Evaluating the Parallels between Black Skins, White Masks and The Souls of Black Folk The phenomenal books entitled Black Skins, White Masks, written by the notable Frantz Fanon and The Souls of Black Folk, by prominent author, historian, and activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W. E. B Du Bois, both express the trials and tribulations of Blacks in respect to their identity. Black Skins, White Masks, originally written in 1952, in French was translated into English by Richard Philcox to increase the population of those who would be impacted by this book.
Due to Fanon’s training in psychiatry, discussed in the forward, the book was heavily rooted with his psychoanalyses on a multitude of topics including identity, racism, and inferiority. In contrast to the structure of Fanon’s first novel, The Souls of Black Folk, first published in 1903, was organized as a series of essays with each essay commencing with hymns, or Sorrow Songs as Du Bois describes it. W. E. B Du Bois channels his opinions and observations on the split identity of Black people.
The personal experiences expressing the plight of Blacks through first-hand contact of both Du Bois and Fanon are assorted throughout their books. Du Bois’ experiences were that of his time in New England, his birthplace, as well as in Europe. Fanon’s experiences were based on life in Martinique, where he was born, and France. Using this tactic, both authors were able to clearly articulate how their experiences relate to those of other Blacks. Fanon structured his book in a manner of speaking of occurrences in his life and then oftentimes linking them to a psychological study or statistic.
Likewise, the essays in Du Bois’ book each told a story of his life less the in depth psychological elements. Fanon explains the thoughts of Blacks in the white world by means of psychoanalyses. Fanon realized that during slavery, Blacks were stripped from their African home and dropped into a white world that they were not accustom to, resulting in Blacks forgetting their original culture. From this developed psychological damages in the thoughts of Blacks.
In a world where Africans were not even treated like human beings, a sense of inferiority overwhelmed the Black culture. Even post-slavery Blacks were supposed to be servants for white people in the white world. As a result of this feeling of inadequacy, there was a great loss of their culture and thus they assimilated the culture of the same person that oppressed them, the white man. Blacks would attempt to duplicate the many aspects of a white dominated culture because this was their attempt to overcome the feeling of inferiority.
Educated Black people were most prominent in this assimilation due to the fact that they had greater access to the paraphernalia linked with white culture. Frantz Fanon quoted a Professor Westermann’s The African Today where he stated “The wearing of European clothes, whether rags or the most up-to-date style; using European furniture and European forms of social intercourse; adorning the native language, all these contribute to a feeling of equality with the European and his achievements” (Fanon 9).
This excerpt further clarifies that the identity of many Blacks were molded to believe that they were not good enough and thus an inferiority complex developed. Blacks would assess themselves using whites as the measuring device. Consequently, they would not look at themselves through their eyes but of whites. W. E. B Du Bois saw this as one of the most prevalent issues of this time. He developed a term called double consciousness which he discusses in The Souls of Black Folk.
He states “the Negro is a sort of the seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with the second- sight in this American world,- a world which yields him to no true self- consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world…, this double- consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of the world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. ” (Du Bois 45) Similar to Fanon, Du Bois discovered one of the many psychological tolls of institutionalized inferiority complexes.
This double- consciousness illustrates a split identity of Blacks and the experiences of this minority. This concept of the split identity is a conflict between an individual and the conceptions of the self. In regards to split identity, Fanon touches on the idea that the Black man acts in “two dimensions: one with his fellow Blacks, the other with the whites. ” (Fanon 1) He states that in the two situations the Black man’s actions are different. In cases where one has a split identity their behavior varies dependent of the situation. Fanon declares that self- consciousness is a ecessity in the road to dignity. One cannot rise above the oppression of their oppressor if they do not have dignity nor their own conscious. Whites will always have a hold over Blacks if the double- consciousness continues to exist for Blacks would still be looking at themselves in regards to whites rather than having a mind of their own. The state of double consciousness negates one’s self- consciousness and therefore a person in this state appears to be weak, although it is not weakness. Du Bois, in discussing the mental strength of Blacks asserts that “…[it] seems like an absence of power, like weakness.
And yet is not weakness- it is the contradiction of double aims” (Du Bois 46). Double- consciousness does not allot for Blacks to focus on one aim. Du Bois gave the example of a craftsman being half hearted if they were forced to focus on two projects at once, similar to Blacks with a doubled- conscious. W. E. B Du Bois stressed that the idea of double- consciousness had to be understood by Blacks if they wanted to progress in society because once Blacks became aware of their oppression and began to embrace intellectualism, they started to feel alone in their communities.
Educated Blacks could afford certain luxuries that other Blacks could not. This would not be in the best interest of the community because communities needed a sense of unity, especially Black communities during that time. Du Bois thought that educated Blacks had a duty to pass their education and awareness to other Blacks so they can progress past the oppression that whites placed upon them. Quite dissimilar to the notions of W. E. B Du Bois, Frantz Fanon’s main ideal was not based on rising above the Black oppression from whites. Fanon was concerned with assimilating the cultures that has oppressed a certain culture.
Several times Fanon affirmed that he believed that the Black man should assimilate the white culture by adopting a white mask over their Black skins in order to be effective in an oppressive culture. Fanon argued that “whether he likes it or not, the black man has to wear the livery the white man has fabricated for him” (Fanon 17). It did not appear as though Fanon was concerned with departing from an oppressor’s culture, which in his case is French. It seemed like he preferred to just absorb the French culture rather than reject it and return to his native culture.
Fanon realized that language is the major factor in the assimilation of peoples to a culture. There is great power in possessing a language for one’s language dictates every other factor of their life. Frantz Fanon’s opinion was that “to speak a language is to appropriate its world and culture. The [Black person] who wants to be white will succeed, since he will have adopted the cultural tool of language” (Fanon 21). Many of Fanon’s assertions made it seem as though Fanon sincerely thought that someone of the Black race could assimilate themselves so much so that they could in fact become a part of the French culture.
He felt that speaking the language of the oppressor was the key to opening doors that would otherwise be closed. Blacks are judged and assessed based upon their degree of assimilation according to Fanon. He states that the more that one assimilates the white language and culture, the whiter he gets and the greater their rejection of their blackness is. This is obvious in that the closer one gets to one extreme of a spectrum the further they are from the opposing end, which in this case would be one’s blackness.
He also goes on to say that “there is nothing more sensational than a black man speaking correctly, for he is appropriating the white world” (Fanon 19). It is evident that Frantz Fanon valued the French culture, whether it was the culture of his oppressor or not. W. E. B Du Bois strongly disagreed with ideas that were not parallel to the rise from oppression, such as Fanon’s concept on assimilating the white culture for acceptance. Du Bois explicating points out the approach of race relations of Booker T. Washington in one of his essays of The Souls of Black Folk entitled “Of Mr.
Booker T Washington and Others”. Booker T. Washington thought that Blacks should learn and wait for whites to accept Blacks into the mainstream America. Contrasting to this notion, W. E. B Du Bois thought that equality should be fought for and that Blacks were capable of expressing their concerns intellectually. Frantz Fanon agreed that Blacks “from time to time he fights for liberty and justice, but it’s always for a white liberty and a white justice, in other words, for values secreted by his masters” (Fanon 195).
Fanon took note that although there have been times that Blacks have attempted to fight for rights, it was not in their interest, it was just so that they could have the rights of whites. Booker T. Washington also thought that Blacks should enroll into trade schools. W. E. B Du Bois wanted more for the Black race. He was appalled by the notion of whites who said “be content to be servants and nothing more” and then asked himself “what need of higher culture for half men” (Du Bois 51)? He felt that with the romotion of trade schools Blacks would be taught to appreciate themselves as machines, tools for whites. Frantz Fanon’s and W. E. B. Du Bois’ personal experiences throughout their life from their homeland and Europe shaped them into the author that they were. They both experienced racisms and injustices that allotted for them to come up with their separate conclusions on the plight of the Black man. Both authors spoke of Black consciousness; however W. E. B. coined the term as double- consciousness.
They came to the conclusion that this concept of a split identity and/or double consciousness resulted in psychological effects. W. E. B Du Bois felt that with education Blacks could rise above oppression. In contrast, Fanon thought that Blacks assimilating the culture of their oppressor was the answer to becoming an effective inhabitant of the oppressor’s culture. The Souls of Black Folk and Black Skin, White Masks were mutually extraordinary and engulfed a multitude of information on Black inadequacy, identity, and double- consciousness.