I am reading Fanon’s Black Skin White Mask, and The Wretched of the Earth with a comrade. We are studying his phenomenological approach with respect to race as a prep to studying and understanding the Latino experience in the United States today.
In Black Skin White Mask there are several points at which the alienation of the outsider, and being alien in your own skin, are described. Moments that give a glimpse at what the bottom of the barrel looks like, feels like. We are working on our notes for this experience but there is some I want to share now before it is fully developed.
(p109) I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects.Sealed into that crushing objecthood, I turned beseechingly to others. Their attention was a liberation, running over my body suddenly abraded into nonbeing, endowing me once more with an agility that I had thought lost, and by taking me out of the world, restoring me to it. But just as I reached the other side, I stumbled, and the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the other fixed me there, in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by a dye. I was indignant; I demanded an explanation. Nothing happened. I burst apart. Now the fragment have been put together again by another self.
Fanon talks about black folks experiences, and how that experience is lived through someone else’s interpretation of them. We see here the dialectic between the self and the other. How we interpret ourselves is through the understanding of the other (white people). Who we are is not developed freely, but imposed upon us. We do not see ourselves in a positive light because our lived experience is always put into relation with the other. Our consciousness, is a very unique and specific kind of consciousness, it is consciousness of being based on our social relation with white people. What he is describing here is being black in a white supremacist society.
(p110-111) And then the occasion arose when I had to meet the white man’s eyes. An unfamiliar weight burdened me. The real world challenged my claims. In the white world the man of color encounters difficulties in the development of his bodily schema. Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third-person consciousness. The body is surrounded by an atmosphere of certain uncertainty.
This alienation becomes very specific and understood. His first time feeling and really understanding this racial alienation. Fanon says, ”Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity.” We understood this to mean negating is not something self affirming, but invalidating. It is this third-person consciousness that he speaks of that makes us more aware of ourselves and our actions. We begin to see ourselves from the point of view of the other and what they think and see. It is a very alienating experience to first feel that.
We thought it was very important the words Fanon uses here, negating. Because it is here he first experiences that negating feeling. It is one that beats him down, makes him feel ugly and all these things white folks think of him.