In Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study, Irene L. Gendzier devotes an entire chapter to Black Skin and writes of its content style:
Fanon was both poet and polemicist, and perhaps in no other one of his books is this combination so striking. Possessed with the poet’s intoxication with language, Fanon seemed sometimes to yield to the magic of his own words, at least as much as he hoped his readers would (Gendzier 45).
Fanon’s first chapter, The Black Man and Language, is based around the notion of speech actualizing the ontology, the nature of existence, of Black men for others. He writes “The Black man possesses two dimensions: one with his fellow Blacks, the other with Whites. A Black man behaves differently with a white man than he does with another Black man” (Fanon 1) and describes this split personality as a consequence of the colonial project.
It might as well be about any man whose native language is not the language of the country in which he lives, and who carries his own tongue as a cultural mark of Cain. Not only does Fanon explode the myth of the neutrality of language, he offers an astute elaboration of what it means to speak the language of the dominant class. Simultaneously a tool of integration into society, language is also the cultural vehicle of an elite whose values are accepted as normative… The use of language as a tool of assimilation and the subsequent rebellion against linguistic integration and alienation have become familiar aspects of colonial life (Gendzier 47).
Gordon adds “Fanon announced that he was examining pathological cases, those of the phobic and of failure” (Gordon Location 757).
Here it is worthwhile to describe the nature of America, an internally-colonized nation-state that has gone through several revolutionary cycles while simultaneously maintaining a singular republican government that inherently functions as a counter-revolutionary vanguard. American Indians, African Americans, and other minority populations are the colonized people here. The span of history between THE SEARCHERS and TAXI DRIVER entails at least three revolutionary upsurges.
The first spanned the period between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War I. The Reconstruction period in the postwar south was a genuinely revolutionary epoch wherein the Radical Republicans and emancipated former slaves acted as an effective vanguard formation against the white supremacist post-Confederate social system of industrialists, plantation owners, and veterans assembled around militia movements like the Ku Klux Klan. Simultaneously this saw the development of an urban working class that would form the rank and file membership of the labor and socialist movements. It was marked by bitter and violent clashes, such as 1892 Homestead and 1894 Pullman railroad strikes. The police and military system that opposed these uprisings were field trained by completing the postwar westward expansion to the Pacific and genocide of the American Indians. This epoch climaxed with the Great War and resulting Russian Revolution, an event which catalyzed the worldwide socialist movement. That excitement in turn caused a counter-revolutionary effort that actualized itself in the White Russians, the German Freikorps, the Western European military deployments into the Russian Civil War to oppose the Red Army, and the Palmer raids that jailed American socialists of a variety of stripes while deporting foreign-born nationals be they Socialists, Communists, or anarchists.
However, within the decade, the collapse of the stock market and onset of the Great Depression saw the rebirth of the labor and socialist movements, though the international solidarity and resulting loyalty to the Soviet Union did create less variety of thought and practice. Simultaneously the rise of fascism internationally impacted domestic politics and created a populist upsurge. President Roosevelt and the New Deal, while much lauded, did have a faltering success, due in no small part to his own ill-conceived meddling in Keynesian economic policy with series of federal spending cuts and tax increases which caused the 1937-38 recession. However, within the year the Second World War would begin and the Lend-Lease program to supply the Allies would reinvigorate the economy. By the time of Pearl Harbor and the conversion to a total command economy, America was also in the midst of a scramble for power, pulled in diametrically opposed directions by the British Empire on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. The Red Scare that followed the war put down another populist left movement while the Democrats and Republicans both embraced as economic consensus the Keynesian welfare state.
And again, within another decade a movement would emerge, yet it was unique in that it was much more decentralized and also based within the youth and student population. It was a convergence of the free speech, civil rights, and anti-war movements that formed this New Left. As a response to the upsurge, Lewis Powell’s August 1971 memo Attack on American Free Enterprise System and the Trilateral Commission’s The Crisis of Democracy developed a schematic of the threat posed by this movement and how, because of this decentralization, another Red Scare would not suffice. As a response, the coordinates of the neoclassical policy agenda were formulated.
In this sense, TAXI DRIVER is set in a period of post-revolutionary reaction in this colony. The alienation is in a heightened phase due to the social milieu. Fanon’s words on the colonized mindset are intriguing as a contrast to Bickle’s mind. He discusses the behavior of a Black Antillean learning the French language. As he becomes more fluent in the language, “the whiter he gets-i.e., the closer he comes to becoming a true human being” (Fanon 2). This is exemplified in macro form in how the colonized “position themselves in relation to the civilizing language: i.e., the metropolitan culture” (2). The proportional dynamic at play is a ratio of how much he values the metropolitan culture as opposed to his disregard for his own culture. “The more he rejects his Blackness and the bush, the whiter he will become” (Fanon 2-3). Fanon opens his study at the location of language and analyzes the phenomena white supremacy, racism, and colonialism beginning with how the colonized adopts the culture of the colonizer.
[The exploration into the historical and psychosexual origins of relations between men and women of different ethnicities led Fanon] to believe that it was not an individual neurosis that was at stake, but that relations were poisoned by a system that was at the core of the society itself. He concluded that a racist society contaminates all of its subjects, and that the individual resolution of the problem was not possible within a social context that perpetuated the condition (Gendzier 52).
Gordon adds to this:
Racial constructions are leeches on all manifestations of human ways of living: language, sex, labor (material and aesthetic), socializing (reciprocal recognition), consciousness, and the “soul” (Gordon Location 631).
This is relevant to both the character arcs of Debbie Edwards and Jodie Foster not because they are themselves colonized women, a claim which would be obscene, but because it informs how Travis, a member of the colonizer society, perceives Euro-American femininity when it is in relation to Black masculinity. It describes the disturbing level of racist sexual envy exhibited by Travis throughout the picture.