Best analyses of white privilege in France, s'il vous plait
June 3, 2020 2:28 PM   Subscribe

And acquaintance here in Savannah, GA, US, is originally from France. She's white and is married to a Moroccan man. She thinks the whole concept of white privilege is idiotic. I would like to give her some articles by French people in either French or English that discuss white privilege in France. Merci!
posted by mareli to Law & Government (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't think my suggestion is particularly good, but since this question has gone unanswered for a minute...

I'm a Brit living in the US, and I've encountered a tendency among Britons to accept the idea that racism is endemic in the US but to believe that it doesn't exist in the UK simply because ... there weren't recently millions of slaves in Britain? Or something.

Sometimes this goes as far as a belief they cannot personally be racist or benefit from racism because ... the police in the UK don't carry guns and they murder black people less often than those in the US? Or something.

Basically, they take the observation that, among rich countries, the US's history is an outlier (which in some ways it is!) and shut down all discussion or introspection because the US perspective dominates the discourse.

I think the most accessible antidote for this kind of self-serving European ignorance is Reni Eddo Lodge's book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. It's a short modern primer on racism in the UK, the arguments she makes in no way depend on, for example, a recent civil war over slavery or police murder on the quantitative scale seen in the US. And there's a short chapter specifically about "white privilege" (which, bonus points for your acquaintance, includes a discussion of mixed race families).

It's a book, it's about the UK and she honestly doesn't sound particularly amenable to challenging herself. But that's all I got. Everyone else reading this should read that book though! I did say this wasn't a very good suggestion!
posted by caek at 3:34 PM on June 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: French universalism, expressed in the ideals of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, can make issues relating to race and white privilege more difficult to confront, or even to acknowledge. Some sections of Lise Lalonde's dissertation Disrupting Whiteness in Contemporary France (written in English), may be helpful in exploring this.

This article in The Nation by Karina Piser (who has done a lot of work in France on French secularism) provides some good background too.
posted by theory at 4:30 PM on June 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Well, it wasn’t white women who had their traditional garments banned.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:06 PM on June 3, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with theory--my sons go to a French immersion U.S. public school, and one of their former teachers (who I really like) was suuper tone deaf the other day on social media interjecting in a thread about the current situation, saying "actually, it's 100% about economic class..."
posted by umbú at 5:09 PM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you can get your hands on the documentary Mariannes Noires, I highly recommend it.
posted by TwoStride at 6:15 PM on June 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Possibly a bit highbrow: my French-lit major spouse suggests looking into Frantz Fanon, for an intellectual interpretation. I did find this recent article that touches on his ideas in a current context.
posted by Otter_Handler at 6:26 PM on June 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Liste de ressources francophones pour l’éducation antiraciste. Some works are translations of things created in the Anglosphere but most are by French or Francophone creators. The first article listed is about white privilege, as are a few others. Here is another list of Francophone resources, though a bit more 201 level.

I highly recommend Kiffe ta Race, a very accessible French language podcast hosted by two French women of color, Rokhaya Diallo and Grace Ly. I haven't listened to all their episodes yet but they have several about whiteness specifically: 1, 2.

I also follow Diallo on Twitter, and her feed is an excellent resource for antiracist writing/videos by her and others in both French and English. For example this great French explainer on white privilege.

And in English here's Washington Post summary of the Justice for Adama/Black Lives Matter protests in France, with (brief) cultural commentary on the differences from the American movement.

The big issue you're going to come up against is that many white French people are deeply invested in laïcité/state secularism as one of if not the greatest virtues of the French state and culture. Criticism of how laïcité plays out in practice -- for instance, by pointing out the double standard in the government's treatment of expressions of Christianity vs. Islam -- is taken as an attack not just on the idea of secularism itself, but on the French national identity, its status among other nations, and therefore on that specific person's identity and status as well. It's similar to how many white Americans treat any criticism of the American dream/American exceptionalism as an attack on the US itself and also on them personally. So French perspectives critical of laïcité like theory links to will hopefully be helpful.
posted by bettafish at 7:38 PM on June 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: There is a French graphic writer (she writes in cartoons) named Emma who has written a book called “the mental load” and there is a chapter on police brutality in France. That might be a good start... it’s mostly about male privilege but perhaps that’s a good way to open the door because once she realizes there is male privilege it seems more obvious that there is white privileged too.
posted by pairofshades at 8:48 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A complicating factor in getting through to her may be that the French discriminate against a lot of white people too. The difference in French shops when I talk in Polish and in English with people I'm with is stunning. The former case is very much "every security person suddenly starts following us". There's no collective white identity in an American sense, with skin colour as the main differentiator.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:02 AM on June 4, 2020

Best answer: French universalism, expressed in the ideals of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, can make issues relating to race and white privilege more difficult to confront, or even to acknowledge.

I realize you probably do mean white people theory and I'd agree, but really want to nuance that by repeating that for French people of color, racism and white privilege are in fact not difficult to spot or admit as real. The dominant culture certainly has virtually zero awareness of structural racism as a thing which exists, so it's unfortunately not super surprising that OP's acquaintance isn't really up on it.

That being said, yeah, white French people are mostly like white people everywhere: I'm a GOOD PERSON, my country is a GREAT NATION, we believe in EQUALITY, America is SO MUCH WORSE (for American whites, insert " China" or whoever our villain of the week is), in short HOW DARE U. There's only so far you're going to get if this individual is too insecure to examine her baggage on this.

A really good podcast I found (sadly on hiatus) is Le Tchip. They discuss everything from popular culture (both French and US) to history to their daily experiences as Black people within French culture, hilarious and incisive while still being pretty accessible to people who aren't well-versed in this stuff. They don't pull any punches but they're very straightforward and concrete in what they say.

SOS Racisme (which, if she is over the age of about 35, she should be aware of unless she literally grew up under a rock in deepest Corrèze or something) has reams of info, articles, interviews on this.

If she's not an avowed anti-feminist, Causette frequently features women (including trans women) and queer people of color either as contributors or the subjects of features, and acknowledges (though should probably focus on more) the racial discrimination that exists in every part of life here. The face of the publication is p white and franco-français (to my sensibility) so maybe it would be more comfortable for her (ugh) as an entry point.
posted by peakes at 4:24 AM on June 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh I forgot to add! Crystal Fleming (faculty page & bibliography), while American, is a Black academic at SUNY Stony Brook who has written extensively about questions of race and discrimination in France both throughout history & in the present day. I admit I haven't read them, having just found her work a couple weeks ago, but I have just started her How to Be Less Stupid About Race and have been following her on Twitter. She calls out European racism and racial violence in particular in no uncertain terms while also never letting the US off the hook. The latter might help your friend, since I find a big issue with anyone having anyone from another culture criticize their own is that they tend to react with "and what makes *you people* so much better?"
posted by peakes at 4:44 AM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just published today on France Inter by writer Virginie Despentes: Letter to my white friends who don't see what the problem is (in French).

Quick translation of the first and last paragraphs:
"We're not racist in France but I don't remember ever seeing a black male minister. I'm fifty and I've seen a lot of governments. We're not racist in France but blacks and Arabs are overrepresented in prison populations. We're not racist in France but in the twenty-five years I've been publishing books, I have answered questions from a black journalist only once. I have been photographed only once by a woman with Algerian roots. We're not racist in France but the last time I was refused a table at the terrace, I was with an Arab. The last time I was asked to show identity papers, I was with an Arab. The last time that the person I was waiting for almost missed the train because their papers were being checked by police at the train station, they were black. We're not racist in France, but during lockdown, the mothers who got tased because they didn't have that permission slip to head out that we write ourselves were women of color, in working-class neighborhoods. Whites, meanwhile, were jogging and going to the farmer's market in the 7th arrondissement. We're not racist in France but when they said the death rate in Seine Saint Denis was 60 times higher than the national average, not only did we pretty much not give a shit, but we even said to each other "it's because they're not observing lockdown properly."
"I'm white. I leave my house every day without my papers on me. People like me go back to fetch their credit card when they forget it. The city tells me that this is my home. When there is no pandemic, a white woman like me moves around the city without even noticing where the cops are. And I know that if three of them sat on my back until I could no longer breathe - for the sole reason that I tried to dodge a routine identity check - it would be an enormous scandal. I was born white the way others are born men. The problem isn't in saying "but I never killed anyone" the way they say "but I'm not a rapist." Because privilege is having the choice to think about it, or not. I can't forget that I'm a woman. But I can forget that I'm white. That's what being white is. Thinking, or not thinking about it, depending on your mood. We are not racist in France, but I don't know a single black or Arab who has that choice."
posted by pendrift at 5:19 AM on June 4, 2020 [24 favorites]

Best answer: France puts a huge value on colorblindness and assimilation, not tracking official statistics by race (conveniently hard to describe a problem you don't measure), and French white people often think this somehow makes their country not racist while happily pointing out the racism in the US. I have also had French POC extol the virtues of colorblindness to me, and excuse the racist jokes their white friends make since it's 'obvious they don't really mean it.' Just to give you an idea of the cultural force these ideas have here.

I second the suggestion of the Kiffe ta Race podcast, it's really excellent. The episodes are mostly in French but they do have a couple in English if you wanted to suggest listening to an episode together, though not on privilege specifically.

In the beginning of each episode, they ask their guest how they identify in racial terms and when they first realized this. This idea still quite political in France, where there is not the idea of hyphenated identities (everyone is French) and this idea that everyone is the same race, we are all human beings. Some POC guests really struggle with this, having not thought this way before, and some have heartbreaking stories of first being othered as young children. All of this to say that a white French person who has internalized this idea that we are all one race of human beings is going to have a hard time admitting white privilege, but maybe hearing some direct person experiences that POC have had in France could open her eyes.

Emma's comics on anti-racism and police violence ( including on Adama Traore [English], who was killed by police in France after being arrested using 'plaquage ventral' or being placed on the ground on his stomach with the weight of several officers on him thus suffocating him).
posted by orchidee at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A complicating factor in getting through to her may be that the French discriminate against a lot of white people too. The difference in French shops when I talk in Polish and in English with people I'm with is stunning. The former case is very much "every security person suddenly starts following us". There's no collective white identity in an American sense, with skin colour as the main differentiator.

British people do this too (see also, Brexit). It works differently in Europe compared to the USA, I think due to different white migration histories making the relationship between racism and xenophobia tangle differently. But, in writings from both sides of the Atlantic I have seen this described as 'who counts as really white' and 'degrees of whiteness'. In the context of France, you can see the racism more easily when you ask who counts as really French and which generation of Arab or black migrants will get to count as really French with all the privilege that bestows and how does that compare for generations descended from Polish or Russian migrants.

As your experience demonstrates, alongside racism, xenophobia is a problem in France and other European countries, particularly in relation to eastern Europe. I do not know whether it helps to address both at once with someone like the OP's acquaintance, or to focus only on one at a time.
posted by plonkee at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2020

Response by poster: I marked all best because each of you showed me something new. Before I posted this question I gave her a couple of short fairly mainstream articles on white privilege in the US. Her response was that the whole idea is "completely ridiculous" and I was being manipulated. She said that the rioters are singing a kill all white people song! I asked her what the song was and also asked her whether her (Moroccan, with Arabic name) husband had ever been racially profiled and she completely blocked me on social media. She's a neighbor in my racially-mixed neighborhood.

Thank you for all the reading and viewing material.
posted by mareli at 5:22 AM on June 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to hear she reacted like that, mareli. It's still good that you challenged her viewpoint and tried to give her some resources; ultimately this is work she'll have to do on her own, if she ever decides to.
posted by peakes at 5:28 AM on June 8, 2020

This is an aside, but as someone with dual US and French citizenship who has lived on both sides of the pond, I find that Americans and French people alike are generally far more comfortable examining and discussing the other country's racism than the racism occurring much closer to home. That being said, I suspect this can be attributed to human nature, as opposed to being specific to encounters here in the States or in France.
posted by DavidfromBA at 9:51 PM on June 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

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