I speak, therefore I am

Fanon’s article examines the inferiority complex of the black man by highlighting the role of expression in the creation of an individual’s identity. By speaking the language of the white man and “[renouncing] his blackness”, the black man believes that he is able to “come closer to being a real human being” (Fanon, p. 18). This reveals the internalization of the racial hierarchy that positions the white man above the black man that results in the loss of the cultural heritage of the native.

It would seem, then, that the problem is this: In the Antilles, as in Brittany, there is a dialect and there is the French language. But this is false, for the Bretons do     not consider themselves inferior to the French people. The Bretons have not been     civilized by the white man. (Fanon, p. 28)

A ‘dialect’ seems to be a substandard means of expression that is associated with the ‘inferior’ native, as compared to a ‘language’. In this case, the native is expected to be less able to converse in the language of the colonizers because he is not sophisticated enough. This recalls Chateerjee’s article on the rule of colonial difference where imperialism and the civilizing mission is justified by the rulers establishing an inherent difference between the rulers and the ruled. Through this Manichean division of white man and native, the white man naturally establishes himself as superior and civilized, and the native as inferior and uncivilized. Fanon posits that this is internalized by both white man and native through the use of language. In speaking to the black man in pidgin-nigger, a language that the white man presumes is suitable for the inferior native, the white man is automatically “classifying [the black man], imprisoning him, primitivizing him, decivilizing him” (Fanon, p. 32). The simplification of language by the white man when speaking to the black man creates and reproduces the myth of white superiority, and the identity of the black man as inferior; this despite the inability to “accept as scientifically proven the theory that the black man is inherently inferior to the white, or that he comes from a different stock” (Fanon, p. 30). The Negro is then reduced to an archetype, “the eternal victim of an essence, of an appearance for which he is not responsible” (Fanon, p. 35). Drawing again on the rule of colonial difference, the Negro who expresses himself properly threatens the binary division between white man and black man because if language creates identity, speaking like the white man bridges this division.

I then realized that the novels that we have been reading are written by the white man (although they may be outsiders in colonial society), whether they are anti-imperialists or not, and that native expression has been confined or reduced to simple, broken English (no doubt because English is an adopted language for the natives), and I wonder if this perpetuates the inferiority complex of the colonized and the encourages the condescension of the colonizer.

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