The Unbearable Weight of Blackness

The Unbearable Weight Of Blackness

(A Critical Response to Franz Fanon’s The Fact Of Blackness)

 

The Fact of Blackness

The Fact of Blackness begins with the line: “ ‘Dirty nigger!’ or simply, ‘Look, a Negro!’” (109).  In his essay on blackness, Franz Fanon goes right for the throat by depicting the experiences of Negros.  The second exclamation identifies the speaker as a non-negro by the speaker’s surprise at finding a Negro, while the first exclamation bluntly identifies negritude in negativity.  It is important to notice that Fanon begins with the negative implications of blackness. Before Fanon goes on to address anything else, he makes sure to assert the main point, which is: Blackness as the physical metonymy of negativity.  Right after this point is made, Fanon exposes the exclaimer as a non-negro.  This very first line does several things at once: it shows not only the charged negativity surrounding blackness, but also its intrinsic genesis by the non-negro.  Most importantly, by depicting these in quotations, Fanon locates them as utterances and therefore current and naming.  These aren’t dead concepts, but ones that are alive, active and continually forming other ideas.

To further illustrate this, Fanon describes several scenarios of the activities of such utterances and how they result in a “triple person” (112).  Utilizing himself and his experiences, Fanon dissects not only the utterances, but also their deeper implications, and crucially, their effects on the Negro – who is Fanon’s main interest.  The Negro is hyper-aware of his blackness.  This is because of the constant bombardment of his identity, to him, from without.  He is confronted daily by “…the white man who had woven me out of a thousand details, anecdotes, stories.” (111).  This creates in the Negro an acute consciousness of the black body.  As all are aware and amused by it, the Negro also becomes hyper-aware of his own physicality and all his “movements are made not out of habit, but out of implicit knowledge.” (111). 

Fanon describes being on a train and being called out – a scenario that doubles over Lacan’s Mirror stage by introducing the concept of a triple person.  “I existed triply: I occupied space.  I moved toward the other…and the evanescent other, hostile but not opaque, not there, disappeared.  Nausea…” (112).  For the Negro, it is not only a matter of knowing he exists.  It is also a hyper-awareness of his physicality; and the knowledge of the gazer’s definition of: who he is - “I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetichism, racial defects, slave ships, and above all else, above all: ‘Sho good eatin’ ” (112) - and of who he must be - “I was expected to behave like a black man – or at least like a nigger… I was told to stay within bounds, to go back where I belonged.” (114-5). 

Anger

“I had incisors to test.  I was sure they were strong.”(115)

            The triple existence of the Negro pushes him to either acceptance of his object-hood or anger.  Nietzsche asserts that our emotions and carnal drives are ‘magnificent monsters’ and part of the dynamic qualities of being a human.  If the Negro accepts his object-hood, he loses his humanity.  “I rejected all immunization of the emotions.  I wanted to be a man, nothing but a man.” (113).   To remain human, the Negro maintains his ‘magnificent monsters’ and anger ensues.  “…out of…my bad nigger’s teeth, my bad nigger’s hunger that I will shape a torch with which to burn down the world” (134). 

            Despite his anger, the Negro hesitates to violence.  Fanon explains that this is because the Negro is aware that true blackness does not equate what is imposed on him. “I belonged to a race that had already been working in gold and silver two thousand years ago.” (130).  The Negro is aware that the colonizer is also aware of the Negro’s regal history and current abilities.  “We had physicians, professors, statesmen.  Yes, but something out of the ordinary still clung to such cases.” (117).  This insistence on a negative portrayal of blackness by non-negros is indicative of their desire to keep the Negro equated to carnality.  This becomes a double-edge sword for Fanon as he is very aware of the implications of his actions to the whole race.  “I knew for instance that if the physician made a mistake it would be end of him and all of those who came after him”(117).  “I was responsible at the same time for my body, for my race, for my ancestors.” (112).  Weighed down by the burden of his responsibilities the Negro (as Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas) hesitates to act in violence and results in a state of neurosis “… for a man whose only weapon is reason there is nothing more neurotic than unreason” (118).

Serum For Denegrification

Faced with the overwhelming nature of his blackness, and his inability to act, the Negro retreats.  Fanon writes: “I remain silent, I strive for anonymity, for invisibility.  Look, I will accept the lot, as long as no one notices me!” (116).  Fanon speaks of the development of “…a serum for denegrification… for the miserable negro to whiten himself and thus to throw off the burden of that corporeal malediction.” (111).  The year is 1952.  Six years later, Michael Joseph Jackson the soon to be known ‘King of Pop’ was born in Gary, Indiana.  It is more than appropriate to assume that the mentalities inhabited in France during the writing of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks were pervasive in Midwestern United States at the time of Jackson’s birth.  Since then the world media maintains its ‘awe and shock’ at his gradual denegrification – his ever thinner nose, whiter skin, and straighter hair.  The social conditions surrounding Jackson’s youth and worldwide exposure at such a young age, this psychological pressure has – in recent years – disappeared from public memory. “It was no longer mentioned, that unpleasant memory.” (115).  Instead, Jackson is regarded as a freak, as‘Wacko Jacko’.  This is despite the almost invisibility of black women as black women in the media.  By this, I refer to the success of denegrified black women – black women with bleached skins and chemically straightened hair – as opposed to their sisters with darker skins and tighter curls.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of fashion where dark skinned models continue to be obscure, or get lighter over the years, and most never are seen without long straight tresses. 

            This acceptance of denegrification goes beyond media and is apparent in the denial of African history by the Africans as their oral methods of history are in opposition to the Western textual method of history.  Africans have had to employ the textual form of communication but even in this submission, they face a further subjugation in language.  The colonized writer is forced to write in his colonizers language.  This is denegrification!  As with many other forms of it, this method is globally accepted and rarely discussed; a resistance of the systemic systematic substitution of Negritude for Aryanism. 

The idea of denegrification is a slight one in Fanon’s essay, but speaks loudly when juxtaposed to society today.  The dangers of chemically and surgically altering one’s self are apparent and widely known.  Yet, black people all over the world continue to utilize these processes implying that, blackness is in fact heavier than just tone and permeates to social hierarchies.  It did in 1952 with the writing of Black Skin White Masks, and still does today by the donning of white masks by black skins.

The Unbearable Weight Of Blackness

What is the fact of blackness?  Fanon maintains that due to constant bombardment from the colonizer’s gaze, blackness is a hyper-aware state of being that creates a triple-person consciousness.  A Negro is aware of his own existence as well as his corporeality, and the significations of the gaze of the colonizer.  Faced with deciding between losing his humanity to object-hood and anger, the Negro’s psyche is further complicated by his identification with his race and ancestors thus keeping him from violence as it reinforces the falsehoods about him.  Fanon is eerily echoed by the protagonist in Chester B. Himes’ If He Hollers Let Him Go:  “All I wanted was for the white folks to let me alone; not say anything to me; not even look at me.  They could take the goddamned world and go to hell with it.”[1]  The anger in this statement is evident, as well as the desire for banality, for non-existence. 

In Fanon’s essay, his prose is exacting.  His juxtapositioning of quotations from black poets, along with eugenicists and his own experiences is brilliant as it validates his experience against the backdrop of racisms.  This is done without conforming the essay to autobiography.  Fanon does omit to recognize the racial identity of his quotees.  Base on Fanon’s meticulous prose and the subject of the essay, one is left to assume that this is purposeful.  Still, that doesn’t cancel its problematical qualities, and in the reading of the text, this method of un-racing the quotee opens up the further notion that Anti-blackness is not something only adopted by non-negros.  This is most apparent in the long-term success of denegrification methods like skin bleaching creams, hair straighteners, and Aryan languages, all over the globe.

[1] Himes, Chester B.  If He Hollers Let Him Go (London: Falcon Press, 1947), 4.