Tag Archives: Race

Physical vs. Mental Aspects of Race

22 Feb


Fanon’s White Skin Black Mask draws some interesting connections between self-identification and race. I was especially intrigued by Fanon’s delineation of race as this sort of physical burden that one cannot get away from when it is so stigmatized. Fanon writes, “I am the slave not of the ‘idea’ that others have of me but of my own appearance.” Here, Fanon separates the mental from the physical; he claims that he is a “slave” because of the physical appearance he cannot change. The idea of him as a living, breathing individual is not so easy for others to oppress because there is nothing so different about him from them. Because of the color of his skin, the ideas of others can enslave him. I found this dichotomy fascinating because of how Fanon proves that certain “ideas” are respected because of the physical representation they come from.

Another passage I highlighted is, “Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third-person consciousness.” I’m not entirely sure I grasp the full meaning of Fanon’s words, but because of their complexity and the unusual idea they are getting at, I keep going back and re-reading them. What I think Fanon is trying to say is that our perception of our physical body negates the idea of thinking about our physical body in the first place. He says it is a “third-person consciousness,” which I take to mean as some sort of outer-body thinking that is not the same as consciously recognizing one’s own soul. These are deep ideas to get at, especially concerning what we’ve been discussing in class this week. I found it interesting to compare Fanon’s ideas with these lines from Cesaire’s “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land”:

My negritude is not a stone, its deafness hurled against

the clamor of the day

my negritude is not a leukoma of dead liquid over the earth’s

dead eye

my negritude is neither tower nor cathedral

it takes root in the red flesh of the soil

it takes root in the ardent flesh of the sky

it breaks through opaque prostration with its upright patience.

Here, Cesaire defines his pride in his race not as a physical object in nature, but as an idea that takes root in nature and persists “with its upright patience.” Both Cesaire and Fanon see the mental image of race as persisting over the physicality of race. The physicality is what everyone sees, when what everyone needs to see is the way that people think.