Fanon on Ontology and Hegel


Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), in Black Skin, White Masks wrote that:

Ontology does not allow us to understand the being of the black man, since it ignores lived experience.  For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.  Some people will argue that the situation has a double meaning.  Not at all.  The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man…(Fanon, 90)

Fanon later goes on to explain the situation of Black men and women (in the French colonies and France) in Hegelian and Sartean logic.  He explains how human beings are in constant relation to each other and how each person is in conflict with the other in order to get the other to notice her or him and acknowledge his or her existence:

Only conflict and the risk it implies can, therefore, make human reality, in-itself-for-itself, come true.  The risk implies that I go beyond life toward an ideal which is the transformation of subjective certainty of my worth into a universally valid objective truth.

He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me.  In a fierce struggle I am willing to feel the shudder of death, the irreversible extinction, but also the possibility of impossibility.  (193)

The black man is a slave who was allowed to assume a master’s attitude.

The white man is a master who allowed his slaves to eat at his table.  (194)

When the black man happens to cast a savage look at the white man, the white man says to him: “Brother, there is no difference between us.”  But the black man knows there is a difference.  He wants it.  He would like the white man to suddenly say to him: “Dirty nigger.”  Then he would have that unique occasion-to “show them.”

But usually there is nothing, nothing but indifference or paternalistic curiosity.  (196)

Also, in footnote 10 on page 195 Fanon distinguishes between his master/slave narrative and Hegel’s master/slave narrative:

For Hegel there is reciprocity; here the master scorns the consciousness of the slave…Likewise, the slave here can in no way be equated with the slave who loses himself in the object and finds the source of his liberation in his work.  The black slave wants to be like his master.  Therefore he is less independent than the Hegelian slave.  For Hegel, the slave turns away from the master and turns toward the object.  Here the slave turns toward the master and abandons the object.

Man and Brother


Fanon, Frantz.  Black Skin, White Masks.  Translated by Richard Philcox.  New York: Grove Press, 2008.

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