Black Skin White Masks
Overcoming Black Oppression Through Empowerment
In Frantz Fanon’s psychological non-fiction book, Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon criticizes the acculturation of the African American community to become much more caucasian to gain the perspective of superficial status. Fanon brings to the surface, the ideology of marginalization of the black minorities. By doing this, he brings a solution and encourages the aspect of black empowerment and Négritude, as he describes the oppression as a symbol of amputation.
Fanon states in his book in page 93 that, “Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is wicked, the Negro is ugly.” This shows a direct reference in relation to the beauty of the black culture. From this reference, the idea of beauty shows a correlation to the empowerment and a sense of pride to the black community. For instance, the physical appearance connects to that of Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. As one of the books in which gathers Angelou’s experiences from when she was younger, Angelou uses the aspect of beauty and the idea of superficial beauty and status as one of the major aspects throughout her book. The statement connects to the section of the book in pages 49 to 50, when Maya Angelou states that, “ I was struck dumb. I knew immediately why she had sent me away. She was too beautiful to have children. I had never seen a woman as pretty as she who was called a mother.”
From this quote, Maya Angelou describes her mother, Vivian Baxter and her physicality that she had “red lips, split to show even white teeth and her fresh-butter color looked see-through clean. Her smile widened her mouth beyond her cheeks beyond her ears and seemingly through the walls to the street outside.” From this physicality, Angelou states that the appearance has struck her and her brother, Bailey, dumb.Unlike Vivian Baxter, Angelou throughout the book is portrayed with the concerns of body image as she had a darker skin tone, and was portrayed as overweight. For instance, Angelou writes that, she was described by her playmates “as being a shit color” not only this, but she was unideal in the eyes of society as she was, “big, elbowy and grating” whereas her brother was “small, graceful and smooth.” Not only this but in page 17, Angelou states that the “elders said unkind things about my features (my family was handsome to a point of pain for me).”
With these contrasting features of body image between her family and herself, the characteristics and inner traits between the family. This relates to that of Frantz Fanon’s ideology of Négritude. For instance he states that, “Négritude appears as the weak stage of a dialectical progression: the theoretical and practical affirmation of white supremacy is the thesis; the position of Négritude as antithetical value is the moment of negativity.” In relation to the idea of Négritude and the empowerment that Frantz Fanon discusses; including that of the discrimination against a black teacher or a black doctor, to Fanon, the race of these African Americans to most of the whites represents the face of the community. The most genuine empowerment is shown when Maya Angelou starts entering school in San Francisco, despite the World War II wartime atmosphere. Despite such chaos, she had managed to pass a grade and moves to a well read and intellectual caucasian school, where she was only one of the three African American student learning.
Later on in the chapters, she graduates and earns a full scholarship to take further education in dance, as well as the arts. Using her own power and control, she had managed to stand in a higher position than any of her family. The way how she went up to her high standing position where she was too,well read and taking the scholarship, she is most definitely one of the most responsible and empowered in her family without reaching her the easy way out of life. Contrasting to her family, Maya Angelou’s experiences of facing rape from Mr. Freeman and going through a period of silence personally shapes herself to have a voice and get out of her own silence, as well as oppression. Just as the title, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” shows, it shows how she tried pushing out of her oppression and silence to go against the racist culture and society of the white-dominant community. Although Fanon explains the aspect of beauty in the fifth chapter of the book, Angelou shows the artificial aspect of beauty and empowerment— as she explains her mother’s occupation and her unempowered actions of her mother, who works in a gaming parlor and as a dancer for men who frequently visited her, such as Mr. Freeman.
Despite her mother’s training degree in Nursing and the fact that she had shot one of her partners for verbally insulting her, it shows a sense of dependency she has on men and the idea of living life in the easy way. This contrasts to the aspect of Fanon’s views on the empowerment of the African American communities in which he calls “Négritude.” The aspect and the way in which Frantz Fanon remarks on Jean Sartre’s claim of Négritude portrays how there are importance in the African American communities, and that it is vital for these minority communities to be empowered. This can be referred when he states that, “ all these elements can be found on a greater scale in secret societies.”
By mentioning this aspect, Fanon states that there are still resistant African American people, specifically in culture and religion as they still practice the rites, as they built their rites and preserved them through secret society, as they were sworn into secrecy. Unlike following the mainstream, white, European religion of Catholicism and Christianity, they were following their own culture in which the whites by explain the aspect of a savage religions and practices such as cannibalism, as he states in the start of chapter five.
Through the usage of the ideals of empowerment and the encourage of the use of empowerment to these minority class structural groups, Maya Angelou provides a clear structure of her personal and yet genuine empowerment which is drastic to that of her whole family. With a specific example, her and Bailey’s father, Big Bailey is shown to be a great instance of artificial empowerment in Angelou’s books. This can be shown when Maya Angelou describes her father’s handsome features and his tone, She states that, “his voice rang like a metal dipper hitting a bucket and he spoke English. Proper English, like the school principal, and even better.
Despite the fact that her father is shown to be proper and seemingly rich, considering he was the only one in the family who owned a car, the aspect of how he abandons his children, Bailey and Maya Angelou, and how in actuality he had lived in a low-class mobile home, shows how the action he was portraying was not an empowerment of the African American communities, nor the topic that the community or anyone should take pride in. Even Angelou herself calls her father a stranger, considering she had never known him throughout her life, and also states that he had left her to another stranger, which had happened to be her mother. From this, and the general aspect of ostracization and abandonment of their children, Maya Angelou is depicted as a person who had lacked of love and attention. Not only her parents, but Bailey himself is shown as a person who became marginalized due to the oppression of society.
This similar case as to Bailey’s artificial empowerment of African American community can be depicted in Frantz Fanon’s book when he states, “They are almost white. And then they’ll probably marry a white woman and have slightly brown children. Who knows, gradually perhaps…” By this statement, Fanon portrays how the race is a social construct and it should not matter. In this type of sense, it is shown clearly that Bailey manages to reduce himself. Starting from being an educated and a smart student in his younger years, he is oppressed by the white teacher who tells him that he would not be able to attend a university, despite his flawless grades.
These degradation can be seen when Fanon states, “I refused, however, any affective tentanization. I wanted to be a man, and nothing but a man. There were some who wanted to equate me with my ancestors, enslaved and lynched: I decided that I would accept this.” the exact imagery of such disjointment of the African Americans he creates connects to the of the character of Bailey, in relation to his education. From this, psychologically, the forces from the society had made Bailey accept the thought that he isn’t good enough for the society’s eyes. With the deteriorating words of the teacher at the school, he become arisen with suspicion against himself. As he considers himself someone less of a woman, he eventually reduces himself to nothing more than someone who was less than what he was, by losing contact with his mother, and later dating a white prostitute. These series of actions Bailey creates is shown in page to rebel against the lack of love and the missing of Vivian.
As a result, the psychological aspect of black empowerment and beauty that Franz Fanon writes in his book, Black Skin, White Masks corresponds closely, if not directly to that of Maya Angelou’s biographical book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. With the use of both the hidden flaws and the visible flaws between the each figures that Maya Angelou surrounds herself with, it is closely depicted that most of the oppressed African American members of the community in the two books commonly had their pride and the beauty of the culture reduced due to the constant impact on the perspectives from the white Europeans.