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we should not worry about the white subject in colonialism, but rather about the fact

that the Black subject is forced to develop a relationship to her-himself always through

the alienating presence of the white other. Always placed as the ‘Other,’ never as self.

‘What else could it be for me,’ asks Fanon, ‘but an amputation, an excision,

a hemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood?’



Books by and about Fanon

The Wretched of the Earth  / Black Skins, White Masks  /  A Dying Colonialism  /  Toward the African Revolution

A Dying Colonialism   / The Fanon Reader  / Fanon: A Critical Reader  / Fanon: A Novel

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The Mask

 Remembering Slavery, Understanding Trauma
By Grada Kilomba


There is a mask, from which I heard many times during my childhood. The many recountings and the detailed descriptions seemed to warn me that those were not simple facts of the past, but living memories buried in our psyche, ready to be told. Today, I want to re-tell them. I want to speak about that brutal mask of speechlessness.

This mask was a very concrete piece, a real instrument, which became a part of the European colonial project for more than three hundred years. It was composed of a bit, placed inside the mouth of the Black subject, clamped between the tongue and the jaw, and fixed behind the head with two strings: one surrounding the chin and the second surrounding the nose and the forehead.
Formally, the mask was used by white masters to prevent enslaved Africans from eating sugar cane or cocoa beans, while working on the plantations, but its primary function was to implement a sense of speechlessness and fear, inasmuch as the mouth was at the same time a place of muteness and a place of torture.

The mask represents, in this sense, colonialism as a whole. It symbolizes the white sadistic politics of conquest and domination, and its brutal regimes of silencing the so called ‘Other.’ I intend to remember this mask as a symbol of speechlessness and violence, and how these—speechlessness and violence—are restaged in everyday life. In other words, I am concerned with two main questions: Who can indeed speak? And what happens when we speak?

The Mouth

The mouth is a very special organ, it symbolizes speech and enunciation. Within racism it becomes the organ of oppression par excellence, it represents the organ whites want— and need—to control, and therefore, the organ which historically has been severely confined.

In this particular scenario, the mouth is also a metaphor to possession. It is fantasized that the Black subject wants to possess something which belongs to the white master, the fruits. She or he wants to eat them, to devour them, dispossessing the master from its goods. Although the plantation, and its fruits, do ‘morally’ belong to the colonized, the colonizer interprets it perversely, reading it as a sign of robbery. “We are taking what is Theirs” becomes “They are taking what is Ours.” We are dealing here with a process of denial, for the master denies its project of colonization and asserts it onto the colonized. It is this moment of asserting onto the other, what the subject refuses to recognize in her-himself, which characterizes this ego defence mechanism. In racism denial is used to maintain and to legitimate violent structures of racial exclusion: “They want to take what is Ours, therefore, They have to be excluded.”

The first and original information (“We are taking what is Theirs”) is denied and projected onto the ‘Other’ (“They are taking what is Ours”), the Black subject becomes then what the white subject does not want to be acquainted with. This is based upon processes in which split off parts of the psyche are projected outside, creating the so called ‘Other’ always as an antagonism of the ‘self.’ Film is the perfect playground for this process, while the Black subject turns into the intrusive enemy, the white subject becomes the sympathetic hero, that is, the oppressor becomes the oppressed and the oppressed the tyrant.

This splitting evokes the fact that the white subject is somehow divided within her-himself, for she/he develops two attitudes towards external reality: only one part of the ego—the ‘good,’ accepting and benevolent—is experienced as ‘self,’ the rest—the ‘bad,’ rejecting and malevolent—is projected onto the ‘Other’ and experienced as external. The ‘Other’ becomes then the mental representation of what the white master fears to knowledge about her-himself, in this case: the violent thief, the indolent, and malicious robber.

Such dishonorable aspects whose intensity makes them too unpleasurable and shameful are projected outside onto the ‘Other,’ so as to escape from them. In psychoanalytical terms, this allows positive feelings towards oneself to remain intact (the ‘good’ self), while the manifestations of the ‘bad’ self are projected onto the outside and seen as external ‘bad’ objects.

In the white conceptual world, the Black subject is identified as that ‘bad’ object, embodying the aspects the white society has repressed and made taboo. We are, in this sense, used as a screen of projection for what the white subject fears to knowledge in itself: aggression and sexuality. We come to coincide with the threatening, the dangerous, the violent, the thrilling, the exciting and also the dirty, but desirable—allowing whiteness to look at itself as morally ideal, decent, civilized and majestically generous, in complete control and free of the anxiety its history causes.

The Wound

Within this unfortunate psycho-dynamic the Black subject becomes not only the ‘Other’—the difference against which the white ‘self’ is measured—but also Otherness—the personification of the repressed aspects of the white ‘self.’ We become what the white subject does not want to be like. Toni Morrison (1992) uses this expression of ‘unlikeness,’ to describe whiteness as a dependent identity which exists through the exploitation of the ‘Other,’ a relational identity, constructed by whites defining themselves as unlike racial ‘Others.’ That is, Blackness serves as the primary form of Otherness by which whiteness is constructed.

So, the ‘Other’ is not other per se, it becomes one through a process of absolute denial. And in this sense, Frantz Fanon writes, What is often called the Black soul is a white man’s artifact (1968: 110). Reminding us that it is not the Black subject we are dealing with, but with white fantasies of what Blackness should be like. Or better, with dominant images and narratives which are re-projected onto the Black subject as authoritative and objective pictures of ourselves. ‘I cannot go to a film. I wait for me’ (1968: 140), writes Fanon. He waits for the Black savages, the Black barbarians, the Black servants, the Black prostitutes, whores and courtesans, the Black criminals, murders and drug dealers. He waits for what he is not.

We could actually say that in film/in the white conceptual world, the collective unconscious of Black people is like pre-programmed for alienation, disappointment and psychic trauma, since the images of Blackness, we are confronted with, are neither real nor positive. What an alienation! To be forced to identify with the heroes, who are white, and to reject the enemies, who are Black. What a disappointment! To be forced to look at ourselves as if we were in their place. And what a pain! To be trapped in this colonial order.

This should be our preoccupation—we should not worry about the white subject in colonialism, but rather about the fact that the Black subject is forced to develop a relationship to her-himself always through the alienating presence of the white other. Always placed as the ‘Other,’ never as self. ‘What else could it be for me,’ asks Fanon, ‘but an amputation, an excision, a hemorrhage that spattered my whole body with black blood?’ (1968: 112). He uses the language of trauma, like most of Black people when speaking of their everyday racism experiences, indicating the painful bodily impact and loss characteristic of a traumatic collapse, for within racism one is surgically removed, violently separated of whatever identity one might really have. Such separation is defined as classic trauma, since it deprives one’s own link with the society, unconsciously thought of as white.

‘I felt knife blades open within me,’ ‘I could no longer laugh’ (1968:112) he remarks. There is indeed nothing to laugh about, as one is being overdeterminated from the outside by violent fantasies one sees, but one does not recognize as being oneself.

This is the trauma of the Black subject, it lies, exactly, in this state of absolute Otherness in relation to the white subject. This infernal circle, as Fanon writes, ‘(w)hen people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color. When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color. Either way, I am locked’ (1968: 116). Locked within unreason. Fanon believes, therefore, that Black people’s trauma stem not only from the family-based events, as classical psychoanalysis argues, but rather from the traumatizing contact with the violent unreason of the white world, that is, with the unreason of racism which places us always as ‘Other.’ The ‘Other’ of the white subject.

Speaking the Silence

The mask raises many questions: why must the mouth of the Black subject be fastened? Why must she or he become silent? What could the Black subject say, if her or his mouth were not sealed? And what would the white subject have to listen to? There is an apprehensive fear that if the colonial subject speaks, the colonizer will have to listen. It would be forced into an uncomfortable confrontation with ‘Other’ truths. Truths, which have been denied, repressed and kept quiet, as secrets. This phrase “quiet as it’s kept” is an expression of the African diasporic people, which announces how someone is about to reveal what is presumed to be a secret – something which we all know, but which was kept quiet by force – like the dirty business of racism and its deep wounds.

The white fear of listening to what could possibly be revealed by the Black subject can be articulated with Sigmund Freud’s notion of repression, since the ‘essence of repression’, he writes ‘lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at distance, from the conscious’ (1923: 17). It is that process by which unacceptable ideas—and unacceptable truths—are rendered unconscious, out of awareness due to the extreme anxiety, guilt or shame they cause. While buried in the unconscious, however, as secrets, they remain latent and capable of being revealed at any moment. Repression is, in this sense, the defence by which the ego controls and exercises censorship towards what is instigated as an ‘unacceptable’ truth.

In a similar way, the mask sealing the mouth of the Black subject, prevents her/him from revealing those truths, which the white master wants ‘to turn away,’ ‘keep at distance’ at the margins, invisible and ‘quiet.’ Once confronted with those uncomfortable truths, such as the brutality of racism, the white subject commonly argues: ‘not to know...,’ ‘not to understand . . .,’ ‘not to remember . . .’ or ‘not to believe . . .’.

These are expressions of this process of repression, in which the subject resists making the unconscious information, conscious. That is, one wants to make the known, unknown. Otherwise, collective secrets of racist oppression and denied aspects of a ‘dirty’ history would be revealed.

In order to deny knowledge of itself as responsible, the colonizer silences the colonized maintaining the fantasy that only its own discourse reveal the authentic and universal truth, while the speech of the colonized is a dubious subjective interpretation of the reality, not imperative enough neither to be spoken out, nor to be listened to. So to say, the mask protects the white subject from listening to ‘Other’ truths and from acknowledging ‘Other’ knowledges.

The mouth, however, symbolizes not only speech and enunciation, but also possibility—the possibility of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ An open mouth can say one or the other, it can verbalize. Yet, the mask controls this possibility. Here, the Black subject can neither say ‘yes’ nor ‘no,’ it becomes impossible. This impossibility illustrates how speaking and silencing emerge as an analogous project. The act of speaking is like a negotiation between those who speak and those who listen, that is, between the speaking subjects and their listeners (Castro Varela & Dhawan 2003). Listening is, in this sense, the act of authorization towards the speaker. One can (only) speak, when one’s voice is listened. Within this dialect, those who are listened, are also those who ‘belong.’ And those who are not listened, become those who ‘do not belong.’ The mask re-creates this project of silencing, it controls the possibility that the colonized might one day be listened and consequently might belong to the center.

(This is in Remembrance of Our Ancestors)


Castro Varela, Maria del Mar & Dhawan, Nikita (2003). Postkolonialer Feminismus und die Kunst der Selbstkritik. In Hito Steyerl & Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (Hg.) Spricht die Subaltern deutsch? Migration und postkoloniale kritik. Munster: Unrast verlag.

Fanon, Frantz (1968). Black Skins, White Masks. New York: Grove Press.

Freud, Sigmund (1923). The Ego and the Id and Other Works. Volume XIX. London: Vintage.

Morrison, Toni (1992). Playing in the Dark. Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Vintage Books.

Grada Kilomba—Writer and psychologist, lecturing at the Free University–Berlin to Psychoanalysis, Colonialism and Decolonization.

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White Is not a Color

An interview with author and psychoanalyst Grada Kilomba


The following interview with Dr. Grada Kilomba, author of Plantation Memories—Episodes of Every Day Racism was first published by The African Times; the interview was conducted by Stefanie Hirsbrunner. Grada Kilomba's roots are in São Tomé e Príncipe and Portugal. Her main interest of research is racism. Kilomba’s seminar at the Free University in Berlin had to be moved to one of the biggest lectures halls because so many students wanted to attend.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: How do you explain the huge interest especially from whites when you talk about racism?

Grada Kilomba: First of all, important is who teaches, what is being taught and how. I try to combine traditional academic scholarship with literature and creative narrative. In this way, the lecture becomes very artistic and fascinating for both the students and for me. I learned this from other authors such as Frantz Fanon.

When you read their work, you really don’t know where to place it. Is it poetry? Is it prose? Is it political science? I like this combination of disciplines and views, which invites one to look at things in a very complex way. I also find this a very honest way to reflect on politics because you speak from your own position.

This is a perspective that comes from the margins and it is very new for most of the students. I work with a complete new generation of students, who are willing to heal their history, to position themselves anew as well as to work on their own racism.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: Shame is a common reaction when whites are being confronted with their own racism. How do you transform this reaction into something productive?

Grada Kilomba: Working on one’s own racism is a psychological process and it has nothing to do with morality. It starts with denial, goes on with guilt and then comes shame, which allows one to achieve recognition afterward. Once you have achieved recognition, you can start repairing structures, the so-called reparation.

White people often ask: “Am I racist?” This is a moral question, which is not really productive because the answer would always be: “Yes.” We have to understand that we are educated to think in colonial and racist structures. The question should instead be: “How can I deconstruct my own racism?” This would be a productive question that already opposes the first step, denial, and initiates that psychological process.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: Can you explain why you chose to write a book on everyday racism? What characterizes everyday racism?

Grada Kilomba: In my writings, I like making this link between past and present, fantasy and reality, memory and trauma using remembered stories of slavery and colonialism. It is interesting how racism in the present is able to place you back in history. It restages a colonial order: Whenever a person is confronted with racism at that precise moment, he or she is being treated as the subordinate and exotic “other” like in colonial times. And because this chain to the past and the trauma has not really been explored yet, I decided to write this book in the form of psychoanalytical episodes on everyday racism.

When we speak about racism, it usually has a macro-political perspective but black people’s realities, thoughts, feelings and experiences have been often ignored. That is exactly what I wanted to have at the center of this book, our subjective world.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: Are there any remarkable differences between European countries when it comes to racism or talking about it?

Grada Kilomba: Yes and no. A critical and reflective view upon the brutality of colonialism is almost nonexistent in many European countries. In Germany, on the contrary, I experience a sense of guilt and shame toward racism, which is more productive. Nevertheless that happens only in relation to the Holocaust; when it comes to the German colonial history, it is unknown even in school textbooks.

I believe it is a collective process which Europe has to complete together, facing its very problematic history of racism, which started with slavery, followed by colonization and today’s fortress Europe. Racism has always been in the center of European politics and this has not changed until today.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: A famous quote from Simone de Beauvoir goes, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” Do you see any truth in the variation, “One is not born white, but becomes white?”

Grada Kilomba: This is a very problematic phrase because one of the big fantasies of white (people) is having the possibility to escape their own whiteness, to be able to say: “I am white, but I am not like other white people.” What is very important when we talk about racism is to understand that whiteness is a political identity, which has the privilege of both being at the center and still being absent. That is, having the power, but this power is perceived as neutral and normal. It is precisely this privilege of remaining unmarked but of marking the others that characterizes racism.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: So what exactly does it mean to be white then?

Grada Kilomba: White is not a color. White is a political definition, which represents historical, political and social privileges of a certain group that has access to dominant structures and institutions of society. Whiteness represents the reality and history of a certain group. When we talk about what it means to be white, then we talk about politics and certainly not about biology. Just like the term black is a political identity, which refers to a historicity, political and social realities and not to biology.

As we know there are black people who are very light-skinned, others who are dark-skinned, others who have blue eyes. It is the political history and reality that constructs these terms.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: What can white people contribute to the struggle to overcome racism?

Grada Kilomba: They should work on themselves, start doing their homework. That is already enough to ask, compared to the fact that black people have been doing exactly this for the past 500 years.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: Can whites also be victims of racism?

Grada Kilomba: This question is illogical. Those who (propagate) racism do not experience racism. People who exclude, dominate and oppress cannot be victims of that oppression at the same time. But they certainly develop a sense of guilt, which sometimes is confused with being a victim. What often happens is that, because the sense of guilt is so overwhelming, the aggressor turns her-/himself into the victim, and turns the victim into her/his aggressor. This allows the aggressor to perceive her-/himself as good and to free themselves from the anxiety their own racism causes. A black person never has this choice.

Stefanie Hirsbrunner: Do you believe in a future without racism?

Grada Kilomba: No. History and everyday life show me the opposite. There has been much transformation but also stagnation, they both co-exist. The fact that Obama is president does not mean that racism is over; the fact that Merkel is chancellor does not mean that we reached the end of sexism. And the fact that the mayor of Berlin is homosexual does not mean the end of homophobia. But I still wish very much for a future where people can live together as equals.

Source: Africavenir

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Dealing with Racism in Europe (video)  / Africans in academia: Diversity in adversity

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 Plantation Memories—Episodes of Every Day Racism

By Grada Kilomba

Plantation Memories is a compilation of episodes of everyday racism. Linking postcolonial theory and lyrical narrative, the book provides a new and inspiring interpretation of everyday racism in the form of short psychoanalytical stories. From the question "Where do you come from?" to the N-Word to Hair Politics, the book is essential to anyone interested in Black studies, postcolonialism, critical whiteness, gender studies and psychoanalysis.—Unrast Verlag, September 2008 / "What a beautiful N.! Look how nice the N. looks" says a girl to Kathleen. Kathleen is shocked, for she didn't expect to be perceive as the inferior 'Other.' This moment of surprise and pain describes everyday racism as a mise-en-scéne where whites suddenly become symbolic masters and Blacks, through insult and humiliation, become figurative slaves. Unexpectedly, the past comes to coincide with the present and the present is experienced as if one were in that agonizing past, as the title Plantation Memories announces.—Publisher

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Table of Contents Plantation Memories

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Frantz Fanon Documentary—Black Skin, White Mask

Explores the life and work of the psychoanalytic theorist and activist Frantz Fanon who was born in Martinique, educated in Paris and worked in Algeria. Examines Fanon's theories of identity and race, and traces his involvement in the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria and throughout the world.

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Fanon: A Novel by John Edgar Wideman. A philosopher, psychiatrist, and political activist, Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) was a fierce, acute critic of racism and oppression. Born of African descent in Martinique in 1925, Fanon fought in defense of France during World War II but later against France in Algeria’s war for independence. His last book, The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, inspired leaders of diverse liberation movements: Steve Biko in South Africa, Che Guevara in Latin America, the Black Panthers in the States. Wideman’s novel is disguised as the project of a contemporary African American novelist, Thomas, who undertakes writing a life of Fanon. The result is an electrifying mix of perspectives, traveling from Manhattan to Paris to Algeria to Pittsburgh. Part whodunit, part screenplay, part love story, Fanon introduces the French film director Jean-Luc Godard to the ailing Mrs. Wideman in Homewood and chases the meaning of Fanon’s legacy through our violent, post-9/11 world, which seems determined to  perpetuate the evils Fanon sought to rectify.

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Ghosts in Our Blood

With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

By Jan R. Carew

Carew, an activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm's family and friends in order to flesh out the family history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm's older brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm's mother named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family's experiences with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete picture yet of Malcolm's mother. Carew also offers a tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X's transforming himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as committed to the betterment of his race as ever. Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The mystery of Malcolm's death remains unresolved, and we are once again filled with regret that he was cut down before he could fulfill the promise of his later days. While this book will not replace The Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an important supplement. All libraries that own the autobiography should also purchase this one.—Library Journal

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In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

By  Howard Dodson

Always on the move, resourceful, and creative, men and women of African origin have been risk-takers in an exploitative and hostile environment. Their survival skills, efficient networks, and dynamic culture have enabled them to thrive and spread, and to be at the very core of the settling and development of the Americas. Their migrations have changed not only their world, and the fabric of the African Diaspora but also their nation and the Western Hemisphere.
Between 1492 and 1776, an estimated 6.5 million people migrated to the Americas. More than 5 out of 6 were Africans. The major colonial labor force, they laid the economic and cultural foundations of the continents. Their migrations continued during and after slavery. In the United States alone, 6.5 million African Americans left the South for northern and western cities between 1916 and 1970. With this internal Great Migration, the most massive in the history of the country, African Americans stopped being a southern, rural community to become a national, urban population.

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 9 May 2010