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Obscuring Race

Franco-African Conversations about Colonial Reform and Racism after World War II and the Making of Colorblind France, 1945–1950

Emily Marker

In 1945, the first significant cohort of African, Caribbean, and Malagasy deputies were elected to the French National Assembly, where they participated in special parliamentary commissions tasked with colonial reform. This article traces the contours of postwar conversations about colonial policy, race, and racism that took shape in those commissions, as metropolitan and colonial deputies confronted these issues face-to-face, as ostensible equals, for the first time. Deputies of color tried to force frank discussions about racial inequality in their campaigns to reform political representation, working conditions, education, and compensation for Africans. Their metropolitan counterparts responded, however, by developing new code words and rhetorical strategies that deflected accusations of systemic racial inequality in postwar Greater France. The competing understandings and ways of talking about race and racism produced in this encounter helped consolidate a postwar speech regime of “colorblindness” that obscured the way racial logics were inscribed in the new institutions of the postwar Republic.

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Laura Frader

An American scholar is often struck by the absence of race in France as a category of analysis or the absence of discussions of race in its historical or sociological dimensions. After all, “race” on this side of the Atlantic, for reasons having to do with the peculiar history of the United States, has long been a focus of discussion. The notion of race has shaped scholarly analysis for decades, in history, sociology, and political science. Race also constitutes a category regularly employed by the state, in the census, in electoral districting, and in affirmative action. In France, on the contrary, race hardly seems acknowledged, in spite of both scholarly and governmental preoccupation with racism and immigration.

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Tyler Stovall

Tzvetan Todorov, On Human Diversity: Nationalism, Racism, and Exoticism in French Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993)

Sue Peabody, “There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Imperial Identities: Stereotyping, Prejudice and Race in Colonial Algeria (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1995)

Maxim Silverman, Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism and Citizenship in Modern France (London and New York: Routledge, 1992)

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A White Race Blindness?

Abstract Universalism and the Unspeakable Making of Race

Sarah Mazouz

Drawing on observations and on interviews conducted in a préfecture and in a municipalité of the Paris periphery, this article analyzes how republican universalism operates as a “particularizing” tool that enacts Whiteness. Starting from the paradoxical situation in which White state officials are reluctant to engage with the notion of racial discrimination when they are keen to ascribe racial categories to people of color, I argue that race blindness is in fact a form of White blindness to racialization. People of color who subscribe to the ideology of colorblindness tend to adopt a position whereby their loyalty toward the requirement of race blindness is supposed to protect them from suspicions raised by the racialized identity they are assigned to. But in practice, this stance internalizes the way they are viewed by Whites. The article concludes by discussing the link between White race blindness and the failure of republican policies against racial discrimination.

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“White” Guadeloupeans of “Mixed” Ancestry

Complicating Analyses of Whiteness and White Supremacy

Ary Gordien

This article explores the various ways in which Guadeloupeans of mixed African and European ancestry who are perceived as White self-identify in relation to their family and individual trajectories. This partial analysis is based on half-dozen semistructured interviews carried out in the course of researching nationalism, race, and ethnicity in Guadeloupe. Complicating rigid definitions of Whiteness and White supremacy, this article interprets the intricate meanings of Whiteness in the specific context of Guadeloupe, and its complex articulation with material and symbolic privilege.

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Kathryn T. Gines

Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Orphée Noir” was first published in 1948 as the preface to Leopold Senghor’s Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre at malgache de langue française, a classic anthology of Negritude poetry.1 Frantz Fanon replied to Sartre with “L’expérience vécue du Noir” published in Esprit in May of 1951.2 This essay later became the fifth chapter of Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blancs, published in 1952.3 In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon is not only confronting Sartre’s analysis of Negritude in “Black Orpheus,” he is also meeting head-on Sartre’s analysis of race as it pertains to the Negro in “Black Orpheus” and as it pertains to the Jew in Anti-Semite and Jew. Towards that end, Fanon claims that Sartre’s arguments about the Jewish experience are incompatible with the “lived-experience” of the Negro.

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An Inconvenient Expertise

French Colonial Sailors and Technological Knowledge in the Union Française

Minayo Nasiali

aptitude to do more difficult work precisely because of their race. Shipping companies believed African sailors—as an essentialized group—were not capable of working aboard new vessels. The letter also reveals how expectations about skill were shaped by

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Culture-as-Race or Culture-as-Culture

Cultural Identity in French Society

David Beriss

“Yes, but aren’t these people black?” This is perhaps the most common question Americans ask about my research among West Indian activists in Paris and Martinique. It is asked in a tone that suggests that the answer itself is obvious and, more than that, that the questions I ask about West Indian claims to identity would be almost moot if I were to just get that answer through my head. This question has always confused me.

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Contemporary “Structures” of Racism

A Sartrean Contribution to Resisting Racial Injustice

Justin I. Fugo

refers to as the practico-inert , which I will explain further below. 3 Race is one of those ideas, and it is permeated with beliefs, norms, and values. And although a belief in the superiority or inferiority of racial groups–i.e., racism

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Maneuvering Whiteness in France

Muslim Converts’ Ambivalent Encounters with Race

Juliette Galonnier

This article examines the meanings of Whiteness in France by focusing on the specific case of White converts to Islam. By becoming Muslim, converts enter religious spaces in which they are a numerical minority. Usually unmarked and unnoticed, their Whiteness is now very much visible, prompting interrogations about their racial categorization. Faced with moral dilemmas on how to best position themselves ethically while holding a position of dominance, White converts to Islam resort to a variety of strategies to portray themselves as “good Muslims” and “good Whites.” Relying on ethnography and in-depth interviewing, this article explores the contradictions, inconsistencies, and ambivalences that characterize White identities in the French context.