Another day, another book

by kenyantraveller

Black skin, white masks by Frantz Fanon

I spent most of yesterday reading Frantz Fanon. How have I never read Fanon until this stage in my life?! I have an undergraduate degree in African studies and Political Science – how is it that such an influential and seminal writer never once came into my radar? What a great and powerful writer! I’ll admit, reading it in English may take away some of the “edge” from it, but I’m so glad that it’s finally come into my life!

What do I love about the book? Fanon is a master at capturing the unspoken, and considering that so much of the African – Black really – experience is unspoken, it’s wonderful to read a book by a person who understands that life is really more than words. Take the chapter on”the Negro and Language” –

“The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white man… That this self-division is a direct result of colonialist subjugation is beyond question…”

Wow! In 3 short sentences, he manages to capture something that I’ve struggled to explain to my white friends for years. I know for a fact that I’m very different when I’m around white people. I don’t know why – I’ve never really understood why, but I know for a fact that it’s true. It’s like, there are movies and t.v. shows that I watch with my black friends that I’d never watch with my white friends, no matter how close I get to them. The Boondocks, Chris Rock’s comedy, the Kings of Comedy – the list just goes on and on. I just don’t feel at ease the same way and I’ve never understood why. Then here comes Fanon and in 16 words he manages to break down this unspoken process of self-division while capturing the irreconcilability of it. Amazing.

Or here’s another one,

“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”

So, so, so true! Sometimes you talk to perfectly intelligent white people and you get the sense that they’re talking to an infant. So the opening gambit in any conversation is always to ask more about your country, like you wouldn’t know anything else. It’s another unspoken element of the discourse that is so difficult to capture but Fanon does it beautifully and succinctly. There are exceptions of course; the white friends I have are for the most part the ones with whom I’ve been able to move beyond such puerile discussion.

I have to confess, I didn’t understand all of the book. There’s a lot of psychoanalysis in the pages that I’m just not familiar or interested in. Lots of random penises and phalluses all over the place. All very Freudian and incomprehensible to me. I’m sorry but I don’t believe that we can all be reduced to phalluses and genitals, although Fanon makes a great point about black men being reduced to penises in the white consciousness and the exoticisation of sex with Black men.

The parts that I got were brilliant and inspirational – thought provoking. The parts I didn’t get were interesting in their own right if not entirely convincing to me. Another fantastic book that totally distracted me from what I intended to do yesterday! I’m going to have to reel in this reading habit if I’m going to get any work done!

Well written!

KT, pleased!