Fanon is writing from the point of view of a black colonial, a second-class citizen of his own country (although in French law he was a citizen of France).
What are his key points and how do these relate to visual culture?
Black men feel normal amongst their own kind, but in a white society or group they feel like they are abnormal and ‘defined’ as if by only the thoughts of the whites. This relationship does not exist reciprocally ie. whites are not therefore defined by blacks…..
There is a whole set of thoughts and histories which the white men think or tell which set up the idea of blackness (are these ideologies?) – and the black man defines himself by them. This is wholly terrible for the author, who just wants to be.
This sort of determination is all consuming, as the black man is identifiable immediately by his skin colour. Compare this to the jews, who have been reviled and hunted in the past, but who are identifiable only through their actions, not their appearance. This makes them less vulnerable than the blacks to the over-determination of the whites.
This problematizes visual culture with respect to the relationship with Whites and Blacks
- Even in today’s less prejudicial society, the hierarchies of visual culture are often dominated at the top, by White people, and there is the risk that society views and defines Black people by the media’s white people’s ideas and narratives, rather than how Black people actually feel or are .
- Because the visible difference between Black and White is greater than eg between jew and gentile, the potential for prejudiced interpretations of Blacks by white audiences is greater than those interpretations of Jews or less visible minority (or simply ‘different’ )groups of people portrayed in the media.
- If the negating pressure of prejudiced thinking on Black people is as great as Fanon describes, can we ever have a truly accurate description of Black people as seen through visual culture media ? ie. are Black people ever allowed to be simply themselves in life, let alone in visual media ?
- could this pressure cause a backlash which makes Black visual media artists overly orientated towards retribution (towards Whites) and redirection, as opposed to development of their own personalities and culture ?
- do Black visual artists have to act ‘White’ in order to get noticed in White dominated visual media ?
- How can interpretation be standardised between different audiences of visual culture ? do they need to be? What are the arguments for and against?
- Just how damaging and dangerous can Visual media be to differently coloured peoples? Not at all or massively ? Does ‘sticks and stone can break my bones but calling names means nothing ‘ apply or is hate speech and imagery massively harmful? When should it be illegal?
(As I write these words I am instantly aware of how the situation has improved -at least a little- in the present day, and that in the liberal and ‘foreward-looking’ West we are constantly told to be careful about the way we use language, and to avoid ‘politically incorrect’ or discriminatory language. I agree with the sentiment, but worry about how one ‘learns the rules’ and indeed whether words alone can be discriminatory. I remember a conversation with a friend who argued that ‘a coloured man’ was discriminatory and a ‘man of colour’ was not despite my pleas that this was simply a matter of syntax)
Many artists of Afro-Caribbean, African or Asian family origins working in Britain, the country of their birth, make work dealing with their take on, for want of a better term, blackness. Find such a work and make notes and annotations to explain this. Chris Ofili is just one such artist but there are many others.
Fig. 1 Walker, B. Boundary II (2000) (Painting) [online] at http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/artwork/boundary-i [ accessed 26 November 2017]
Fig. 2 Walker, B. The Big Secret (2015) (Conté on paper) [online] at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/barbara-walker%E2%80%99s-large-scale-drawings-remember-britain%E2%80%99s-black-servicemen-and-women [ accessed 26 November 2017]
Walker, B. The Big Secret III (2015) Conté and paint on paper [online] at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/barbara-walker%E2%80%99s-large-scale-drawings-remember-britain%E2%80%99s-black-servicemen-and-women [ accessed 26 November 2017]
Artscouncil.org (2016) Britain’s black servicemen and women [online] at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/barbara-walker%E2%80%99s-large-scale-drawings-remember-britain%E2%80%99s-black-servicemen-and-women [ accessed 26 November 2017]
Arts Council Collection (2017) Boundary II [online] at http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/artwork/boundary-i [ accessed 26 November 2017]
June96.wordpress (2014) Barbara Walker [online] at https://june96.wordpress.com/ [ accessed 26 November 2017]