. For it is implicit that to speak is to exist absolutely for the other.

The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white man. A Negro behaves differently with a white man and with another Negro. That this self-division is a direct result of colonialist subjection is beyond question… No one would dream of doubting that its major artery is fed from the heart of those various theories that have tried to prove that the Negro is a stage in the slow evolution of monkey into man. Here is objective evidence that expresses reality...

But when one has taken cognizance of this situation, one considers the job completed. How can one be deaf to the voice rolling down the stages of history: "What matters is not to know the world, but to change it." This matters enormously in our lifetime.

To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilization….

Every colonized people – in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality – finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation; that is, with the culture of the mother country. The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country's cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he abandons his blackness, his jungle. In the French colonial army, and particularly in the Senegalese regiments, the black officers serve first of all as interpreters. They are used to convey the master's orders to their fellows, and they too enjoy a certain position of honor…

The process repeats itself with the man of Martinique… The black man who has lived in France for a length of time returns radically changed… Even before he had gone away, one could tell from an almost aerial manner of his carriage that new forces had been set in motion… With great reserve our "new man" bowed slightly. The habitually raucous voice hinted at a gentle inner stirring as of rustling breezes. For the Negro knows that over there in France there is a stereotype of him that will fasten on to him at the pier in Le Havre or Marseille: "Ah come from Mahtinique, it's the fuhst time Ah've evah come to Fance." …Yes, I must take great pains with my speech, because I shall be more or less judges by it. With great contempt they will say of me: "He doesn't even know how to speak French." In every group of young men in the Antilles, the one who expresses himself well, who has mastered the language, is inordinately feared; keep an eye on that one, he is almost white. In France one says, "He talks like a book." In Martinique, "He talks like a white man."

…I was talking recently with someone from Martinique who told me with considerable resentment that some Guadeloupe Negroes were trying to "pass" as Martinicians. But, he added, the lie was rapidly discovered, because they are more savage than we are; which, again, means they are farther away from the white man. It is said that the Negro loves to jabber; in my own case, when I think of the word jabber I see a gay group of children calling and shouting for the sake of calling and shouting – childrenin the midst of play, to the degree to which play can be considered an initiation into life. The Negro loves to jabber, and from this theory it is not a long road that leads to a new proposition: The Negro is just a child.

…I say that he who looks into my eyes for anything but a perpetual question will have to lose his sight; neither recognition nor hate. And if I cry out, it will not be a black cry…

"Oh, I know the blacks. They must be spoken to kindly; talk to them about their country; it's all in knowing how to talk to them…" I am not at all exaggerating: A white man addressing a Negro behaves exactly like an adult with a child and starts smirking, whispering, patronizing, cozening… The physicians of the public health service know this very well. Twenty European patients, one after another, come in: "Please sit down… Why do wish to consult me? … What are your symptoms? …" Then comes a Negro or an Arab: "Sit there, boy… What's bothering you? … Where does it hurt, huh? …" When, that is, they do not say: "You not feel good, no?"

From Chapter Five: The Fact of Blackness

"Dirty n****r!" Or simply, "Look, a Negro!"

I came into the world imbued with the will to find 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 confusing 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 I 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 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 hisbeing 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… 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… 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 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…

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 on 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 the 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…

"Look, a Negro!" It was an external stimuls that flicked over me as I passed by. I made a tight smile. "Look, a Negro!" It was true. It amused me. "Look, a Negro!" The circle was drawing a bit tighter. I made no secret of my amusement. "Mama, see the Negro! I'm frightened!" Frightened! Frightened! Now they were beginning to be afraid of me. I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible. I could no longer laugh, because I already knew that there were legends, stories, history… Then, assailed at various points, the corporeal schema crumbled, its place taken by an epidermal schema. In the train it was no longer a question of being aware of my body in the third person but in a triple person. In the train I was given not one but two, three places. I had already stopped being amused. It was not that I was finding febrile coordinates in the world. I existed triply: I occupied space. I moved toward the other… and the evanescent other, hostile but not opaque, transparent, not there, disappeared. Nausea… I was responsible at the same time for my body, for my race, for my ancestors. I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics; I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects, slave-ships, and above all else, above all: "Sho' good eatin'." On that day, completely dislocated, unable to be abroad with the other, the white man, who unmercifully imprisoned me, I took myself far from my own presence, far indeed, and made myself an object. What else could it be for me but an amputation, an excision, a hemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood? … Where shall I hide? "Look at the n****r! … Mama, a Negro! … Hell, he's getting mad … Take no notice, sir, he does not know you are as civilized as we…" My body was given to me sprawled out, distorted, recolored, clad in mourning in that white winter day. The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is mean, the Negro is ugly; look, a n****r, it's cold, the n****r is shivering, the n****r is shivering because he is cold, the little boy is trembling because he is afraid of the n****r, the n****r is shivering with cold, that cold that goes through your bones, the handsome little boy is trembling because he thinks that the n****r is quivering with rage, the little white boy throws himself into his mother's arms: Mama, the n****r's going to eat me up…

From the opposite end of the white world a magical Negro culture was hailing me… So here we have the Negro rehabilitated, "standing before the bar," ruling the world with his intuition, the Negro recognized, set on his feet again, sought after, taken up, and he is a Negro – no, he is not a Negro but the Negro, exciting the fecund antennae of the world, placed in the foreground of the world, raining his poetic power on the world, "open to all the breaths of the world." I embrace the world! I am the world! The white man has never understood this magic substitution. The white man wants the world; he wants it for himself alone. He finds himself predestined master of this world. He enslaves it. An acquisitive relation is established between the world and him. But there exist other values that fit only my forms. Like a magician, I robbed the white man of "a certain world," forever after lost to him and his. When that happened, the white man must have been rocked backward by a force that he could not identify, so little used as he is to such reactions. Somewhere beyond the objective world of farms and banana trees and rubber trees, I had subtly brought the real world into being. The essence of the world was my fortune. Between the world and me a relation of coexistence was established, I had discovered the primeval One. My "speaking hands" tore at the hysterical throat of the world. The white man had the anguished feeling that I was escaping from him and that I was taking something with me. He went through my pockets. He thrust probes into the least circumvolution of my brain. Everywhere he found only the obvious that I had a secret…

What is certain is that, at the very moment when I was trying to grasp my own being, Sartre, who remained The Other, gave me a name and thus shattered my last illusion… he was reminding me that my blackness was only a minor term. In all truth, in all truth I tell you, my shoulders slipped out of the framework of the world, my feet could no longer feel the touch of the ground. Without a Negro past, without a Negro future, it was impossible for me to live by my Negrohood. Not yet white, no longer wholly black, I was damned. Jean-Paul Sartre had forgotten that the Negro suffers in his body quite differently from the white man. Between the white man and me the connection was irrevocably one of transcendence. But the constancy of my love had been forgotten, I had defined myself as an absolute intensity of beginning. So I took up my negritude, and with tears in my eyes I put its machinery back together again. What had been broken to pieces was rebuilt, reconstructed by the intuitive lianas of my hands. My cry grew more violent: I am a Negro, I am a Negro, I am a Negro…

From Chapter Six: The Negro and Psychopathology

Every intellectual gain requires a loss in sexual potential. The civilized white man retains an irrational longing for unusual eras of sexual license, or orgiastic scenes, of unpunished rapes, of unrepressed incest. In one way these fantasies respond to Freud's life instinct. Projecting his own desires onto the Negro, the white man behaves "as if" the Negro really had them… the Negro is fixated at the genital; or at any rate he has been fixated there. Two realms: the intellectual and the sexual. An erection on Rodin's Thinker is a shocking thought. One cannot decently "have a hard on" everywhere. The Negro symbolizes the biological danger; the Jew, the intellectual danger. To suffer from a phobia of Negroes is to be afraid of the biological. For the Negro is only biological. The Negroes are animals. They go about naked….

Over three or four years I questioned some 500 members of the white race – French, German, English, Italian. I took advantage of a certain air of trust, of relaxation; in each instance I waited until my subject no longer hesitated to talk to me quite openly – that is, until he was sure that he would not offend me. Or else, in the midst of associational tests I inserted the word Negro among some twenty others. Almost 60 percent of the replies took this form: Negro brought for biology, penis, strong, athletic, potent, boxer, Joe Lewis, Jesse Owens, Senegalese troops, savage, animal, devil, sin… The Negro symbolizes the biological. First of all, he enters puberty at the age of nine and is a father at the age of tem; he is hot-blooded, and his blood is strong; he is tough. As a white man remarked to me not long ago, with a certain bitterness: "You all have such strong constitutions." What a beautiful race – look at the Senegalese… But they must be brutal… I just can't see them putting those big hands of theirs on my shoulders. I shudder at the mere thought of it… I have always been struck by the speed with which "handsome young Negro" turns into "young colt" or "stallion." …one is no longer aware of the Negro but only of a penis; the Negro is eclipsed, He is turned into a penis. He is a penis… The white man is convinced that the Negro is a beast; if it is not the length of the penis, then it is the sexual potency that impresses him…

There are… men who go to "houses" in order to be beaten by Negroes; passive homosexuals who insist on black partners… I have a confession to make to you to make to you: I have never been able, without revulsion, to hear a man say of another man: "He is so sensual!" I do not know what the sensuality of a man is. [uh huh –-added by d]

From Chapter Eight: By Way of Conclusion

I do not carry innocence to the point of believing that appeals to reason or to respect human dignity can alter reality. For the Negro who works on a sugar plantation in Le Robert, there is only one solution: to fight. He will embark on this struggle, and he will pursue it, not as the result of Marxist or idealistic analysis but quite simply because he cannot conceive of life otherwise than in the form of a battle against exploitation, misery, and hunger… Intellectual alienation is a creation of middle-class society. What I call middle-class society is any society that becomes rigidified in predetermined forms, forbidding all evolutions, all gains, all progress, all discovery. I call middle class a closed society in which life has no taste, in which the air is tainted, in which ideas and men are corrupt. And I think that a man who takes a stand against this death is in a sense a revolutionary.

The discovery of the existence of a Negro civilization in the fifteenth century confers no patent of humanity on me. Like it or not, the past can in no way guide me in the present moment… I have ceaselessly striven to show the Negro that in a sense he makes himself abnormal; to show the white man that he is at once the perpetrator and the victim of a delusion. There are times when the black man is locked into his body… the body is no longer a cause of the structure of consciousness, it has become an object of consciousness. The Negro, however sincere, is the slave of the past. Nonetheless, I am a man and in this sense the Peloponesian War is as much mine as the invention of the compass… Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act…. In no way should I dedicate myself to the revival of an unjustly unrecognized Negro civilization. I will not make myself the man of any past. I do not want to exalt the past at the expense of my present and of my future… The black man wants to be like the white man. For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white. [*** verbatim phrase from the Introduction – added by d] …Have I no other purpose on earth, then, but to avenge the Negro of the seventeenth century? In this world that is already trying to disappear, do I have to pose the problem of black truth? … There is no Negro mission; there is no white burden. I find myself suddenly in a world in which things do evil; a world in which I am summoned to battle; a world in which it is always a question of annihilation or triumph… My life is caught in the lasso of existence. My freedom turns me back on myself. No, I do not have the right to be a Negro… I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other. One duty alone: That of not renouncing my freedom through my choices…. There is no white world, there is no white ethic, any more than there is a white intelligence… In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself… The Negro is not. Any more than the white man… It is through the effort to recapture the self and scrutinize the self, it is through the lasting tension of their freedom that men will be able to create the ideal conditions of their existence for a human world. Superiority? Inferiority? Why not the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to myself? Was my freedom not given to me then in order to build the world of the You? At the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness. My final prayer: O my body, make of me always a man who questions!

1 comment:

Zinzi Gugu said...

You crack me up, d.