Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Philosophy Dept.


Jill Gordon

Second Advisor

Keith Peterson


As Frantz Fanon demonstrates in his text, Black Skin, White Masks, Sartrean existentialism fails to account for differences in racialized existence. Quite simply, the notion that “existence precedes essence” is reversed in the case of the black subject; he/she is living in a world that has rendered the black subject subservient to a predetermined essence. Ultimately, the fact that the white subject exists and may freely determine his/her essence while the black subject may not further demonstrates this gap or a chasm between black and white subjects that calls for further examination. In the first chapter, I will use the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to demonstrate how existentialism functions as a philosophical manifestation of this chasm between black and white subjects. In the second chapter, I will use the work of JeanFrançois Lyotard to demonstrate how this chasm is born out of an incommensurability between both parties and therefore qualifies as the case and instance of a differend. In the differend, a conflict arises between two incommensurable parties “that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgement applicable to both arguments” (Lyotard, Differend, Preface). I propose that there is a differend that exists not only between the existentialist philosophies of Fanon and Sartre but between all black and white subjects. By adopting the framework of the Lyotardian differend, I will then examine the ways in which to mitigate the amount of harm inflicted upon “the Other” in a third chapter. In order to do this, I will draw upon the work of Ta-Nahesi Coates and his text Between the World and Me. Coates' text demonstrates how mechanisms of bodily perception, discourse, and dialogue come together to normalize violence against black bodies in the United States. His text draws on the controversies and legal actions following the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. Ultimately, I hope to conclude by uncovering a new responsibility to recognize and “bear witness to” the differend that exists between black and white subjects.


Race, Philosophy, Existentialism, Language, Body, Discourse