Gabriella Romani on Fanon, "Black Skin, White Masks"

In "Black Skin, White Masks", Fanon explores the question of colonial identity, presenting the colonial subject as divided both at the level of the self and of society. The existentialist dyadic opposition of the Self and the Other expresses for Fanon not only the racial discrimination of the white against the black, but also the alienation present within the colonial subject, at the level of his own essence. Colonialism is analysed not in terms of physical oppression, but of psychological influences and reactions. The consciousness of a colonial subject unravels, in Fanon's text, in all its complexity.

Immersed in a society constructed in white man's terms, the black self cannot identify himself with the Other, which for Fanon is not only the white man, but also the image of the black created in a society where the discourse is controlled by the whites. Confronted with the stereotypical representation of the Self, the colonial subject is forced into a state of alienation ("for a man whose only weapon is reason there is nothing more neurotic than contact with unreason" 118). "In terms of consciousness" writes Fanon "the black consciousness is held out as an absolute density, as filled with itself"(134). It is this immanence of the black consciousness that, for Fanon, denies any possibility of affirmation of the self. Futhermore, the Other, as defined by Sartre, that is as a kind of hypostatized public opinion which does not allow the self to exist as independent, authentic consciousness, proves to be an inadequate term of analysis of black consciousness, because as Fanon says in a note "the white man is not only the Other, but also the master, whether real or imaginary"(138).In his rejection of a universal applicability of Sartre's dialectic definition of the Other, Fanon points out the presence of a racial hierarchy within the relation. He fails, however, to note also that within the black consciousness the hierarchical relation is more complex that just white/master versus black/slave. He does not mention further subdivisions in the hierachical stratification of society, where other minorities (women, homosexual, or ethnic minorities) can be placed.

It seems to me that Fanon's argument fluctates from a clear rejection of a universal reduction of the black consciousness to one experience ("negro experience is not a whole" 136) to an assertion of one image of the black ("the Negro is a toy in the white man's hand" 140). It is through this dialectic representation of relations which expresses effectively the alienation of the subject of which Fanon is writing. As Homi Bhabha suggests, Fanon locates the kernel of the problem of colonial cultural alienation presicely at the level of consciousness. Fanon's analysis of cultural alienation and power relations is one whihc can be applied to other situation as well. Gender oppression, for example, can be described in similar terms. Fanon's texts describes well the subtle channels through which power runs, and opens up the debate on how to counteract cultural oppression or whether it is at all possible. My reading of this specific text by Fanon, left me with the impression that the ultimate state of the colonial subject is one of alienation. From another text we read in class, I know that Fanon does conceive a practical solution to colonial oppression, that is through the development of national cultures. I wonder, though, whether for Fanon the state of alienation described by him is, even in a new condition of national cultural empowerment, ever going to be overcome. Is for Fanon the psychological connected to the historical? How to overcome history and images created in the past?