“Decolonising dialectic” – Fanon’s Reformulation of Hegel’s Dialectics: Racialized Subjectivity in the Zone of Non-Being

The nineteenth-century has seen the completion of German idealist philosophy into its most systematic account, as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel champions his dialectical methods and teleological historiography. One of the most insightful philosophical thoughts of the time, dialectics remains influential throughout ages, whereas it is inevitably Eurocentric, ignoring cultural differences in its argumentation. In Chapter 5 of BlackSkins, White Mask, Frantz Fanon famously challenges Hegel’s dialectics by introducing the problem of racialized subjectivity. This paper defends Ciccariello-Maher’s argument thatFanon’s critique of Hegel’s dialectics exposes its inherent inadequacy to account for the black subject’s lack of ontological status of self-consciousness, as there are externally three schemas and internally inborn inferiority complex that captivate blackness in the zone of non-being. I further Ciccariello-Maher’s claim that not only a violent self-assertion of the black identity as Ciccariello-Maherchampions is necessary for resolving the external barrier of the black subject to step out of the zone of non-being, but an affirmation in the emotive sensitivity of the black tradition ignored by the white civilization is also crucial in eliminating the internal obstruction for Blacks to enter into a dialectical struggle of mutual recognition.


According to Hegel, the formation of the intersubjective relationship is established in the encounter between two self-consciousness. Given the essentiality of self-consciousness to be “only certain of itself through the sublating of the other,” that is to say the certainty in itself lies in destroying the self-sufficient object, self-consciousness is necessarily “a recognized being” (Hegel 107-108).

The appearance of another self-consciousness leads to the result that self-consciousness has possibly “lose itself, for it is to be found as an other essence” and therefore self-consciousness must “sublate its otherness” (Hegel109). The necessity to gain the self-certainty and recognition then leads self-consciousness to engage in a life and death struggle with another self-consciousness. Such a struggle is resolved through one being self-sufficient and being-for-itself, which is the master, and the other being non-self-sufficient and being for an other, which is the servant (Hegel112-113).

The formation of the Master and Servant relationship is nevertheless not a stable one. The servant, reduced to absolute negation by the master, becomes an inessential consciousness, which the master is dependent upon for its self-certainty. Therefore, the Master gains its certainty only through such non-self-sufficient consciousness, which renders the Master unable to have the truth of the self-sufficient consciousness. It is in servile consciousness that the servant“converts itself into true self-sufficiency” through working (Hegel 114). As work cultivates and educates, “it becomes something that endures because it is just for the laborer himself that the object has self-sufficiency” (Hegel 115).It is through the work that servile consciousness “comes to an intuition of self-sufficient being as its own self” (Hegel 115). In other words, the inversion of the Master and Servant dialectics is accomplished through the servile consciousness turning towards the object. The servant, after realizing his own self-sufficiency, will eventually turn against the Master to achieve mutual recognition, whereas as Fanon points out, the movement towards the inversion of the Master/Slave dialectics is thwarted by racialized categories.

In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon lays out his extensive criticism towards Hegel’sfalsely presumed postulation of all self-consciousness as equally able to engage in a Master/Servant struggle without regard for racial distinctions. In other words, a black man is not even regarded as a being with the ontological possibility of being a subject and is thus excluded from Master/Servantdialectics and simply reduced to an object:

I feel, I see in those white faces that it is not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man, a new genus. Why, it’s a Negro! (Fanon 87)

It is precisely this recognition of the black man as “a new kind of man” distinct from the white subject that renders Hegel’s dialectics “unattainable in a colonized and civilized society” (Fanon82). The black subject is compelled into the zone of non-being, a position that posts “no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man” and therefore fails to enter into the dialectics between two self-consciousnesses (Fanon 83).

The reason behind the captivation of the black subject in the zone of non-being is twofold, both externally and internally (Ciccariello-Maher 63). Ciccariello-Maher argues that the black subject is“‘overdetermined from the outside,’ forced to shoulder the weight of an entire‘ historical-racial schema…woven…out of a thousand details, anecdotes, and stories’ (Fanon 84)” (as cited in Ciccariello-Maher 56). Such a claim can be further buttressed by three schemas proposed by Fanon rather than only one historical-racial schema.

Externally, three bodily schemas have prevented the white man from turning towards and confronting the black man as a subject. As “consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity”—one does not realize the automatic actions sprung out from himself—the very fact of the black man’s awareness of his own body is then the first burden that he has, which is the corporeal schema (Fanon 83-84). “Wovenout of a thousand details, anecdotes, stories,” the black man is then trapped in the historico-racial schema that assigns “legends, stories, history, and above all historicity” to blackness as a race, bearing the fabricated ethnic traits from white man’s narrative (Fanon 84). Lastly, there is the racial epidermal schema replacing the corporeal schema, leading to the recognition of the black subject as non-being for its surface skin. Combined together, the black subject assumes a triple responsibility for his body, race, and ancestors. It is through these three schemas that the white man “unmercifully imprisoned” the black man and made it an object (Fanon 85). Self-consciousness necessarily“lost itself, for it is to be found as an other essence” in Hegel’s dialectics, whereas Fanon points out that it is through the thematization of the black man externally that the white self-consciousness will not “los[e] itself,” for it is not to be found “as another essence” in black self-consciousness (Hegel 109). The white self-consciousness therefore turns away from the black self-consciousness, leaving the black subject determined as a non-being.

Another reason for the formation of the zone of non-being lies in internally the inborn inferiority complex that causes the black man to turn towards the master rather than the object. According to Ciccariello-Maher, the black slave attempts to “sneak into the realm of Being by becoming ‘white,’ rather than busying himself or herself with that liberatory activity of laboring in the world or fighting for liberation” (56-57). Blacks are also “black in relation to whiteness, this ontological distinction derails open conflicts between self and other, dispersing it into compensatory horizontal struggles with their peers” (Ciccariello-Maher 57). This claim is can be buttressed byFanon’s text:

I attach myself to my brothers, Negros like myself. To my horror, they too reject me…And besides they are about to marry white women. They will have children faintly tinged with brown. (88)

This inclination to be white is then precisely the black subject’s inferiority complex in its blackness and the turning towards the master. The black man is unwilling to be a black, leaving its being as being for an other rather than being-for-itself. Taken as a whole, this double barrier externally and internally drives the black subject into the zone of non-being, preventing it from entering into a dialectical struggle with white self-consciousness.


The key to liberation, according to Ciccariello-Maher’s interpretation of Fanon, lies not in reasoning about the unjust treatment of Blacks but instead in combative self-assertion of the BLACK identity (63). Reasoning, as the universal of liberal rights that the white guarantee to the black slave, turns out to “reinforced ontological hierarchy by masking it beneath a false universalism that became white supremacy’s best alibi” (Ciccariello-Maher 64). It is through such combative self-assertion, such as insulting a white woman in public because she calls him Negro, that the white master can turn towards the black subject, as the violent assertion of the BLACK identity makes the three schemas not a barrier but a trait to be recognized (Ciccariello-Maher 60). This claim is well supported by Fanon’stext, as “there remained only one solution: to make myself known” (Fanon 87).

What Ciccariello-Maher leaves out, however, is how to make the black subject turn away from the white master and resolve internally the inborn inferiority complex. It is necessary, according to Fanon, that the black subject can affirm itself in the emotive sensitivity and subtle riches which “the white civilization overlooks” (Fanon 96). Through the black’s poetic power, he “robbed the white man of ‘a certain world’ and…haddiscovered the primeval One,” leading to the affirmation that “at last I had been recognized, I was no longer a zero” (Fanon 97-98). In summation, both the combative self-assertion and the return to the emotive sensitivity peculiar to the black race are necessary to resolve the external and internal barriers for the black subject to step out of the zone of non-being.


The problem of racialized subjectivity has long plagued Blacks from engaging in a dialectical mutual recognition. Itis through a combative self-assertion and affirmation in the emotive sensitivity that the black subject removes its external barrier of three schemas and internal barrier of inferiority complex to step out of its zone of non-being. Such a prospect is far from satisfactory, as Fanon himself remains pessimistic about the future of black liberation. It remains for the future to see how Fanon’s critical engagement with Hegel’s dialectics resonates with the black recognition struggle of our contemporary age.

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