Nov 23rd, 2019, 10:32 AM

When Are You Really Black in Paris?

By Chelsea Kalumbu
Image Credit: Titlutin via WikiMedia Commons
Image Credit: Tutlitin via WikiMedia Commons
What does it mean to have a black space in a country where race doesn’t exist?

You wouldn’t know about France’s multiculturalism and diversity because it is not represented in the media. Black people in 'white media' are always fighting for inclusion and don't create black-only spaces. It's difficult to understand the concept of back culture in France because there are too many communities to label it one thing. Interestingly enough, the word community in French, 'communautarisme,' can also translate to the English word tribalism. This gives a negative connotation to any group of people who want to gather in a safe space.

Coming to Paris for the first time, you would be shocked to find that this city is a multicultural hub. With most immigrants from French-speaking African countries, you will find different races, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds, especially in the 18th arrondissement. This area is considered Little Africa. Little Africa is one of the few places you can find original fabrics and spices from Africa in France. The 18th is also a place where people of color go to feel community and belonging.

 Image Credit: Clarke Sanders via Unsplash


study done in France showed that 65% of people under the age of 30 say that there are too many immigrants in France. But when you really look at the specifics of the data, it shows that only 8.8% of people living in the country are migrants, and more than half at 57% are Europeans. There is no real accuracy in the statistics about ethnicity in France. Researchers cannot gather this data because it is illegal by the French constitution. It is seen as discriminatory to acknowledge and point out the differences in race, religion, or sex. Similarly, the word 'race' was removed from the constitution in 2018. French leaders said they did this in order for everyone to see themselves as one. They do not realize the impact this can have on people of color.

France's approach to race is simply to ignore it. You are always French before being anything else. In an interview with Travel Noire, Julia Browne tells says that "They [France] have gotten to the place where the word 'race’ has been stripped from the constitution, If you identify as someone from the black race above being a French, it's almost like your betraying." Because people haven’t had the right to express their blackness, there is no collective or homogenous black culture. This means that black people from Antilles, Guadeloupe, Congo, or Senegal don't feel that brotherly and sisterly love. Every countries experience is different and creates a divide within the black community. This is why there is a need for spaces to express blackness free from oppression and judgment.

There are so many examples of white artists creating work about black people. These representations are usually problematic, yet nothing is done about it. The main problem with this is, who speaks for black French people? This is where power and privilege come together to and prove their force. Celine Sciamma made a film in 2014 called Bande de Filles (Girlhood) that created a large amount of controversy in its representation of black people. In an article published by Le Figaro, Sciamma admits that she did no research before writing the script but believes it is a successful representation of the lives of black girls. The film is now used in schools. It is used to show an accurate portrayal of black French girlhood, instead of proving how problematic this representation is.

There is a feeling or presupposition that people from minority-ethic groups are just an anomaly. In an article from Media Diversified, Aude Konan says, “The lack of proper representation is an effect of the institutional power of white privilege.” There is always a conversation about black people to make them feel relevant, but black people are not discussing it. Elle Magazine was criticized for writing articles titled: Models: The come back of black and Black Fashion Icons, where black women were celebrated for adopting "white fashion" instead of streetwear. This lack of representation is both harmful and hurtful to the black French community because they have nothing relatable or close to home. This is why all black spaces are necessary in France.

Black people should be able to stand up and fight for their right to be recognized and helped. Saying that you want people who live in France to be 'one' does not work and can have a horrible long-lasting effect. There needs to be a demand for a seat at the table. People of other races should also stand up and join the conversation because it does create change. That is what it means to create a supportive and safe space for black people. It is not about shaming or retaliating against other races; it's about having a space to express yourself — your complete identity freely.