Fanon and Hair


  • Fatima Seck University of Maryland



Fanon, politics of hair, colonialism, language, embodiment


What would it mean to think about Frantz Fanon’s work on race, embodiment, and identity in the context of the contemporary cultural politics of Black hair? Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks offers us some key terms for deepening our engagement with this issue and, in that continuing relevance, tells us something important about the persistence of the colonial gaze in contemporary life. The discourse around black hair has evolved to mean more than what it meant in the 1960s and 1970s. Though it continues to revolve around the symbol of black beauty, celebration and resistance, the symbol is not exclusive to one single hairstyle choice. One of the perils of freedom is the ability to exercise the right of choice. That includes the freedom to choose how you want to look and what language you want to speak. This is about giving agency to black bodies to make choices that make meaning for them and not define it around the white gaze or white ear.  In trying to create safe spaces, we must take caution as not to create barriers around new thoughts and ideas that are uncategorizable. The existence of blackness has long been denied so we should take caution to not disqualify aesthetics that do not fit a specific type of mold. As a black woman born to Senegalese parents, raised in the United Arab Emirates and now living in the United States, I have always been around multiple cultures and that came with the ability to now speak multiple languages (Wolof, English, Arabic and French). And my hair journey…has ranged from having an Afro, braids, perming my hair, going through a period of transition, wearing it natural, adding extensions and the list goes on. Many have tried to disqualify my blackness for one reason or another. But, in no way am I less Black than another because of a hairstyle choice or the languages I speak. My blackness has always been spoken to me by my family. My blackness is a constant reminder to me by society. My blackness is rooted in my experiences. My blackness is rooted in my very existence. As long as I continue to live in my black body, no one can take away my blackness, and all the marvelousness it is capable of. To this, Fanon might suggest I read his Black Skin, White Masks as a way to explain my back-and-forth hair journey between natural and permed to further understand the effects of colonialism on the black psyche. Though Fanon’s perspective can explain so much this, I would like to put his text in dialogue with Rokhaya Diallo’s Afro where she compiles the experiences of 120 Afropeans, men and women, living in France and their experience of wearing their natural hair out. They range from professors, bankers to ministers and civil servants. Hair dictates a lot of factors in a black woman's life. Although they are talking about hair, their experience conveys what it means for a black body to exist in predominantly white spaces. By putting these two texts in dialogue, we can extend Fanon’s discourse around must black bodies conform when existing in white spaces? To what extent does Fanon’s theorization of black bodies in white spaces hold up?