Fanon and hooks

Of all of the works that could have been chosen as examples of the argument being put forward about the canon of work on whiteness produced within the black community, the work of Frantz Fanon and bell hooks offers the most apt examples for the purposes of this thesis. Firstly, Fanon gives us psychological insights into the effects of colonial oppression and global white supremacy (Mills, 1997), while hooks confronts white supremacy head on. Both these projects therefore seem to fit in with the underlying drives of this research: an exploration of notions of a white self as seen through the prism of the black gaze and white supremacy.


Frantz Fanon.

‘I move slowly in the world, accustomed now to seek no longer for upheaval. I progress by crawling. And already I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am fixed. Having adjusted their microtomes, they objectively cut away slices of my reality. I am laid bare. I feel. I see in those white faces that it is not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man, a new genius. Why, its a negro!’ (Fanon, 1960, p.116.).


In his work Black Skins, White Mask, Fanon (1960) examined colonialism not only from the political point of view but included the sociological and psychological. He saw the notion, or as he so aptly coined the fact of blackness, as a key controller in the exercise of colonial power. He equally pointed to the constructed and distorted essence of the fact of blackness. This is what makes Fanon a particularly useful witness to the notion of whiteness. He was interested in the readiness with which colonized people invested and were seduced into wearing a white mask. It would appear that subjectivity for Fanon was fragmented and based upon the workings of discourses as posited within stereotypes. However, his reaction to those white subjects that he encountered is most relevant here.


Fanon insists that there is no absolute fact of blackness for oppositional categories such as blackness and whiteness always take place within specific social and historical contexts, having the appearance of being fixed and certain but being nothing of the sort. Fanon shows how discourses overlap as he interweaves a number of voices into his text; voices sometimes condescending sometimes threatening; positioning him within his negritude. The one voice that resonates throughout chapter five is that of a young white boy who in his exclamation upon seeing Fanon positions and fixes him within white discourses of blackness,

‘Look, a Negro!’ it was an external stimulus that flicked over me as I passed by. I made a tight smile.

‘Look, a Negro!’ It was true. It amused me.

‘Look, a Negro!’ The circle was drawing a bit tighter. I made no secret of my amusement.

Mamma, see the Negro! I am frightened! Frightened! Frightened. Now they were beginning to be afraid of me. I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible!’

(Fanon, F, 1960, p 112)


Fanon exposes the whiteness behind the fact of blackness and in so doing exposes the anxiety upon which it is based; an anxiety of whiteness, which is denied through transference to a black Other.  In so doing Fanon provides the space for an alternative, positive black identity. At the same time he also opens up the possibility to challenge the notion of white identity formation. For if the fact of blackness is contested then its Other, whiteness, is equally contestable.   Accepting Fanon, whiteness is exposed and what it means to identify as white is forever ruptured, undermined, spurious, and uncertain. Having attempted to analyse the poetic and complex writing of Fanon, it is the call of bell hooks for white people to step up to the plate and examine our own sense of self and our relations with our black Other, that will now be discussed.


bell hooks.

‘In white supremacist society, white people can ‘safely’ imagine that they are invisible to black people since the power they have historically asserted, and even now collectively assert over black people, accorded them the right to control the black gaze’ (hooks, b, p.168. 1992).


As the above quote demonstrates, hooks (1992) examines the observations and study of white people made by black people. She eloquently puts the case of how whiteness has made itself invisible to the point at which it does not, perhaps can not, countenance the black gaze. In some respects this is the very purpose of the facts of whiteness. There is no need to be seen because whiteness is the norm, the conductor, and orchestrator of identity formation and as such needs no explanation. Nobody needs to know what it means to be white, especially not white people.


It is the point at which hooks recalls her attendance at a Cultural Studies conference that is perhaps most salient here. This is because she highlights, when talking about the way the conference was organised how,

‘If these progressive people, most of whom were white, could so blindly reproduce a version of the status quo and not “see” it, the thought of how racial politics would be played out “outside” this arena was horrifying’ (hooks. p 176, 1992).


The horrifying fact of whiteness, especially for those who consider ourselves liberal and progressive is the point exemplified here. These progressive white people, like the ardent members of white supremacist organisations such as the English Defence League have no need to consider their sense of self and the consequences of this non-recognition. They have no need to be self aware or indeed aware of how black subjects may view them. The contention of this thesis is that white teachers should consider themselves and their sense of whiteness in relation to/with the black learners that they teach in order to better understand how their own perceptions infect and infuse, position and determine the relationships that we have with the black learners in our classrooms (Picower, 2009, Boutte and Jackson 2013). The post-colonial critic Gayati Spivak aptly sums up what is being attempted here in this thesis,

‘What we are asking for is that hegemonic discourses and the holders of hegemonic discourses should dehegemonize their position and themselves learn how to occupy the subject position of the other’ (Spviak, G and Harasym, S, 1990, p121).


Observations such as those of Fanon and hooks help make visible the invisible facts of whiteness and have provided the foundations upon which this research project has been built. Accepting the usefulness of what black people have to say and have been saying about their experience of living with whiteness has enabled me to explore my own sense of being white with renewed vigour. The black gaze forced to me to consider the regime of white truth that has been developed and deployed in positioning black people in convenient opposition to white people. Through the black gaze a re-appropriation of not only what it means to be black but also of what it means to be white can be achieved.   Rather than examining the differing political positions taken up within the academy about what whiteness may or may not mean; adopting either a class based analysis or decentred approach, the black gaze can help re-direct focus back on to whiteness as a ‘race’ based system of oppression that differentially affects black and white people (Bell, 1973, Mills, 1997).


The influence of a plethora of black academics, artist, musicians etc, to this research is considerable. These deconstructions and re-articulations of blackness can help provide a useful toolkit and interesting insights into how notions of whiteness may be similarly explored. Indeed, it was through reading the likes of hooks and Fanon that I was first introduced to the post modern and post structural thought that is deployed within this text. To an extent this research is a response, recognition of not only their work but that of black people generally. A response, which recognizes how such observations, can ultimately focus attention upon the nature of whiteness.