Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Mask (1952). New York: Grove Press.
A Book Review By Ozodi Osuji
From a political angle Franz Fanon’s most important books are The Wretched of the Earth and A Dying Colonialism. However, I decided to review this particular book, Black Skin, White Mask, primarily because I noticed that many Africans have a tendency to talk about inferiority feeling in Africans. Generally, such Africans lob the term inferiority feeling at some Africans and do so as a put down. That would seem to suggest that they have healthy self-concept. However, when you come close to them you find that they are the most inferior feeling Africans on planet earth!
What they do is see something in them, deny it and then project it to other persons that in their opinion seem to have what they denied in their selves, inferiority feeling. Having grandstanded as black loving they then think that their inferiority feeling is not apparent to professionals trained to discern such matters in people. These people deceive themselves and want to deceive other Africans; if you allow them to deceive you they would take you to the cleaners.
It is such Africans who pretend to love Africa who when they come to positions of political power in Africa literally cart the wealth of Africa to the Western world; they run to the West upon the slightest medical ailment for treatment. This shows that deep down they feel inferior; they believe that their own African medical professionals are not good and that only white medical professionals are good.
They have not dealt with their inferiority feeling at the objective level and are merely mouthing concepts they do not fully understand.
What I decided to do is use Franz Fanon as a point of departure to talk about inferiority and superiority feeling in Africans and African Americans. In effect, this is really not a typical book review that limits itself to a particular book but a spring board from which I talk about a subject that I believe needs to be understood by Africans.
The nature of this subject makes it necessary for me to elaborate on the human psyche hence the paper is going to be longer than the usual two pages book review (It will be twelve pages long).
Franz Fanon (1925-1961) was born in Martinique, a French department in the Caribbean in 1925. His parents were middle class and sent him to the best secondary school on the Island (one of his teachers was Aime Cesaire, the famous poet of Negritude). Upon completing his secondary schooling at age 18, which was during the Second World War, he joined the French army and was shipped off to Algeria. After further training in Algeria he saw fighting against the Germans in Europe.
At the end of war he returned to Martinique and did his undergraduate education and returned to France for medical studies. He obtained the MD degree and specialized in psychiatry, which he completed in 1951.
He wrote Black Skin, White Mask originally as his doctoral thesis but it was rejected and he had to write a more acceptable thesis. In 1952 he published the book (he published the Wretched of the Earth in 1961; Dying Colonialism was published after his death in 1961).
Fanon was what we would today call a radical student. Whereas he did not consider himself a communist he associated with leftists and ultimately joined the Algerians fighting for their liberation from French rule. Upon completing his medical training he sought and got a job in Algeria. There he worked in a psychiatric hospital while participating in Algerians efforts to liberate themselves from French rule. Apparently, the French authorities got wind of what he was up to and repatriated him back to France in 1957.
He immediately left France and went to Tunisia to join up with Arab freedom fighters. Apparently, Tunisia sent him to Accra, Ghana as its ambassador. He participated in the several conferences that President Kwame Nkrumah’s burgeoning government had organized. He was later diagnosed with Leukemia and sent to the United States for treatment. He died at age 36 at Maryland, USA.
Franz Fanon was a psychiatrist. Let me therefore expand a bit on the state of psychiatry when he was educated in the field in the 1940s. I do so to give us an idea of the type of education he received thus what shaped his thinking.
Psychiatry as we know it today is a late nineteenth century phenomenon. In Europe, as elsewhere, human beings were baffled by mental illness and did not really know what to make of it. Many attributed it to possession by demons. If you recall, in the bible there is a scene where Jesus cast out the demons that had allegedly taken hold of the mind of a mentally ill person. Thus, many Christians believed that the mentally ill were so as a result of possession by the devil. Mentally ill persons therefore were shunned. Many of them roamed the pathways of their villages and towns ignored by the people.
In the mid nineteenth century Europe and North America there was social work movement to help the poor and homeless. One manifestation of that movement was to house the mentally ill in asylums where they were at least fed properly. Thus, all over Europe and North America the mentally ill in an area were gathered in one place (asylum) and fed.
In Nigeria the mentally ill are still left to roam the streets; Nigerians are not even where Europe was in the mid nineteenth century. The few asylums in Nigeria (built by the British) seldom take good care of the mentally ill and they might as well be left to wander the streets eating from garbage dumps.
In the West, the mentally ill were simply housed and fed. There was no known treatment for them so no efforts were made to treat them. Indeed, no one even knew what to call their mental disorder.
In the late 1800s, a German medical doctor by the name of Emil Kraepelin began what is generally considered the first serious study of mental illness. He delineated the symptoms of what we now call Schizophrenia and Manic-depression (the two major psychoses). However, he did not call the disorder Schizophrenia; that was left to the Swiss psychiatrist, Eugene Bleuler to do.
Kraepelin called what we now call schizophrenia dementia praecox and called the other major mental disorder manic depression (we now call it bipolar affective disorder).
For our present interest, the salient point is that Emil Kraepelin described the symptoms of what we now call schizophrenia and manic depression. What he described is pretty much how mental health professionals still see these mental disorders.
Whereas my goal here is not to transform the reader into a mental health professional, let me briefly say that psychosis is a mental disorder characterized by thought disorder. The individual generally has delusions and or hallucinations.
Delusion means believing what is not true as true (if you believe that you are Jesus Christ and you are not Jesus Christ obviously you are deluded…many mentally ill persons believe that they are Jesus or similar perceived important persons).
Hallucination is perception of what is not there as there; hallucination could occur in any of the five senses: auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, proprioceptive, nociceptive, hypnagogic etc. The psychotic is deluded and hallucinates.
Kraepelin described these symptoms back in the late 1800s and early 1900s and the symptoms remain the same.
There are primarily two major mental disorders, schizophrenia and manic depression. Schizophrenia itself has many subtypes, such as disorganized (this is every person’s idea of a mentally ill person, he is the guy dirty and disheveled walking the street and eating from garbage cans), paranoid (this type believes that other people are out to get him, is suspicious, guarded and defensive), undifferentiated (not disorganized or paranoid), catatonic (withdrawn from the world, is in a state of waxy stupor), residual (usual after medications have reduced the major symptoms the person still shows some residual symptoms of schizophrenia but not in a bizarre manner) etc.
Whatever is the type the schizophrenic usually has bizarre delusions and generally also has auditory hallucinations (where there are visual hallucinations often there is an organic issue involved)?
In manic-depression the individual swings from mania to depression. In mania he feels extraordinarily happy, is euphoric, laughs as if he won billions of dollars in the lotto and generally has affect that is out of touch with his immediate environment (if someone around you is dead and you are happy and laughing your affect is not appropriate to the occasion, is it?). The manic person generally has delusions (he may believe that he is the richest man on earth, has millions of dollars in the bank that he does not have, such as claim to be Bill Gates or Barack Obama). Generally, his affect shifts from euphoric mood to depressed mood.
In depression he suddenly feels that life is not worth living and loses interests in the activities of daily living, such as exhibit no interest in work, sports, schools, socialization, and self-care and generally wants to kill himself.
In normal persons the individual’s affect tends to be stable and if they shift there is almost always an environmental cause for it. If your child died you would probably feel sad (depressed); if you won the lotto you would probably feel euphoric. In bipolar affective disorder there is no environmental cause for the shifts in mood; therefore, it has to be somatic, internal.
These days we know that there are biochemical factors at work in mental disorders, such as excessive neuro-exciter (neuropinipohrine) in mania, deficient neuro-depressor (serotonin) in depression; excessive dopamine in schizophrenia and deficient GABA in anxiety disorders.
There are variants of the two major psychoses, such as delusion disorder, schizophreniform, and organic mental disorder etc. Additionally, there are hundreds of emotional disorders, disorders induced by drugs, aging brains and disorders found exclusively in children. There are personality disorders found in people in all walks of life (your country’s president or work boss, for example, may have narcissistic and or anti-social personality disorder). I doubt that there is a human being that does not have a psychological issue (are you mentally healthy; what does that mean; is stealing from the Nigerian government mental health or antisocial personality disorder; in my experience 99% of Nigerians have treatable mental disorders and, worse, they do not know it; no wonder the country is in a mess!).
For our present purposes, Emil Kraepelin described the two major mental disorders. Emil Kraepelin is considered the father of psychiatry in the Western world. He did not come up with cure for mental illness; and no one has done that to the present (medications merely mask the disorders but do not cure them).
Just out of curiosity, may I ask: how do Africans define mental disorders? Do Africans have cure for mental disorders? I want to see your answer in writing, not just talking. Africans talk too much and do not like to read and write. It is now time for Africans to show the world their science and technology rather than always claim to have had those in abundance in ancient Egypt, not in the contemporary world where they are literally nowhere to be found in science and technology!
While Kraepelin was setting up psychiatry (psychiatry is that branch of medicine that deals with the mentally ill) Sigmund Freud was setting up psychoanalysis to study neurosis; that is, normal persons with living issues.
In the 1890s Freud began paying attention to his clients’ emotional issues (he was a regular medical doctor then). He noticed that many of the patients who came to complain about this or that somatic disorder upon examination did not have physical disorders. Yet they believed that they had medical issues. So, what was going on? (Some of them were starved of attention and just needed someone to listen to them…to the present many of the women who go to doctors go to talk to someone who would listen to them because their husbands do not listen to them and the larger society does not listen to women.)
Freud went to Paris and studied with Charcot, a guy who was saying something about hypnosis as a useful tool in medicine. Upon return to Vienna, Austria he began what is now called psychoanalysis, talking therapy. He felt that many of the Victorian women who came to see him actually had sexual issues and not medical problems.
The Victorian society repressed sexuality, especially female sexuality. Women did not even dare mention the sexual part of their bodies. The world would collapse if a woman said that she had a vagina and god forbid that she called it cunt (say that word now; you probably cannot get yourself to say it!). It was simply out of the question for folks to even acknowledge their sexual organs and sexual activities.
Interestingly, whereas the folks were pretending lack of interest in sex, London had more prostitutes during the Victorian era than at any other time!
Anyway, old Freud figured that many of the women who fainted upon the mere mention of certain words were really repressed sexually. He began studying what he called hysteria in women.
To cut a long story short, Freud came to the conclusion that human beings, men and women, are not the refined sexual beings that the Christian religion made them out to be or wants them to be. He said that people in nature are polymorphously sexually perverse.
According to Freud, the average guy not only wants to have sex with all the women around him but also with his own mother and sisters. The average girl not only wants to have sex with all the men around her but with her own father and brothers. Of course, neither of them dare acknowledge these desires.
In childhood society makes sure that folks don’t even acknowledge their sexuality (I, a graduate student, nearly fainted when my clinical supervisor told a woman to go the bathroom and masturbate or something instead making the sexual innuendos she was making; he said that there was nothing wrong with masturbation; I actually thought that I was in hell when in a class on human sexuality the professor showed a movie of man and woman having sex; my Catholic upbringing simply did not go that far in what is acceptable sexual behavior).
As Freud sees it, in childhood all of us were forced by our societies to suppress our natural sexuality (which he called Id). Our Id simply wants to have sex with any person around (men and women, Freud said that people are bisexual). The boy child wants to have sex with his mother and sisters and all women; the girl child wants to have sex with her brothers and father.
Society saw to it that none of us even remembers having these sort of forbidden desires (do you remember ever having a desire to have sex with your mother…your mind probably cannot even tolerate such a question!).
There are, of course, medical reasons why sex among family members should be forbidden. Genetic disorders in recessive forms can become dominant if members of the same family have sex and produce sick children. The survival of the human race requires suppressing sex in the immediate family. Sexual taboos had roots in biological reality!
Freud contends that the Id desire is suppressed by what he called the Superego (social mores, which we internalize as our conscience).
The properly socialized child internalized his society’s superego (laws, norms, rules etc.) and they are now part of his conscience and he uses it to check his id, his natural inclinations for perverse sexuality and aggression…as animals we took whatever we wanted to eat but in organized society we are told that stealing is bad.
Properly socialized persons with strong superegos do not steal; only those with weak superegos steal. Freud would say that male children from broken families where there are no strong male figures to enforce rules internalize weak superegos and hence tend to commit crimes. By that standard a country like Nigeria where many of the people steal from the government the people have weak superegos.
A third part of the psyche comes into being in what Freud called the ego. The ego is sort of like a referee balancing the desires of the Id and the injunctions of the superego. The id says fuck your mother; the superego says you dare not even think about it, the ego redirects your attention to other sex objects in your world, such as the beautiful damsels at your school.
You get the point; our heads, Freud believes, are battle fields where three forces are at war, our nature, id; society, and superego; and reason, ego fight it out. The normal person balances the three forces in his head.
As Freud sees it, the oedipal conflict in our heads are often not properly resolved (when it is smoothly resolved the girl gives up her desire for her father and instead identifies with her mother and the boy identifies with his father).
In some situations the oedipal complex is not properly resolved and the child still wants to do what society asks him not to do. Consciously, he, of course, cannot say: I want to have sex with my mother. That thought is totally unacceptable to his conscious mind. But Freud says that it is there in the back of his mind, in his unconscious mind, making a mess of his life (for example, making it impossible for him to have satisfactory sexual relationship with his girlfriend or wife).
Neurotic folks come to Freud’s office, lay on his famous couch and Freud tells them to say whatever enter their minds without using reason to block unacceptable thoughts (this is called free association). Believe it or not, when folks engage in free association they often say that as children they wanted to see their mothers naked or even have sex with her!
Freud, in effect, said: get what you repressed into your unconscious mind out into the open. Let it all hang out, man. He would then analyze all that stuff dredged out of your unconscious mind (and charge you several hundred dollars per hour of his time). When what is hidden comes out folks feel relief (Catharsis).
(Poor people do not go to psychotherapists, except as in cheap group therapy, not individual sessions. In twenty five years of doing that sort of work I seldom had African-American clients; most of my clients were white folks, usually from families with incomes of over $100, 000 a year. The rich and their children go get analyzed and the poor drink alcohol or mess up, big time. Someone should appoint analysts for the criminals ruling Nigeria.)
When you come to terms with the warring forces in your unconscious mind your life is straightened up a bit. For example, why don’t you love your wife? Could it be that you still love your mother and only want to have sex with her, not your wife? You never know what old Sigmund would tell you!
If you can enter into transference relationship with the old boy (analyst) and project what is in your unconscious mind to him, say to him what you wished that you said to your father and repressed you never know what kind of shit would come tumbling out of your filthy mouth (and this time no adult is there to wash your mouth with soup for the analyst gave you permission to say anything; you are not a naughty boy anymore!).
For our present interest Freud began psychoanalysis and rich folks came to his office to analyze what is in their unconscious minds, to find out what is preventing them from living fully. If your wife can get up the courage to tell you to make love to her like you would to a whore she is making progress! Ordinarily, she pretends disinterest in kinky sex but then is angry at you for not making her have gazillion orgasms. Now she tells you exactly what to do to her to give her those much wished for orgasm! Darling, here, give me your hand, here is the G-sport, stroke it. That is good, keep on going, and don’t stop (then she shouts from satiation of her sexual needs and for the rest of the day walks in cloud nine, instead of brooding, unhappy).
Do you get the point? After analysis folks feel free to be human, unrepressed by social forces (mores).
I bet that as a Christian some of my language is offensive to you? You would rather I employed sanitized language, eh? And while at it, you would rather they banned pornography?
Here is some information for you. If you banned pornography today rape of women would go up exponentially.
And here is another piece of news for you. Your minister at church who talks poetry is probably visiting prostitutes at night! Worse, he is most likely to rape your child, boy or girl. You have heard what Catholic priests have been up to, haven’t you?
Reverend Swaggard talks about the need to not have sex outside marriage and goes to a motel room to have sex with prostitutes; Reverend Jim Baker talks shop about marriage and in the meantime is having sex with men, not just his wife!
Old Freud wants people to quit their pretenses over sex and permit themselves to satisfy their sexuality with consenting adults.
The point is that Freud tells us that adult society is based on pretentious morality and that we ought to accept our true selves; he said that we are sexual animals.
As a psychotherapist I have heard it all, those we call the pillars of society, medical doctors, lawyers etc. telling me how they cruise the streets picking up hookers for sex and going home to their wives to pretend proper behavior. Old Freud would say that all these happen because of our repression of our Id. Understand the Id and manage it and you would do fine, but whatever you do please do not pretend to be who you are not; you are not an angel; you are an animal with animal needs and that is all there is to you.
Freud blew the whole sex thing wide open. His contribution to psychology is his feedback that we look at our sexuality with a bit more honesty than pretension.
When Freud began his psychoanalysis other medical doctors in Vienna joined the psychoanalytic club (you have to be analyzed before you can analyze other people, for among other reasons so as to understand yourself and not project your issues to other people). One of those doctors was Alfred Adler. Adler became second in command to Freud. However, right from the beginning he was not happy with Freud’s over emphasis on sex as the primary motivator of our behaviors.
By 1910 Adler had developed his own ideas about the nature of neurosis. He no longer saw eye to eye with Freud and naturally he was kicked out by Freud (Freud was dictatorial). Adler formed his own psychoanalytic club called Individual psychology.
Now, pay attention to Adler for all that Fanon did was use Adler’s psychological framework to develop his view of black folk’s psychology in his book, black skin, white mask.
Adler’s basic view is that all human beings feel inferior. The next time you call somebody inferior feeling stop and ask about your own inferiority feeling!
The African who calls other people inferior feeling must pause and understand his own feelings of inferiority. You must first remove the plank in your eyes before you see the speck of sand in other people’s eyes. Or, as they say, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Let me reiterate; Adler said that all of us feel inferior, in degrees. Those born with organic problems (biological issues that make them feel weaker than others tend to feel exaggerated sense of inferiority). Social factors like racism could also exaggerate our sense of inferiority.
The point is that all people feel inferior but some more so than others. Where it is exaggerated there are biological and or sociological factors at work.
To be human is to feel inadequate and inferior Vis a Vis the environment. We are born and will die and that makes us feel inferior. The physical and social environment does not care for our safety and does things to us that we do not like. Tsunami, earthquake, volcano, flood, drought, tornado, plagues virus, fungus, bacteria etc. could destroy you at any moment. We are vulnerable and feel weak.
In addition some have physical issues and or social issues that exacerbate their sense of weakness. Black Americans are told that they are unintelligent by white folks; this exacerbates their existential sense of nothingness.
To live we must try to overcome our weakness. It takes power to master our environment hence survive on it. Thus, we struggle to overcome our inferiority.
Every child feels inferior and compensates with drive to power and superiority. All of us seek power and superiority, Adler says. This is a human issue but it is exaggerated in some persons.
Some feel more inferior and compensate with more superiority. As Adler sees it, the normal person has little inferiority and little superiority; the neurotic has too much inferiority and too much superiority.
The neurotic has an all or nothing approach to superiority. His whole life is lived as if he is the fictional important person he desires to become; he cannot tolerate not becoming important. At school he must be first in his class or he feels that he is the last, best or nothing (Adler called it all or nothing approach to living).
(Adler, by the way, built on his own experience. As a child he felt shy, that is, inadequate relative to the other boys and compensated with drive to be good at his studies. He struggled to be the first boy in his class or he felt like he was a failure; that way he bulldozed his way to obtaining a medical degree from the University of Vienna at a very Young age. Adler was the neurotic he was talking about; and you are also a neurotic if you are a successful person.)
Feeling of inferiority has nothing to do with intelligence; in fact, the more intelligent a person is the more likely he is to feel insecure than averagely intelligent persons. Consider Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler was a neurotic (in today’s diagnostic categories he could be diagnosed as having narcissistic, antisocial and paranoid personality disorders…personality disorder is another name for neurosis). He was born with organic issues. His stomach could not handle all kinds of food. He literally fainted if you smoked around him. He fainted if he drank a cup of coffee. His body could not even handle meat. He was a vegetarian. All said he felt inferior as a result of his biological issues.
Like all people he did not like to feel inferior. He tried to feel superior. The way he could do so is to tell him that he is superior to all people. I estimate his IQ at around 140 so in truth he is superior to 99% of the people. But he could have used that intelligence to serve the people. Instead, he used it to try dominating the people.
Adler said that each of us must use his abilities to serve people (he called it social interest). What Adler teaches is that people should accept their inferiority feeling and pursue superiority but put their pursuit to serving society. He said that we cannot get to a point where we do not feel inferior. A neurotic must redirect his movement to serving people rather than trying to merely seem superior to them.
Freud began psychoanalysis. Adler joined him and expanded it. Other folks, such as Carl Jung, Otto Rank and Karen Horney joined up the movement to understand how the human mind works in scientific term (not from religious or philosophical speculations) took off.
Thus, we have German psychoanalysis (actually it was mostly a Jewish affair) club working with worried well neurotics. On the other end of the spectrum was Kraepelin expanding our understanding of psychosis. Kraepelin helped us understand psychosis and Freud, Adler and Jung helped us understand neurosis.
Psychology and Psychiatry began as a German affair. The Germans, as you know from philosophy, think abstractly. Have you read Leibnitz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Feuerbach? Did you understand what you read? These folks tend to go off on a tangent talking abstract nonsense. Try reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind and see if you understand what the hell the man is saying or read Kant’s Critique of Pure reason or Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea. You get the idea, they are speculative and idealistic. German psychology is speculative.
The English has something about them. They are grounded on planet earth. They take this world seriously and want to study it as it is and understand it on its own terms and make the most of it. They are logical positivists, empiricists and scientists (the scientific method studies the world as it is, not as we want it to be; it posits ideas, hypotheses about the world and accepts those verified as true and discards those without empirical evidence supporting them).
They do not listen to you if you go on a trip talking abstract stuff. John Bull wants you to show him how your ideas work in our world of space, time and matter.
Englishmen did not like all that German speculative psychoanalysis. They wanted a science of psychology. Watson, B.F. Skinner, Esynck and other Angelo Saxon thinkers came into psychology rather late and brought their realism to bear on it (the Russian, Pavlov joined them). They, in effect, told Freud: don’t talk about what goes inside peoples unconscious minds for we do not see it; what we see are people’s actual behaviors.
The English redirected psychology to behaviorism. Behaviorism does not speculate about peoples thinking but observes their actual behavior.
How does it work? If I praise your ego you like it. If I give you something tangible you like it. Therefore, instead of worrying about what is in your head I will concentrate on doing what works in getting you to do what I want you to do for me.
Psychology then should be about people’s actual behavior, not their ideal behavior. If you want someone to do something positively reinforce such behavior in him? Do you want your child to be a good student? Don’t moralize about the virtues of education. Praise him or her when he studies; give him psychological and or material gifts when he studies.
This is called classical and operant conditioning. It works in behavior modification.
By the 1952s certain accidental discoveries led psychiatry to realize that mental illness is not only in folk’s minds but in their bodies. Someone had discovered the medication, Thorazine, to treat Tuberculosis. Somehow someone discovered that it calmed down agitated psychotics. So from 1952 we began giving psychotics Thorazine (the first psychotropic medication for psychosis).
Similar medications were soon discovered, such as millaril, navane, prolixine, Haldol etc. By the 1990s we have improved medications for treating psychosis, such as Risperdal, Zyprexa etc.
For mania we now have lithium and Depakote and others; for depression we now have Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil; for anxiety disorders we now have the various anxiolytic medications.
The relevant point is that beginning in the 1950s we discovered that mental illness has something to do with the role of the various neurotransmitters (dopamine, neuropiniphren serotonin, GABA etc.) in the brain and we began treating the mentally ill with medications. As a result we had to empty our asylums
In the past folks used to be sent to asylums and stayed there all their lives. These days the average stay at psychiatric hospitals is only a few weeks. Folks are stabilized with medications and released into the community (and treated by medical practionners in the community and also case managed).
Psychiatry has gone from merely weigh-housing the mentally ill to actually giving them neuroleptic medications that help control their symptoms although not cure them.
Franz Fanon went to medical school in the 1940s. From what I said above what can you say about his psychiatric training? He was trained in psychoanalysis; he was exposed to Freud and Adler. He was exposed to some behaviorism (Watson, Pavlov etc.).
He was not exposed to medicinal psychiatry. He would have known nothing about giving the mentally ill medications (except may be try electric shock or lobotomy on the depressed)!
Franz Fanon gravitated to Alfred Adler’s individual psychology, and less so to Freud. Fanon took Adler and used his ideas to apply to himself and to his fellow black folks. The book, Back Skin, White Mask is based on Adlerian psychology. Now let us see what the book said.
The book did not waste time but dived right into the matter. Fanon said that upon coming to Paris, France, that is, white man’s land., his fellow Martinique’s who had lived in the colonies and essentially were told that white folks were like gods had one thing and one thing in mind, to find out if white men were really god like.
White women were placed on a pedestal so black folks want to have sex with them. Fanon and his friends went to a brothel and had sex with white women.
In effect, Africans want to have sex with white women. White women are supposed to represent the almighty white race so having sex with them is finding out what this whole race thing is all about.
Fanon found out that the white woman is exactly like the black woman he had sex with in Martinique. There is absolutely no difference between white women and black women (except cultural differences).
So what was that all about? What it was all about was that the white man had exalted his women and dangled them in front of black men and say: come get them if you can (not before I have first lynched you); they are pure and your own black women are filthy.
Black men think that they should have sex with white women and they always do and find them the same as their black women. Having found that the white woman is exactly like the black woman the normal black man returns to his black women.
Generally, normal black men, Africans included, return to black women. For one thing they understand them culturally and do not want to deal with women from a different culture. Life is easier if you married somebody from your culture and that is exactly what black men do.
But there are few black men who want to transcend their culture. Fanon wanted to transcend his culture. Therefore, having experimented with white women he moved on and eventually devoted himself to his work.
In devoting himself to his life’s work, which was fighting for the liberation of colonized people, especially Algerians he found out that leftist French women were active in this war. He found himself around white women committed to the course he was committed to.
He gravitated to one such woman. This time not because of sex but because of common purpose. Not all black men who marry white women do so because they are fascinated by white vagina, as idiot Africans tend to think.
There are many reasons why folks do what they do. To attribute interracial marriage only to black men feeling inferior and seeking superiority by proximity to white folks is to be a lazy thinker. A lazy thinker does not understand that there are complex motivations actuating people’s behaviors.
Most Africans who talk about inferiority actuating black men who marry white women are lazy thinkers. In fact, they are not even thinkers, they are dummies.
Some of those blacks who have made the most seminal contributions to the liberation of the black race where married to white women. I can think of Franz Fanon, Richard Wright etc.
People are cultural animals and generally gravitate to those who share their culture. You may be black and your culture is every bit as German as the most blond German. You may be black and love Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Hayden, Straus, Wagner etc. You are going to be around those with similar interests. Race has got nothing to with anything.
Black Skin, White Mask? What does this really mean? Fanon is telling us that some folks with black skin feel compelled by the exigencies of their times, white dominated world and perception of things white as better than things black, to desire being white like. He is saying that black folks deny their real black selves and put on a mask that shows them to be white. Black folks act as if they are white folks.
The concept of mask is actually what human personality is all about. The term personality comes from persona meaning mask. Greek actors wore masks to prevent those in the audience from recognizing who they are as they try to enact their behaviors; it would not be nice if the actors enacted the pretended importance of local big wigs and made fun of their pretensions. Those whose behaviors are caricatured tend to feel shamed and angry at those who shamed them.
When people feel unmasked and humiliated they tend to attack whoever did that to them. Generally, people prefer to live as the phony pretended important selves they present themselves as. People are weak animals who pretend to be special beings. If you want to get along with folks collude with them and tell them that they are who they pretend to be, godlike; if you want to alienate them dare tell them the truth of how you see them and how they are (I dared, for example, telling Igbos that they are not the angels they present themselves as and for being truthful many of them have been after my skin!).
Greek actors had to hide their identity to avoid been attacked by those whose personalities they were portraying on the stage. People do not like you to bring the skeletons in their closets out to the public; they prefer to keep presenting sham selves to other people to relate to as who they are.
In doing so, social dances, all lies, in engaging in this Games people play, as Eric Berne called it, people live in their private worlds, lonely and unhappy lives.
The purpose of clinical psychology, inter alia, is to enable people to put away their masks and live more authentic lives; when they live from their real selves they are spontaneous and happy.
Personality means that human beings real selves are not known to them, that they put on persona, masks that they act in the public.
When I see you I see a mask, your set of social behaviors, behaviors you learned in society that you believe that if you act them out other people would accept you. That is what child socialization is all about; it is to get the child to act as other people would accept him to act or else they reject him, disapprove of him, even arrest and jail him (if he deviates from accepted social Norms).
To have a personality is to wear a mask. So who then are we? Carl Jung said that beneath the mask, persona, personality is a different self. He thinks that that self is spirit. We all, as it were, are spirit but are enacting personal social dances.
Jung’s therapy aims at helping the individual to understand his personality (introverted, extroverted, ambivalent etc.) and then transcending it; the individual is to understand his conscious self, his unconscious self (which dreams help us to understand) and his collective unconscious self (group self in the individual). He is also to understand his animal self. After all these have been done the individual is now ready to reach his spiritual self.
I am saying that Fanon employing the concept of mask is not exactly novel in psychology. The entirety of personality theory is to understand peoples masks and removing them so that they would live more fully hence happily and peacefully.
Fanon told us that black folks feel inferior Vis a Vis white folk. Western civilization presented itself as superior to all other civilizations. Africa is called the heart of darkness by the Polish writer, Joseph Conrad.
Considered primitive Africans want to be seen as civilized (to be civilized is to live in cities…so Africans now live in cities). White skin is presented as the most civilized skin so Africans want to be like white folks (African women even bleach their skin white). They want their societies to be like Western societies… Lagos wants to be like London, may be as beautiful as Paris or Rome.
What does that mean? It means that Lagosians assume that London and Paris are already better than their city, superior to it and by generalization Parisians are superior to Lagosians.
The message of Fanon’s book is that black folk must stop wishing to be like white folk and accept their black selves.
Fanon was not the first or only person who talked about the Negro personality as self-hating, stunted and imitative of white folks. There is a whole genre of studies and writings on the subject. The reader could see Gunnar Myrdal, The American Dilemma, Karon, The Negro Personality; Thomas Pettigrew, A profile of the American Negro; Franklin Frazier, The Negro Middle Class; Octavos Omanini, Prospero and Caliban, the Psychology of Colonization; Albert Memi, The Colonizer and the Colonized. These books essentially said that the Negro hates his black self and wants to become a white like self.
Of course, the Negro is always black and therefore cannot succeed in his efforts to be white like. He is thus stock being a divided self, hence a weakened self for if one has a split self, black and white in him one is bound to be weak.
In 1903 W.E.B. Dubois wrote a whole book, Soul of Black Folk, in which he said that the Negro has two selves, his African self and his white self.
Gordon Allport in his book, The Nature of Prejudice told is how racism works in America and what it disposed the discriminated, Jews and Blacks, to do: always trying to imitate white folks and to be close to white folks(proximity to white folks makes inferiority feeling minority persons feel as superior as white folks are supposed to be).
The life of always trying to imitate others takes its toll on folks, it depowers them. Not to talk about the time it takes to imitate other folks instead of just being one ’s self.
Michelle Obama and Condoleezza Rice spend hours every week straightening their wooly hair, all in vain attempt to make their hair seem white like. Why not just accept their hair as Ms. Eleanor Norton (the lady representing Washington DC in Congress) does?
Thank God Negro men are no longer frying their hair to look like white hair, as Malcolm X said that they used to do in the 1940s.
Fanon’s point is that Negroes are always trying to be white like; he wants them to stop doing so. Look, you all, stop trying to be like white folks; accept yourself as you are. Black skin is okay; I am black and proud James Brown said (and still fried his hair).
(In his other books, especially The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon ventured into discourse of political philosophy; we are not dealing with that here; we are dealing with the psychological here.)
Talk is cheap, is it not? What is difficult is action. It is easy to tell the Negro to quit trying to be like his master and accept his black self. The real question is: what exactly is his real self that he has to accept?
Is it the self in Africa before he was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Africans? If Africans were that good would they roam their world kidnapping their people and selling them to Arabs and white folks? Should Negroes imitate Africans who sold them? Is the African-self ideal (do ideal people sell their siblings into slavery and instead of feeling guilty for their wrong blame those they sold them to)?
In contemporary Africa what are African leaders but thieves in government? Are criminals in government to be imitated? No.
Negroes now look to ancient Egypt for religion and culture, not to black Africa for black Africa is not ideal.
Clearly, the Negro has to examine his behavior and jettison those that are not congruent with his nature but I doubt that that means jettisoning Western Europe. We live in a world dominated by the West. Even Asians with ancient cultures are increasingly accepting European culture. Chinese business men and leaders are now wearing Western business suits, instead of what their ancestors wore. The world is increasingly remade in the image of the white man.
I am saying that all these loose talk about being African is exactly that, talk. What is the African that folks are supposed to be like? Wear agbada that handicaps one from working efficiently in the new global economy? Agbada clad Nigerians are the least productive people on earth; they are living off oil revenue and when it is gone they become laborers for productive others, for China man, white man.
Black Americans are Americans not Africans. Of course they can study Africa and borrow what is acceptable in it for them. In the here and now they are Americans.
I am saying that the only choice left modern Africans is to take from all over the world what serves their interests and quit talking rubbish about inferiority and superiority (both inferiority and superiority are delusions, they are not real; what is real is human sameness and equality), imitating white folks for everyone is imitating very one.
Personality is learned; it is something we develop from imitating others. The only choice we have is to make our personalities relatively healthy by making them approximate our real selves.
What are our real selves? What is your real self, do you know who you in truth are? Are you an animal, ego or spirit? What are you? Quit making noise and taking your noise as profound knowledge.
Franz Fanon died at the age of 36. That means that he did not live long enough to truly have deep understanding of human nature. His thoughts were the thoughts of a young man, shallow but interesting. He was a bright Negro who studied Adlerian psychology and used it to try to understand his people. But his understanding of psychology was superficial and therefore what he said in black skin, white mask showed school boy level of understanding of the human phenomenon.
He is, of course, worth reading but most people above age forty probably would find him childish and not pay much attention to his hypothesizing.
We do not know what the human self is so to pretend that if one just accepts ones skin color or African culture one would have found one’s self is to talk arrant nonsense.
Man is too complex for mere sociological approach to him to explicate who he is entirely. The objective of living on earth is to struggle to gradually find out who we are; we do not already know who we are. If we already know who we are I doubt that we would be here on earth.
When we find out who we are we are done with this world and move on to other universes and continue the learning and knowing that is our nature; there is infinite stuff to be learned and understood in the multiverses that exist where we are.
July 4, 2012
Dr. Osuji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next Reviews are (1) Kemet (2) Caruthers, Intellectual warfare (3) and finally a paper on the effect of Africans kidnapping and selling their people to Arabs and White men on Africans (paranoid persons and corrupt cultures that do not respect human beings).