In the excerpts from Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon discusses the various effects racism can have on the black individual. Through the references to the body in the excerpts from Chapter 5: The Fact of Blackness, Fanon reveals that “the black man is locked into his body… the body is no longer a cause of the structure of consciousness, it has become an object of consciousness.” In other words, the body the black man is ultimately trapped in is not his own; it is constructed and imposed upon by the white man.
With centuries of colonization, slavery and other forms of oppression—all thanks to the white man—haunting his past, the black man has often been reduced to a mere work animal, fetishized for his body as just another type of donkey to pull a cart. Fanon does recognize the origins of this more “traditional” portrayal of the black man’s body by referring to the white man as the “predestined master of the world…he enslaves it.” However, Fanon’s portrayal of the body also adds another element: that in modern times, even if oppressive systems of the past are no longer in practice, the white man still gets the final say in who the black man is and what he embodies: the white man “gave me a name and thus shattered my last illusion [of self].” The black man’s body may no longer be physically enslaved, but it is still a slave to the white man: the black man’s skin and appearance continues to render him victim to a slew of racial stereotypes and ill societal treatment.
This residual oppression can be seen in the scene where the little boy on the train points Fanon out as a “frightening” Negro to his mother. Fanon’s body becomes a burden, as he takes on responsibility for his body, race, and ancestors; any sort of individual presence that Fanon might have had in that moment disappears and he is now “an object…[his] body was given to [him] sprawled out, distorted, recolored.” The diction Fanon uses is reminiscent of some sort of literal refiguring of his physical body, a painful reconstructive surgery changing who he truly is into something he was not before. By referring to this process as “an amputation, an excision, a hemorrhage that spattered [his] whole body with black blood,” Fanon is able to convey the painful experience of being on the receiving end of this racism so ingrained in a society where even an innocent-seeming kid could be the one to hurt him.
To those that come from different backgrounds—whites in particular—the simple comparison of the psychological and emotional hurt to act of inflicting physical pain conveys much more than perhaps a more academic explanation could accomplish. This, coupled with Fanon’s intimate first-person narrative reminiscent of a stream-of-consciousness technique, intensifies the understanding of the black man’s pain that might have been reached otherwise. Though the black man has been fetishized and taken for unfeeling body-shaped matter rather than a feeling, thinking, individualized human being, Fanon seems to be reclaiming the meaning of the body by drawing on the universality of pain and fragility; we all feel pain, and we all bleed. Fanon’s writing reads not just as a text explaining the experience to the reader, but pulls them in and recreates it for them. The same words that cut him cut the reader; the same actions that hemorrhage his body bruises the reader’s.
It’s definitely debatable whether or not Fanon’s project of reclaiming the meaning and freedom of the black man’s body was successful or not, but I would argue that due to the ending of the chapter, it isn’t instantaneously successful. Fanon refers to the artificial white-assigned portrayal of the black man body as his “negritude” and with “tears in [his] eyes…put its machinery back together again.” There is a tone of hopelessness, especially in referring to the sets of assumptions placed on him because of his black skin in a somewhat mocking manner (“negritude” literally means “negro-ness”) and recognizing it all as some “mechanical” drudgery and yet rebuilding it regardless (with the “intuitive lianas” of his own hands, no less).
But perhaps Fanon isn’t calling for instantaneous success: there are also moments where it is clear that Fanon is utilizing his body for his own purposes of resistance. His cry of “I am a Negro…[grows] more violent,” and the phrase—though it seems self-defeating at first—seems like a reclaiming and redefinition of a term heavy with connotative force. In addition, he likens the power of his speech to “speaking hands” that are tearing “at the hysterical throat of the world”; this aligns the influence of his work to the reclaiming of the body by translating the intellectual/ideological struggle into the terms of a physical struggle. At the very least, Fanon is able to explore, question, and perhaps even challenge some of the issues associated with and surrounding the symbol of the black man's body in Black Skin, White Masks.