Fanon provides two chapters that take on the notion of inter-ethnic romance, The Woman of Color and the White Man and The Man of Color and the White Woman. It is necessary to analyze the Scorsese film against the latter chapter first because it is a subjective film about Euro-American perception of such couplings, as was the earlier Ford film. Fanon notes that “true love, real love…requires the mobilization of psychological agencies liberated from unconscious tensions” (Fanon 24).
Fanon is direct in his articulation of inter-ethnic couplings, he says that “I want to be recognized not as Black, but as White” (45). To achieve this, he draws a direct path from the negation of identity to the consummation of a relationship with a European woman. This is obviously the dialectical inversion of the traditional white supremacist motif which sanctifies a European womanhood that is consistently under threat from black/brown manhood. “By loving me, she proves to me that I am worthy of a white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man” (45). Gordon points out that, in a passage from a popular novel Fanon highlights and analyzes, the author imagines a black man having sex with a European woman and discusses not just the danger of black male sexuality but European female desire for it.
The subtext of [author Michel] Cournot’s reflection [in his racist book about Martinique] is that the nègre is what a white woman really wants. Fanon agrees, but with the provision that she be a nègrephobic white woman, that is, a woman whose imagination is saturated with racist myths. The nègre becomes, on the level of fantasy and phobia, he-who-knows, he-who-is-at-home-in-the-realm-of-desire-lust-and-flesh, he who will do to her what, how, and as she imagines she would like to be done (Gordon Location 1380).
Black and brown personhood is seen as something to be sacrificed in the name of acceptance by white supremacy. “He states repeatedly in Black Skin, White Masks that the black is not a man, and he mentions, as we have seen, seeking his virility, his manhood, in his lover. Although he is speaking figuratively—as something that people generally do—he is also speaking autobiographically” (Location 770). Fanon uses an example from his own life when a white French child said aloud she was frightened of him as a black man to describe how white supremacy impacts the mental health of black men. Hall tells Julien:
He sees himself being seen by a French child and its mother and this look from the place of the other completely destroys him because what it destroys is this false, what Fanon called ‘depersonalized self’, the colonial self, which has been built up in a sort of imitation of the colonizer over many years. It fractures… I think what he’s saying is that this is the only self-image this young man has. So when the [white child’s] look shatters this self, there’s nothing. He feels himself actually exploded from outside of himself. There’s no autonomous self, a self which is together to confront this world… It’s not ‘Black Skin, White Skin’, so it’s not just about racism. It’s ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, it’s about the black man who has grown up wearing a white mask for himself (FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN WHITE MASKS).
Fanon then uses the vehicle of popular fiction about being black in French boarding schools. This entails a socialization wherein “You are not black; you are ‘very, very dark'” (Fanon 50). Gordon points out a paradox of black experience, indicating in one sense it must exist without becoming intersubjective and social and on the other hand it is denied a point of view and therefore existence.
The prejudice is familiar: Blacks live, at best, on the level of the particular, not the universal. Thus, black experience suffers from a failure to bridge the gap between subjective life and the world. It is an experience that is, according to racist logic, not experience (Gordon Location 1131).
The self-abnegation of identity so to be acceptable to the colonizer’s society is important to grasp when understanding the “outsider” mentality Travis Bickle also exhibits from the other side of the white supremacist social spectrum. The rage and loneliness Fanon is examining has an antithesis in Bickle. Gordon also highlights something, in direct contrast with Mannoni, that explains how white supremacists react to black men.
The hatred of black men stems from a homosexual desiring for the black man that triggers a self-hating homophobia, a type of loathing and loving at the same time.
The violent history of nègre-phobia suggests, then, an effort to extricate—as Snow White’s stepmother attempted to extricate the object of her limitation and desire—material homosexual desire from the world. The nègre-phobic white man hates, in other words, the fact that he desires the nègre (Location 1434).
Does this further illustrate and add nuance to the strange behavior of Travis Bickle around women? Could it be that his ham-handed attempt to court Betsy is caused by the fact he is a closeted self-hating gay man? “[T]he world of the phobic is such that symbol and being collapse into one, the nègre becomes and thus is homosexual desire. The nègre “must,” then, be destroyed in a homophobic world” (Location 1440). Hall adds:
Racism appears in the field of vision but he sees something else which has become talked about a great deal since his work but had never been talked about before which is the sexualized nature of the look. Looking always involves desire. There’s always the desire not just to see but to see what you can’t see, to see more than you can see, to see into, to see beyond, to see behind. The reaction in racism between black and white partly arises when the white looker becomes aware that he is, at it were, attracted to the black subject. The act of racism is a denial of that desire which is in the gaze itself (FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN WHITE MASKS).
Françoise Vergès goes on to tell Julien in the same film:
At the center of the book is the body of the black man. And it is a body which is ameliorated, beaten, raped, threatened… Black men are alienated because of the desire of white women. But in fact if you read closely at the bottom of the story is desire of the woman. So the white woman desire the black man, the homosexual white man desire the black man, and the woman of color does not desire him because she is alienated and she desires the white man.
This would provide a new texture and set of nuances to the meaning of the Travis Bickle character and also the Ethan Edwards figure. Whereas Eckstein used Mannoni to argue that Ethan lusts for his niece, read against Fanon the conclusion is in fact that Edwards lusts for Scar!
This is an interesting inversion particularly considering how the social circles of gays and lesbians intersected with Communists in Ford’s day and how gay liberation stemmed out of the New Left in Scorsese’s day.