I’m Black, So What?
The key feature of racial objectification described by Fanon is that white people make presumptions when they see a black person. In other words, they already have prejudice about what this person should be like before they actually get to know this person well. There are several examples in the chapter “The Fact of Blackness”. One of them is that a child was frightened about Fanon just because of his skin color. “Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!” The child may be frightened because she objectify black people as bad or aggressive, or she may just objectify him as someone who looks different. No matter which possibility stands, there’s nothing to do with Fanon’s personality. In other words, Fanon was judged only by his look. He was actually very hurt by this, as he said “I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible.” (P112)
Another example is that “In the train I was given not one but two, three places.” (P112) People on the train are not willing to sit next to a “Negro”, maybe because they think black people are dirty. They may also think black people are offspring of slaves, so sitting next to them will subtly lower their social class.
Racial objectification can be seen in Americanah as well. In Chapter 15, Kimberly praised every black person’s name as beautiful, no matter what it means, and she called every black women as “that beautiful women”, no matter she was actually good looking or not. Objectification doesn’t have to be negative impression, but it is always rooted in the observer’s mind before looking close into what they’re observing. In addition, a man in a store once teased Ifemelu as a fat woman. In some kind of prejudice, white people are decently slim, while black people are fat and ugly. Their bodies are not in good shape because they’re lazy, or they cannot afford healthy food. It is a common sense that overweight can be cause by many different reasons. However, it seems that when people see a white fat person, the reason they imagine for his overweight in their mind will be different from that when they see a black fat person.
This phenomenon can actually be seen everywhere. Resume’s with a black surname on it has less chance to receive interview invitation. It implies that recruiters objectify black people as lazier, less educated and less capable. As an Asian, I also faced racial objectification. Asian people are objectified as hardworking (or even nerdy), humble, and introverted. Therefore, when I go to some social events and make jokes with white people, they are sometimes surprised at me being outgoing and willing to share my thoughts in a really open way. Once a recruiter asked me after a pre-interview social that whether I was raised in China or in the US, because he thought international students are seldom talkative and relaxed in front of white recruiters. I understood that he didn’t have any hostility when asking that question, but I realized that the racial objectification might be very common.