Black in France

The Language and Politics of Race in the Late Third Republic

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Restricted access

This article uses notes generated by France's surveillance of African and Afro-Caribbean migrants during the interwar years to analyze the use black men made of racial terms such as nègre and mulâtre. Although developed before the twentieth century, such racial language was infused with new political, social and cultural meaning after World War I. Workers and intellectuals, often at odds with each other, developed a race consciousness that was both a means of uniting in response to colonialism and a reaction against those within their communities who did not appear anti-imperial enough in their politics. Arguing that racial language expressed the nuances and range of black men's political and ideological stances with respect to the French Empire, this article traces the meanings granted to race and the important role in cultivating their significance played by members of organizations such as the Union des Travailleurs Nègres.