- Disrupting Homogeneous Nation-space:Black Male Bodies and the Immigrant Woman Writer's Gaze
"ICI, SEULE LA COULEUR nous définit," writes the first of four narrators in Léonora Miano's Tels des astres éteints.1 This statement, iterated at the beginning of the narrative, testifies to the significance of identity being skin-deep in a society where the divides are predicated upon whether an individual is white or not. In speaking of a definition, and therefore of a categorization, it evokes the notion of space insofar as one belongs to the homogeneous nation-space or not, depending on one's skin color. In the text, if one is of the 'wrong' color, that is, not white, one is excluded from the normative, homogeneous nation-space, in this case, the French society depicted by Miano. In a world of transience, mutability, and mobility, the imperative to belong is more salient than ever. When borders are breached, fissures appear, and the norm is challenged, it has become increasingly important to understand the role played by normative spaces and gazes in contemporary society.2 Normative spaces and gazes provide an unadulterated view of life as society deems it should be. Normative spaces are enclosed, they have limits. A normative gaze reflects a reality where one is categorized or where one categorizes the other. What happens when an immigrant woman writer recuperates this gaze and foregrounds the black male body as human and equal? This article examines the ways in which the homogenous nation-space is interrogated in Miano's and Fatou Diome's depiction of France in Tels des astres éteints and Le ventre de l'Atlantique respectively.3
In Peau noire, masques blancs, Frantz Fanon discusses the complex issues associated with being a black man in the homogeneously white French society he encounters in the 1950s. Fanon was a Martinican psychiatrist who completed his studies in France and later worked in Algeria during the colonial period. Writing about the experience of race, Fanon states that "il y a deux camps: le blanc et le noir."4 These two sides are mutually exclusive as the white side does not accept the black side. Since, as Fanon claims, the whites deem themselves "supérieurs aux noirs" (7), then "pour le Noir, il n'y a qu'un destin. Et il est blanc" (8). It is impossible for the black individual to become white. Equally, not all white individuals nor black individuals will have experienced what Fanon discusses, which he himself acknowledges (9). Yet, [End Page 41] Fanon offers an important perspective on the notion of what it means to be black in a society that firmly believes that the norm is 'whiteness' and that 'blackness' is undeserving of respect or equality. He delves into the implications of the "complexe d'infériorité" (14), which the colonized black individual, who is masculine in Fanon's work, carries with him as he undertakes the journey to France.
Fanon's personal experience of arriving in France and being called "sale nègre" leads to him feeling like an "objet au milieu d'autres objets" (88). His dehumanization, which is evoked through language, underlines the impossibility that French society of the time can accept that a black man could be equal to them in his humanity. From his perspective, it is the white European other who objectifies him and denies his very being through his gaze, thereby creating a "nouveau système de référence" for the "nègres" (89). Victim of a "schema épidermique racial" (90), Fanon discovers himself as a black man in the white other's gaze: "j'étais tout à la fois responsable de mon corps, responsable de ma race, de mes ancêtres. Je promenai sur moi un regard objectif, découvris ma noirceur, mes caractères ethniques" (90). Fanon, who has thus far perceived his antillanité as providing him with a superior position to that of the black individuals arriving from the African continent, realizes that the white gaze cannot tell the difference between the two, which further disorientates him. Ultimately, Fanon understands that what he wishes is "être homme, rien qu'homme" (91) and that his...