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.
Franco-African Conversations about Colonial Reform and Racism after World War II and the Making of Colorblind France, 1945–1950
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.
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)
Cultural Identity in French Society
“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.
French Colonial Sailors and Technological Knowledge in the Union Française
In the 1950s, French shipping companies began to replace their old fleet of steamships with new diesel ships. They also began to lay off sailors from French Africa, claiming that the changing technology rendered their labor obsolete. The industry asserted that African sailors did not have the aptitude to do other, more skilled jobs aboard diesel vessels. But unemployed colonial sailors argued differently, claiming that they were both able and skilled. This article explores how unemployed sailors from French Africa cast themselves as experts, capable of producing technological knowledge about shipping. In so doing, they shaped racialized and gendered notions about labor and skill within the French empire. The arguments they made were inconvenient, I argue, because colonial sailors called into question hegemonic ideas about who could be modern and who had the right to participate in discourse about expertise.
Il pouvait sembler évident, jusqu’à une période très récente, que la formule célèbre du juge Blackmun selon laquelle, « pour en finir avec le racisme, nous devons d’abord prendre la race en compte »1 n’avait aucune chance de s’acclimater en France. La culture politique républicaine, exprimée et confortée par des principes constitutionnels fermement énoncés2, s’opposait à la prise en compte d’un critère de catégorisation tenu pour intrinsèquement infamant et dénué de tout contenu positif : le droit français contemporain ne mentionne la « race » que pour en proscrire la prise en compte ; la seule « race » qu’il connaisse est la race du raciste.
Views of Interracial Romance in French Films and Reviews since the 1980s
This article explores French attitudes about race during and after the years of the National Front's breakthrough by looking at French films and film reviews on the topic of interracial couples. In a country in which antiracists have been reluctant to legitimize the concept of race by talking about it, but in which the far Right has made gains by proclaiming its own views on race, French film-makers in the 1980s and after broached the topic in numerous films, but they often did so in ways that avoided controversy or serious reflection on current French racism. French critics of both French and American films featuring interracial couples also sidestepped the most explosive issues, revealing a disinclination to discuss a troubling and divisive concept, but also a persistent belief that racism remained an American problem and obsession.
The Politics of Color Blindness in France and the United States
France and the United States are commonly portrayed as proceeding from diametrically opposed presumptions in their approaches to race policy.1 The United States, this line of argument goes, has pursued a race-conscious approach to attacking racial discrimination, developing policies such as affirmative action that offer compensatory advantages to members of historically or currently disadvantaged groups.2 The American approach involves directing benefits and opportunities toward individuals who belong to discrete, identifiable groups within society. This sort of targeting, in turn, presupposes that these groups constitute legitimate political categories and that those who fall into these categories are due special consideration.
Pierre H. Boulle
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).
Laurent Dubois, Les Esclaves de la République. L’histoire oubliée de la première émancipation, 1789-1794, transl. by Jean-François Chaix (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 2000).
Justin Izzo, Valerie Deacon, and John P. Murphy
In the Museum of Man: Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850–1950 by Alice L. Conklin Justin Izzo
What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II by Mary Louise Roberts Valerie Deacon
Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops by Chaia Heller John P. Murphy