Solidarity in translation: Anti-Blackness from the U.S to France
As an Afro-feminist activist, I unfortunately have directly experienced the ideological war waged by the State and the French media.
by Fania Noel
The assassination of George Floyd by the police and the uprisings that followed reverberate across the Atlantic Ocean, finding resonance and solidarity in France.
Four days after the murder of George Floyd, a medical expert was called in to evaluate the case of Adama Traoré, a Black man who died while in French police custody in July 24 of 2016. Since then, Adama’s sister Assa Traoré has been leading the fight for justice. In attempts to close the case, the public prosecutor declared Adama Traoré to be dead from a pre-existing condition, like George Floyd. Nearly 20,000 protestors took to the streets to apply pressure to answer Assa Traoré’s call to keep the case open.
While the timing of current uprisings certainly echo those in the United States, the uprisings in France would not be possible without the long-term grassroots activist work happening here. France is a country where the majority insists that race does not exist and yet we have the biggest Black and Arab population in Europe. For centuries, activists, scholars, artists, and individuals have been situating their individual experiences within larger systemic frameworks, producing, diffusing, and critiquing knowledge.
If there were to be any indication of a shift in the ideological balance of power on the racial question in France, it would be the note from the Paris Préfet de police Didier Lallement declaring that, in addition to the ban on demonstrations, there are no “racialized” people or “white” police officers in France. In an attempt to argue that France is not racist, the highest rank officer in Paris used the language of his critics. A few years ago, no official would have acknowledged race at all, even in quotation marks.
On April 26, 1986 the catastrophe of Chernobyl, a major nuclear accident, occurred at the same time French politicians and media declared “The Chernobyl cloud stopped at the French border”. This blatant state lie is indicative of France habits use of mirage.
The racial question in France, rather it is about discrimination, ideology or power is treated similarly by French media and authorities but with an added level of intellectual gymnastics. Considering France’s revisionist history of racial politics from the Code noir to anti-Semitic laws during Nazi collaboration, extrajudicial exceptionalism in the Colonies, the ideological fantasy of pointing to anti-blackness in the U.S is a tactic to always locate racism elsewhere. France maintains a selective memory regarding its own systemic racism. Rather than face its dark history, France is constantly insisting on liberty, intellectualism and a “refuge” for Black Americans.
When police violence takes place in the United States, both the police officer and victim’s race are specified by the French media. France does not offer the same specificity to incidents of racist violence within its own country. According to France, both race and racism stop at the border. Major political figures and media on the left and right made a statement regarding the George Floyd case, sharing their indignation at racism in the United States while asserting that this is not the case in France, a country where 90% of victims of police violence are black or Arab men.
As an Afro-feminist activist, I unfortunately have directly experienced the ideological war waged by the State and the French media on the racial issue and its insistence on colorblindness.
In 2016 when my comrade Sihame Assbague and I organized a decolonial summer camp for people of color, we faced a political campaign against us that escalated all the way to Prime Minister Manuel Valls. The national assembly requested the ban of our event, and we were subjected to legal proceedings. In 2017, we experienced the same treatment for the Afrofeminist festival Nyansapo, where the mayor of Paris went so far as to demand the cancellation of our festival because certain workshops were reserved for black women. These attacks were entertained under the pretext of anti-white racism.
In July 2020, Jean Castex took the podium in acceptance of his role as Prime minister to declare his commitment to introduce a Bill “against separatism” in september. Responding to social mobilisations around racism and police violence, Castex prioritizes quelling white anxiety by making it illegal for certain groups to form and organize around ethnic or religious affiliations.
In the United States it seems logical to organize among blacks against nationalized anti-blackness. However, in France in addition to being treated as racist by the media and politicians, it is sometimes difficult to convince black people that organizing as Black is solidarity, not separatism or “self-segregation”.
Although we share common experiences of anti-blackness globally as a racial minority in France, each reality and context has their specificity. It is up to us as Black people in France, to base our mobilizations, analysis and production on the History of white supremacy in our geolocations. In doing so, we must also be in conversation with anti-blackness on a global scale, such as the United States, Brazil, Great Britain, and North Africa. We must also always consider the particular configuration of anti-blackness, which is the ways neo-colonialism is applied to African and Caribbean countries.
More than a century ago, Pan-Africanism was conceptualized in the Americas by Caribbean, African-American, and African thinkers. An idea which emerged thanks to the connection between specific local problems and global Black conditions.
Today, as black activists, no matter our location, we must get back to work in order to create real international black solidarity, to register our struggles in a pan-African project and to materialize the independence and the political, economic, social and cultural autonomy of the Black Atlantic.