In Hegel’s theory of inter-subjectivity, Fanon found a methodology for thinking about race and anti-black racism. Just as Marx appropriated Hegel’s theory as a foundation for his concept of social labor and class conflict, so Fanon established an approach to racial formation, alienation and struggle. However, as he states in the pivotal chapter, “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” the premise of Hegel’s theory had to be altered to address the contemporary reality of racism. For Hegel the problem of inter-subjectivity rested on the assumption that both parties struggled for recognition. Yet, Fanon argues that black people cannot be recognized because they lacked, in general, resistance to white supremacy. However, Fanon’s argument here can be misleading.
For the incompatibility of Hegel and black experience and social position, Fanon has in mind a specific kind of “black man.” In “The Black Man and Hegel,” Fanon writes that since there is ”no open conflict between White and Black,” the process of struggle and recognition posited by Hegel is blocked. Reflecting on the end of slavery in the Americas – the formative historical experience of the African Diaspora – Fanon argues that “the white master recognized without a struggle the black slave. But the former slave wants to have himself recognized. There is at the basis of Hegelian dialectic an absolute reciprocity that must be highlighted.” Setting aside the historical inaccuracy of this statement, Fanon argues that, since there was no authentic struggle on the part of freed slaves, there can be no genuine recognition on the part of the white man. As a result, black people are denied the chance to achieve self-awareness since the process of recognition through struggle fails to take shape. Fanon makes a similar claim in “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” again qualifying Hegel’s dialectical theory of recognition. “Ontology,” he writes, “does not allow us to understand the being of the black man,” concluding that “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.” Fanon suggests that black social being has been emptied of content and its agency immobilized, preventing the process of self-becoming from getting under way.
However, Fanon’s initial foray into a dialectical approach to race and white supremacy must be qualified. In Black Skin, White Masks he identifies this static condition only within segments of the African Diaspora, in particular those from the Caribbean, an idea reflecting a preoccupation of many thinkers from the region during the 1950s. In short, the ‘condition’ Fanon identifies is not a universal one, and he contrasts it with the African American: “We say the black Frenchman because the black Americans are living a different drama. In the United States the black man fights and is fought against. There are laws that gradually disappear from the constitution. There are other laws that prohibit certain forms of discrimination. And we are told that none of this is given free” (196). Once this history of ontological and material resistance is established, Hegel’s dialectic of self-realization becomes a useful tool that Fanon adapts to grasp the actual movement of racial struggle against white supremacy.