In France: Négritude is En Vogue, Again.

J. B. Russell for The New York Times
The rapper Youssoupha, part of a generation in France that is rediscovering “négritude.

[Ed Note: My boy Jean says I MUST start this off with a big Sak Pasé to the entire Hatian Parlour Crew! See you guys on Eastern Parkway in August!]

Apparently (and expectantly), Barack Obama’s rise to be America’s first Black democratic presidential nominee has inspired renewed discussions and criticisms of race abroad, most notably–France. In today’s New York Times, the black literary and political movement of Négritude, developed in the 1930’s by (the future) Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor, Martinican poet Aimé Césaire,Guianan Léon Damas has made a comeback with a new breed of emcees, writers and culture critics:

This black consciousness is reflected not just in daily conversation, but also in a dawning culture of books and music by young French blacks like Youssoupha, a cheerful, toothy 28-year-old, who was sent here from Congo by his parents to get an education at 10, raised by an aunt who worked in a school cafeteria in a poor suburb, and told by guidance counselors that he shouldn’t be too ambitious. Instead, he earned a master’s degree from the Sorbonne.

Then, like many well-educated blacks in this country, he hit a brick wall. “I found myself working in fast-food places with people who had the equivalent of a 15-year-old’s level of education,” he recalled.

Négritude was originally based in black solidarity as a method of rejecting and fighting French colonial racism. Essentially a literary movement, influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, it blossomed from the pen to the political as a way to empower the many people of color (notable African/Caribbean) that were held together by their ties to France. Even after becoming a perceived “haven” for negro artists in the early 1920’s, France has now become a literal melting pot of African and Middle Eastern immigrants (shout out to French/African Booba aka France’s 50 Cent, whose body gives him a pass for those arched-eyebrows) that have been influenced by the globe, most notably the by the United States. Sadly, France is still way behind in dealing with it’s race relations and how people of color are intergrated into society. Check out the numbers gatheres by Patrick Lozès, founder of Cran, a black organization devised not long ago partly to gather statistics the government won’t

…one black member representing continental France in the National Assembly among 555 members; no continental French senators out of some 300; only a handful of mayors out of some 36,000, and none from the poor Paris suburbs.

Cran was basically created because France, unlike the United States, refuses to conduct official surveys of the population according to race, so no one really knows how many people of color are actually in the country. While for some, this enforces the official “colorblind’ stance that the country has taken, for many black and brown people in France, it is a systematic method to ignore it’s ethnic minorities.

There’s total hypocrisy here,” Léonora Miano said. She’s a black author, 37, originally from Cameroon, whose recent novel “Tels des Astres Éteints” (“Like Extinguished Stars”) is about race relations as seen through the eyes of three black immigrants.

“For me it was really strange when I arrived 17 years ago to find people here never used the word race,” Ms. Miano said over coffee one afternoon at Café Beaubourg. Outside, African immigrants hawked sunglasses to tourists. “French universalism, the whole French republican ideal, proposes that if you embrace French values, the French language, French culture, then race doesn’t exist and it won’t matter if you’re black. But of course it does. So we need to have a conversation, and slowly it is coming: not a conversation about guilt or history, but about now.”

This article is a testament to the influence that Blacks in America have on the rest of the world. To say that Barack has spawned this revisit to négritude is a bit of an overstatement, yet one cannot to deny the impact that this election will not only have on the United States, but the world as a whole. This renewed movement comes out of the blatant racism, political mismanagement and systematic segregation that France has imposed on it’s immigrant/ethnic community for over 100+ years. What Obama does give to the millions of Blacks in France and abroad is hope for their future, and maybe these discussions will continue throughout the globe. The entire world is watching this election, and luckily, us ParlourMaids in America have a front-row seat.


For Blacks in France, Obama’s Rise Is Reason to Rejoice, and to Hope {NYTimes}

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington