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Frantz Fanons Black Skin, White Masks - Book Report/Review Example

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Frantz Fanon's "Black Skin, White Masks" argues that fundamental ontological problems prevent black individuals (indeed, any ethnic minority group) from grasping a sense of their own identities independently from the white context in which they are defined…
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Frantz Fanons Black Skin, White Masks

Download file to see previous pages... It is not possible for the author to be simply "a man among men," because he can never step outside of the third person consciousness with which he must see himself (Fanon 2002, 335). The article applies not only to the specific case of French affiliated blacks, but by extension to almost every social group.
In my opinion, this is an insightful piece, weaving personal experience and social theory together in such a way as create a deeply meaningful whole. Fanon's article captures and outlines many of the problems of self-definition facing minority groups. I especially agree with Fanon's notion that in colonial circumstances, "mastery of language affords remarkable power" (Fanon 2002, 332). However, although I agree that the ontology of language forces one to consider blackness in relation to whiteness, I disagree with Fanon's claim that this does not work the other way. I think that calling oneself 'white' forces a comparison with blackness just as much as the name 'black' necessarily recalls whiteness. In any case, the text certainly raises questions about how it is that we, both as a people and as individuals, define ourselves and where those definitions truly come from.
In my own personal experience, I have definitely found that the way someone identifies himself has much to do with assuming a third person perspective. For example, a child who is looked upon by his peers as superior in beauty or intellect necessarily comes to view himself that way. On an even larger scale, when a group of people is perceived by society in a negative light, that group seems to assume that identity. As far the issue of language conferring power, this definitely seems to accord with experience. Immigrants who do not speak English are looked upon as 'other', while those who can communicate with the native citizens are much more readily accepted. On the most fundamental level, Fanon's point that the ability to communicate is a crucial source of power seems accurate.
Although Fanon's article provides a unique synthesis of several ideas about black identity, much of its social theory is not new. The theory that language plays an enormous role in the power of the colonizers over the colonized, the assimilation of the colonized, and relative power amongst the colonized is a familiar one. Moreover, the idea that a black man must simultaneously hold multiple identities recalls the social theory of Du Bois. Ultimately, Fanon's combination of personal anecdote with philosophy and sociology is a strong and compelling argument.
Fanon, Frantz, (2002) "Black skin, white masks" from Calhoun, Craig (ed), Contemporary Sociological Theory pp. 332-339, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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