Frantz Fanon’s Understanding of Human RightsJune 27, 2021
Philosopher and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon first published “Black Skin, White Mask”, a psychoanalytic work on colonialism and racism in 1952.
In the book he seeks to explore the psychological and social legacy of colonialism in societies of color around the world. When saying “There is only one destiny for the black man and he is white”, Fanon is saying at least two things. The first is “the black man wants to be the white man”; that is, the aspirations of many of the colonized peoples are formed by the dominant colonial culture. European colonial cultures tend to associate “blackness” with impurity. This tendency shapes the self-view of those under colonial rule, and as a result these people come to see the color of their skin as a derogatory sign. The only way out of this situation seems to be the aspiration for a “white existence”, but this is always doomed to fail, because the fact that a person is black will always stand in the way of being considered white.
For Fanon, this aspiration not only means a failure to counter racism and inequality, but also masks or obscures them by implying that white existence is an “undisputed superiority”. Fanon also says something more complex. It can be thought that the solution to the tendency to yearn for a white existence may be to defend an independent view of what it means to be black. But this can also cause other problems.
In another part of Fanon’s book, he says “the white man made the black man’s soul”. This means, in other words, that the idea of what it means to be black was created out of the molds of fundamentally racist European thought. Here, Fanon is partially responding to the negritude (or blackness) movement as it is known in France. This movement was initiated by French and French-speaking black writers of the 1930s to reject the racism and colonialism of mainstream French culture and to advocate for an independent, shared black culture. However, Fanon believes that this negritude thinking fails against the problems of racism it tries to overcome, because the way of thinking about “blackness” merely repeats the fantasies of mainstream white culture.
In a sense, Fanon believes that the solution can only be possible by going beyond racist thinking: we cannot resist these injustices if we are trapped in the racist idea. At the end of his book, he says: “I found myself in the world and realized that I have only one right. That is to demand human behavior from someone else.” Fanon’s thought has been very influential on anti-colonial and anti-racist movements and has inspired social activists such as anti-apartheid Steve Biko and academics such as Edward Said.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook