Frantz Fanon

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What is the article "Who Is That Masked Woman? Or, The Role of Gender in Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks" by Gwen Bergner about?

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Gwen Bergner begins her article "Who Is That Masked Woman? Or, The Role of Gender in Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks" by explaining that many scholars have actually ignored the postcolonial, psychoanalytic, African American, and feminist discourses in Fanon's book, for they don't tend to associate the psychoanalytic with racial...

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Gwen Bergner begins her article "Who Is That Masked Woman? Or, The Role of Gender in Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks" by explaining that many scholars have actually ignored the postcolonial, psychoanalytic, African American, and feminist discourses in Fanon's book, for they don't tend to associate the psychoanalytic with racial politics. Yet, Bergner argues, psychoanalysis is "particularly suited to interrogating racial identity," and Fanon's book can serve as a model of such an inquiry. Here is Bergner's main thesis.

Let's look now at how Bergner develops and supports that thesis. She begins by explaining how Fanon brings together psychoanalysis (with its focus on subjectivity), race, and colonialism, shifting the usual psychoanalytic paradigm to allow it serve as a "critique of racism" and a tool to explore "power and cultural hegemony." Fanon looks at Black people to see how they have developed alienation and neurosis through colonialism and racism.

Bergner then goes on to talk about how Fanon, for all the good he has done, still focuses on "the male as the norm." He treats women only "in terms of their sexual relationships with men"; but, Bergner argues, women deserve a much fuller treatment than that. The remainder of her article, she asserts, will work toward broadening Fanon's combination of psychoanalysis and race to include gender and the identity and experiences of Black women.

As the article continues, Bergner examines "woman's inability to determine her own meaning within patriarchal signification." In other words, women struggle to find their identities and the meaning of their lives, and this applies especially to Black women who have the added issue of race to deal with.

Fanon talks about the masks and performances that accompany race issues. Black people tend to put on masks just to cope with the world, and Black women do this all the more. Their true identities get lost in the process. They repress their personalities, and "spectators" do not see them as they truly are. They are labeled, and the labels begin to affect their own self-perspective. They begin to see themselves as others do rather than for who they are. They become mere images and objects.

Bergner also talks about how women are forced into the role of mediator between Black men and white men, making women into objects and even commodities in the process. She further explores Fanon's presentation of Black women, showing how he reveals the "economy of gender, class, and sexuality that binds black women" even in the process of belittling them.

The article ends with a discussion of the hierarchies of difference, claiming that Fanon sets up a hierarchy in his work by putting racial difference higher than sexual difference. Berger concludes by asserting that Fanon's text may be a starting point to many deeper questions about gender, race, and the interactions between them.

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