Discussion Group of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks”

The purpose of this reading group is to conduct a collective and close study of Black Skin, White Masks. Throughout our study, we will explore Fanon’s relationship not only to the existing anti-colonial and revisionist literature, but also to the dominant philosophical frameworks of his time, including existentialism, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and Hegelianism. We will also explore Fanon’s take on such notions as negritude, the gaze, inferiority/superiority complex, recognition, love, and humanism. We hope, by familiarizing ourselves with his work, to gain an understanding of the psychology of the colonized people, and the ways in which we can extricate ourselves from these colonial and morbid pathologies.

Frantz Fanon was born in the Caribbean island of Martinique. He travelled to France at the age of 22 to study medicine. Although he never returned to his place of birth, the experiences of his youth were crucial to the formulation of his analysis of the black experience in Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Black Skin, White Masks), published in Paris in 1952. Fanon, by profession a psychiatrist, did not limit his answer to the question “Who am I?” to psychoanalysis. On the contrary, he perceived these psychological consequences as the result of the rigid social structures and racist cultures of colonial societies. Fanon understood the mental dangers that resulted from the crippling dependency caused by an internalization of the colonizers’ values and prejudices. In order to succeed, colonized people had to learn to conform to what was defined by the colonizers as “civilized”. The result was a psycho-pathology among the colonized that included a horror of blackness – “negrophobia”.

From 1953 until his resignation in 1956, Fanon worked as a psychiatrist in a hospital in Algeria. Meanwhile, the national liberation struggle against France took a revolutionary turn in 1954. Fanon witnessed the treatment of Arabs by French doctors, and he concluded that French colonial policies ensured that Arabs would feel alienated in their own country. He saw the inadequacy of psychiatric treatment that tried to readjust individuals to this colonial environment. The individual had formed Fanon’s starting point in Black Skin, White Masks, but his experiences in Algeria eventually led Fanon on the path of revolution. Fanon became a spokesman for the Algerian revolutionaries and joined the National Liberation Front of Algeria in 1956. Several attempts were made on his life and he was almost killed when the car in which he was traveling was blown up on the Moroccan-Algerian frontier. Fanon completed his seminal work, The Wretched of the Earth, between March and May 1961, before succumbing to death in December 1961, at the age of 36. In this study of the colonial world and the process of decolonization, Fanon indicted those “westernized” national elites who became not just a replica of Europe but its caricature. Today, Fanon is known as the leading revolutionary socialist intellectual of the “Third World” and thus deserves a serious engagement on our part with his thought and his work.

Breakdown of the Readings:
(Following discussion dates will be decided @ the first meeting)

Friday January 22 @ 7-8PM

SET 2 February TBA
Chapter one – The Negro and Language
[Omit chapters two and Three]

SET 3 March TBA
Chapter Four – The So-Called Dependency Complex of Colonized Peoples

SET 4 April TBA
Chapter Five – The Fact of Blackness
Chapter Six – The Negro and Psychopathology

Chapter Seven – The Negro and Recognition
Chapter Eight – By Way of Conclusion