Fanon – The Negro and Language

Fanon, F. “The Negro and Language.” Black skin, white masks (1967): 17-40. Print.

In this chapter, Frantz Fanon used the example of the “Negro” in Antilles as an example of challenges that colonized people face regarding language. Blacks in Antilles, specifically Martinique, were pressured to speak French as opposed to Creole. By speaking French, Fanon explained that Blacks could become more “white;” achieve higher social status and think of themselves as being equal to whites in society as can be seen in his personal example:

“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is. Rather more than a year ago in Lyon, I remember, in a lecture I had drawn a parallel between Negro and European poetry, and a French acquaintance told me enthusiastically, ‘At bottom you are a white man.” The fact that I had been able to investigate so interesting a problem through the white man’s language gave me honorary citizenship.” (38)

Fanon explicitly extended his example  of the “Negro” in Antilles to represent larger issues of colonized people. He broadly defined colonized people as “every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality” (18). Fanon detailed the process in which the colonized is expected and pressured to conform to the colonizer’s standards, particularly as it relates to language, and the types of alienation that can occur as a result.

Fanon argued that the European had a fixed image of the Black man (same can be said for whites in the U.S. and throughout the world in accordance to his colonial analogy). Language is used to reinforce this image: “to make him talk pidgin is to fasten him to the effigy of him, to snare him, to imprison him, the eternal victim of an essence, of an appearance for which he is not responsible” (35).

Fanon also pointed out the potential for upward mobility in race and social class through the acquisition of the colonial language  or language that bears more social capital, in this case, French. However, even when this mastery is accomplished, Fanon asserted that Blacks are still seen as suspect and outsiders:

“… what I am trying to say is that there is no reason why André Breton should say of [Aimé] Césaire ‘Here is a black man who handles the French language as no white man today can.'” (39)

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