Fanon and Phenomenology

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.

First, his encounter with feeling alienation. This quote reminds us of marx, being an object in the midst of other objects. Marx’s description of alienation in “Estranged Labor” is that  under capitalism human activity, i.e. labor exists as something external to us that “mortifies our bodies and ruins our minds.”  We believe you can apply this to other categories such as race in this case.

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.


Fanon, The Fact of Blackness

Latinismo, readings. This is important to me as a chicana woman, and as a militant who fights for the liberation of her people – of women, of people brown and black and all shades of red and yellow, of those who love and want people they were told they shouldn’t, can’t. I fall in love easily. I love women, men, and all those shades in between. This is who I am and this is who I fight for and who I fight with.

Fanon has been an emotional experience. I read the lines on the page and they resinate. He describes the fear and hate he brings up in people just by being there, just by taking up space. I feel this in a painful way. I can’t even count how many times I have felt ugly, unworthy, helpless, stupid. I have been shamed in front of people, and I have shamed myself privately. I have had body image issues – I wasn’t skinny enough, my breasts weren’t big enough, I was built too boyishly, I dressed too boyishly, my hair was too wavy and out of control, I would stare at women, I masturbate too much. I was made to feel embarrassed in front of my classes multiple times growing up. “You took a shower with other girls! You’re a lesbian!! Gross!” My body wasn’t pretty enough for other boys “You have a unibrow!!!” I never felt satisfied with my body. It was never good enough. I struggled with my sexuality. I wasn’t straight enough. I never wanted too much attention on me. I thought I’d say something stupid, I thought I wasn’t very smart. I was too brown. My family called me exotic looking. The light skinned ones. They dyed their hair blonde and bought blue and green contact lenses. I wanted to look this way too. But I was stuck with this terrible brown skin that tanned way too easily when the sun hit it. But then there were times I was too pretty. I attracted the wrong kind of attention. Not the kind I wanted from the boys I liked at school, but from jackasses on the street who yell out their windows. Who pull over and get out to chase me down. And even when I said no they’d try to convince me I was wrong. Then I was a bitch for asserting myself – “No! Fuck off!” received a “Fuck you, bitch!”

I have felt trapped in my own stupid skin. In my own stupid head filled with stupid thoughts and I never said the right thing. I always questioned everything that I said. If someone would disagree I would default to what they said. Everyone was smarter than I was. I was a dumb, queer, ugly brown girl.

And I too participated in this self-hate. I pushed it onto others too. I was wrong and out of place, and so were you and you and you. “Chunty!” something us chicanos said to each other when you acted “too Mexican”. We wanted nothing more than to not be chunty – not too brown, not to culturally connected to our roots.

It took me a long time to break free of these things and I still am trying to plant my feet on the ground. I am still trying to learn how to be confident, to feel powerful and wise. I have only found this through struggle, when I have learned why I feel crazy stupid ugly. It’s not in my head. Everyone feels this way. We have been told we were wrong because we weren’t white, male, straight, rich, educated. But they are wrong. And now as I try to feel empowered in my own body, in my own mind, I use them as tools to fight against the very things that have made me feel worthless.

But what he says is not to stir up sympathy in those who read. It is to stir up the rage in us, and to show us a way to fight.

He shames those who make us think we are to fight to be equals in a society that hates us. The liberals that will tell you the world is fucked up for thinking you are less than because of the color of your skin and turn around and try to assimilate to be “equal”. We are never equal. We are only good or bad. There are good black folks and there are bad black folks. There are good queers and there are bad queers. The “good” are the ones who know their place, they don’t rub it in your face that they are black, queer, feminine, weak. They want to be like the white folks, never stirring up shit. The “bad” are those who act unruly. They are proud to be black, proud to be queer. They are not afraid of not being seen as equal to the white man.