Anti-White Racism without Races
Anti-White Racism without Races
French Rap, Whiteness, and Disciplinary Institutionalized Spectacularism
Abstract and Keywords
Analyzing the 2010 court case brought against Devoir d’Insolence authors Bouamama and Zone d’Expression Populaire, the chapter reveals a paradox: the act of fighting discrimination in France is itself increasingly labeled ‘discriminatory’. In fact, this case (and others like it) coincides with the rising currency of the term ‘anti-white racism’ in France. This chapter therefore proposes that ultimately meeting the larger goals of both the authors and artists examined in the book’s earlier chapters, as well as the many scholarly studies that have sought to contest such restrictive understandings of Frenchness requires a complementary approach: interrogating the latent association between whiteness and Frenchness. To this end, it reads Devoir d’Insolence alongside Salif Keïta’s rerelease of ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ featuring L’Skadrille (2007), revealing how these artists and authors destabilize not only images of Frenchness and foreignness, but also the institutionalized spectacularism that perpetuate them. Finally, this chapter also takes seriously the call emanating from the works themselves, which suggest that continuing to position racial and ethnic minorities as the object of inquiry while refusing to subject whiteness to the same scrutiny constitutes institutionalized spectacularism. This chapter therefore proposes that scholars must critically interrogate whiteness within the field of French cultural studies.
In 2010, French sociologist Saïd Bouamama teamed up with rapper Saïdou to publish a text and accompanying rap album entitled Devoir d’Insolence (Duty to Be Insolent). In general, the project critiques a ‘dual citizenship’ model and the vestiges of colonial racism in France that, in the authors’ view, continues to equate racial and ethnic minorities with foreigners. Mere months after publishing Devoir d’Insolence, however, conservative anti-discrimination organization l’AGRIF (l’Alliance générale contre le racisme et pour le respect de l’identité française et chrétienne; General Alliance against Racism and for the Respect of French, Christian Identity) asked that Bouamama and Saïdou be charged with discriminatory hate speech for their publication. It was not until 2015 that Bouamama and Saïdou were acquitted; the judge cited the fact that ‘Les Français de souche, cela n’existe pas’ (There is no such thing as ‘pure French stock’).
Closer analysis of this case reveals a paradox: to fight against discrimination in France is itself increasingly labeled as ‘discriminatory’. In fact, this case (and others like it) coincides with the rising currency of the term ‘anti-white racism’ in France—applied not only to individual instances of violent crime, but also speech acts in which the word ‘white’ is not even uttered. To level these claims against Devoir d’Insolence in particular, however, ironically lends weight to the critiques the text offers—that France’s colorblind universalism brands racial and ethnic minorities as ‘foreigners’ who, even if they are born in France, are rarely considered ‘truly French’. Because the very act of bringing the anti-white (p.121) racism cases depends on equating Frenchness and whiteness, the case itself illustrates the normativity of whiteness in France.
As I have traced in the preceding chapters, immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities have contested this latent association between visible minorities and foreigners, as well as the institutionalized spectacularism underpinning it. Similarly, scholarly studies have sought to complicate notions of a homogeneous French population by foregrounding racial and ethnic minorities’ long presence in and contributions to the Republic.1 Moreover, as I showed in chapters 3 and 4, authors themselves have pluralized not just notions of Frenchness, but also of racial and ethnic communities in France by highlighting the heterogeneity of experiences and perspectives that defines ‘Black France’ and ‘Afropea’. The work these studies accomplish—dissociating images of minorities from those of foreigners and interrogating the idea that discussions of race emerge from postcolonial immigration—cannot be overstated. At the same time, however, by continuing to affirm that racial and ethnic minorities are or can be French, in other words, by ‘writing to right’ the misconception that racial and ethnic minorities are synonymous with immigration, clandestinity, and/or marginalization, these studies paradoxically reinforce—or, at the very least, continue to rehash—the assumption they seek to combat. Seen in this light, affirming the ‘Frenchness’ of racial and ethnic minorities burdens this population with the continuing duty to prove their Frenchness. Though positioning racial and ethnic minorities as a subject worth examining does ultimately pluralize notions of Frenchness, it also nevertheless perpetuates normative gazing dynamics that posit racial and ethnic minority groups as hyperexamined internal other and the white (male) as seeing subject. In my view, doing so extends institutionalized spectacularism to the discipline of French cultural studies.
In this chapter, I therefore propose that ultimately meeting the larger goals of these studies and the calls that emanate from the cultural works studied in this book requires a complementary approach: interrogating the latent association between whiteness and Frenchness. To this end, I turn to two intermedial cultural works—Salif Keïta’s rerelease of ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ featuring the rap group L’Skadrille (2007), and the text, album, and associated music video that make up Bouamama and Saïdou’s Devoir d’Insolence (2010) project—that propose to turn the gaze back on whiteness. Like the works examined in chapters 3 and 4, those studied here destabilize not only images of Frenchness and foreignness, but also the institutionalized spectacularism that perpetuate them. What is more, the works expose a potential risk they run, as (p.122) literature and music seeking to contest discrimination: the mere fact of speaking out against discrimination has itself become a stereotypical narrative expected of France’s racial and ethnic minorities in cultural marketplaces. In the end, however, these works resist characterizing this potential vicious cycle as inescapable. Rather, they propose that fighting discrimination and legacies of French colonial racism must go hand in hand with contesting both normative notions of Frenchness and the ways of looking (or not) that legitimize them.
My analysis of these works draws heavily from the principally anglophone field of whiteness studies—a perspective invited by the fact that the authors and works discussed in this chapter have been the subject of ‘anti-white racism’ lawsuits. I supplement my analysis of these cultural works by reading the term ‘anti-white racism’ and its deployment in political and media discourse as a narrative where notions of discrimination, nation, race, ethnicity, and even culture coalesce. As whiteness studies scholars have proposed, whiteness often evades critical scrutiny and passes as the ‘human norm’.2 It is therefore from this frame of reference that emerges whiteness studies’s project of what Richard Dyer has termed ‘making whiteness strange’ or George Yancy has called ‘marking whiteness’.3 For Yancy, this project ‘is about exposing the ways in which whites have created a form of “humanism” that obfuscates their hegemonic efforts to treat their experiences as universal and representative’.4 As I explore below, Devoir d’Insolence participates in this very project, pointing out that what passes for universal in France is, in fact, a racial particularism in disguise.
There are, however, certain obstacles to neatly applying the lens of whiteness studies to the French case, not least of which is that, though whiteness studies remains skeptical of racial categories’ contours, it nevertheless grants their existence. France’s—and Europe’s more generally—colorblind universalist context, on the other hand, explicitly denies race as a politically salient category. This explains why neither the ample anglophone or less abundant francophone criticism taking race and ethnicity in contemporary France as its focus has yet named or sought to rectify this lacuna. In fact, to date, only one sustained academic inquiry on whiteness in France has been published: Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère’s edited volume De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’ (What Color are White People? From the ‘Poor Whites’ in the Colonies to ‘Anti-White Racism’, 2013).5 Not only do I seek to point out and explicitly name this blind spot surrounding whiteness in French cultural (p.123) studies, I also contend that it constitutes another iteration of what I have been describing throughout this book as ‘institutionalized spectacularism’, one that underpins the discipline of French cultural studies itself. To pluralize notions of race, ethnicity, and national identity in contemporary France, then, we must not only posit whiteness as a race among others, but also turn our own gaze back around on the discipline itself, and the ways of looking (including the blind spots) we adopt.
If race is dismissed as a category in France, how might whiteness be ‘made strange’? The works studied below offer a striking answer. In addition to ‘mak[ing] whiteness strange’ through explicit discussions of race, they also do so by employing the same proxies—particularly ‘genealogy’ and ‘culture’—used to racialize alterity in France. In other words, beyond just pointing to and explicitly naming ‘whiteness’, the works use the very ways of racing otherness to implicitly point out and name whiteness as a race in France. Additionally, they expose and interrogate how whiteness maintains its status as gazing subject by positioning itself as both ubiquitous and simultaneously unexamined, while minorities remain invisible (that is, conspicuously absent) but yet hypervisible (that is, constantly subjected to scrutiny). Ultimately, the uneven edges that complicate neat mapping between the fields of French cultural studies and whiteness studies offer the most productive theoretical possibilities here. Taking up the works’ call to critically interrogate race, culture, and genealogy in France—and, above all, subjecting whiteness to the same gaze that continues to posit racial and ethnic minorities as ‘others’—will complement existing studies’ pluralizing notions of Frenchness.
In my view, the force of the cultural works’ critique stems from their work to ‘make whiteness strange’ within existing frameworks that racialize alterity in the absence of racial vocabulary. Before turning to the works themselves, I first trace how the concepts they use (‘genealogy’ and ‘culture’) emerge as proxies for discussions of race in France’s colorblind context.
Race and France’s National Family Tree
Though France’s colorblind universalism officially eschews categories of race, ethnicity, and religion, it does not wholly suppress all racializing rhetoric. Fatima El-Tayeb puts it bluntly:
‘Political racelessness’ does not equate experiential or social racelessness, that is, the absence of racial thinking, rather it creates a form of (p.124) racialization that can be defined as specifically European both in its enforced silence and in its explicit categorization as not European of all those who violate Europe’s implicit, but normative whiteness […]. The result is an image of a self-contained and homogeneous Europe in which racialized minorities remain outsiders permanently.6
In other words, Europe’s ‘enforced silence’ about race does not prevent such discussions from transpiring, even on national levels. Trica Keaton offers a similar outlook: France’s discourse of colorblind universalism ultimately ‘cannot help but engender what it denies or seeks to evade—“race” consciousness—among people whose visible differences trigger social meanings that are seized upon to represent them’.7 Worse still, in her view, as in mine, this rhetoric of race is also set ‘against normative [white] racialized ideals of “Frenchness”’.8 Not only does a discourse of colorblindness fail to prevent the circulation of racialized (white) images of Frenchness from which racialized ‘others’ deviate but, by suppressing the vocabulary of race that could be used to interrogate such processes, it also ensures that the underlying institutionalized spectacularism that perpetuates it escapes critical scrutiny.
Over the course of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, these normalized racialized ideas of Frenchness are also apparent through reactionary affirmations of a monocultural, monoethnic, and monochrome France. As David Theo Goldberg asserts, discussions of ‘multi-ethnic France’ have reignited claims to
‘authentic’ European identity articulated in terms of cultural Christianity, racial whiteness, and behavioral civilities. Contemporary Europe reinscribes itself as European precisely through re-cognizing and silently, implicitly re-narrating its racial contours in the face of these potentially fracturing challenges.9
Goldberg’s assessment captures the dynamism inherent in how Europe imagines culture, nation, and race interact. Most important for my study is his formulation of reactionary ‘re-cognition’—that is, the way in which Europe has mentally redrawn its racial contours. As I discuss in more detail below, episodes such as the 2009 National Identity Debate in France have served just such a purpose.
What is more, as Goldberg’s analysis intimates, contemporary Europe also projects these identities back in time to present a unified and unchanging homogeneous national identity as historical fact. As Françoise Vergès puts it, such reactionary claims reinforce the image of ‘une communauté nationale imaginée et unie de manière fantasmatique (p.125) autour de valeurs culturelles présentées comme traversant les siècles sans jamais être affectées’ (a national community imagined and united in a fantasmatic way around cultural values that are presented as having crossed centuries without ever changing).10 Additionally, such a re-cognition, Jean-Loup Amselle explains, is visible in the resurgence of French ‘origin’ myths among major late twentieth-century political figures from both left and right (including Giscard d’Estaing, Le Pen, Chirac, and Mitterrand). As he argues, deploying such myths reimagines the nation as an ethnically homogeneous space and, ‘as a result, establishes a radical difference between people of “French stock” and everyone else’.11 In this way, Frenchness, opposed to the racial-and-ethnic-minority-as-foreigner, becomes implicitly raced as white.
But if these interdependent notions of race and national identity permeate France’s contemporary social and political rhetoric, how have such reactions been framed, absent a wider vocabulary to discuss race and ethnicity? Nothing better captures these complexities than two terms (including one Amselle uses above) often set in opposition: Français de souche (a person of pure French stock) and Français issu de l’immigration (a French person of immigrant background). In everyday parlance, the former refers to white, French individuals while the latter designates racial and ethnic minorities. These terms conflate race, immigration, and ‘post-migratory processes’12 and simultaneously pinpoint immigration as the origin for discussions of race in France. The term de souche (of pure stock) in particular has overtones of family and genealogy. The word at its heart, souche, (also meaning ‘tree stump’) conjures the image of a family tree whose roots are planted firmly within the national soil. In fact, this relationship between blood and land brings to mind the two principal legal paradigms—jus sanguinis and jus soli—through which nations define citizenship, and underscores how Français de souche can lay claim to French citizenship through both.13 The phrase Français issu de l’immigration, or ‘a French individual of immigrant background’, on the other hand, posits ‘immigration’ as an inherited trait, passed down through a family tree whose roots are firmly planted outside of France.
This inherited quality of ‘immigration’ in France bears striking similarities to the model of social racial inheritance which Naomi Zack has explored in the American context, a schema she has termed ‘the social one-drop rule’.14 As she has suggested, this social one-drop rule is imbricated in notions of kinship:
If a person has a black parent, a black grandparent, or a black greatn-grandparent (where n is the number of generations in the past and can (p.126) be any degree of ancestry), then that person is considered black. But if a person has a white parent, or three white grandparents, or Z white greatn-grandparents (where Z is any odd number and n is still any degree of ancestry), then that person is not thereby considered white. This schema unjustly excludes people with black forebears from white designation.15
In the French case, one remarks a similar inheritance model: racial and ethnic minorities are often referred to as ‘second-’ or even ‘third-generation immigrants’.16 The quality of being of pure French stock—a code for whiteness in its everyday use—is, like whiteness in the American model, defined negatively through the absence of ‘immigrant’ kinship.
In France, this vocabulary of immigration and its properties as an inherited trait reinforces images of the nation as a ‘domestic genealogy’ whose foundation rests upon the family unit.17 In fact, in 2007 French Parliament passed a law containing an amendment proposed by Thierry Mariani (former Vice-President of the Union for a Popular Movement political party) to make DNA testing mandatory for relatives of immigrants seeking reunification.18 Though highly controversial, the amendment was subsequently upheld in court. As scholars such as Éric Fassin and Dominic Thomas have argued, this amendment effectively divides the French population into two categories: those whose must prove their familial and genealogical ties to France, and those for whom such ties are assumed.19 Additionally, as Fassin traces, this amendment illustrates the central role played by notions of family and filiation in conceptions of national identity. One unsettling consequence of this amendment, he points out, is that it ‘défini[t] en creux, à partir de l’ADN des immigrés, l’ADN national’ (implicitly defines the national DNA based on its opposition to immigrants’ DNA).20 Hopelessly entangling what are fundamentally distinct realms (biology, family, society, nation), the law also effectively reinforces the notion of purity (Français de souche) that continues to mark racial and ethnic minorities as others.
In addition to ‘genealogy’, the notion of ‘culture’ has also become a means of implicitly discussing race in France’s colorblind context. In the colonial period, policies of assimilation and integration posited French national identity as a set of cultural values not (yet) shared by colonized subjects. Legacies of this mentality continue to resurface, even in the twenty-first century. For instance, in 2012, French Interior Minister Claude Guéant proposed that certain practices often associated with Islam, including ‘praying in the street’ or ‘wearing the veil’, are inconsistent with French values and should not be permitted in public spaces such as the French National Assembly. He concluded that ‘toutes (p.127) les civilisations, toutes les pratiques, toutes les cultures, au regard de nos principes républicains, ne se valent pas’ (not all civilizations, all practices, all cultures are equal in the eyes of our republican principals).21 In the same way that the DNA amendment entangles genealogy, nation, family, and even race, Guéant’s statement conflates ‘culture’, ‘civilization’, and ‘national identity’. His assessment assumes that, regardless of birthplace or citizenship, participating in certain cultural or religious practices excludes individuals from true ‘cultural’ Frenchness.
These hypervisible markers of cultural otherness also serve to reinforce the unexamined norms from which they supposedly deviate. As Richard Dyer has proposed of the anglophone context: ‘as long as race is something only applied to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people’.22 In France, though minorities are not seen and named through an official vocabulary of ‘race’, or counted in ethnic statistics, they are nevertheless seen and named through problematic proxies.23 As I have suggested elsewhere in this book, scholars have sought to destabilize this othering rhetoric. Paradoxically, however, as I suggested at this chapter’s outset, to affirm how racial and ethnic minorities can be or are French is to continue to saddle this population with the burden of proving its Frenchness, leaving the association between whiteness and Frenchness unchallenged.
The absence of official vocabulary to talk about race and ethnicity in France suggests the importance, then, of turning to cultural works that grapple with these topics. What is surprising in the two principal works I consider below—Salif Keïta and L’Skadrille’s collaboration on a remix of ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ and Bouamama and Saïdou’s Devoir d’Insolence project—is that they, like the larger discourse that eschews racial vocabulary, critique the latent association between whiteness and Frenchness through the same proxies that implicitly racialize minorities. In other words, the works both expose and interrogate how Frenchness has been raced white through the rhetoric of genealogy and culture.
Moving Forward by Looking Back: Keïta and L’Skadrille’s ‘Nou Pas Bouger’
Released more than ten years after the original song (discussed in Chapter 2) and the sans-papiers crisis with which it was initially affiliated, the 2007 remix of ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ delivers a clear message: (p.128) racial and ethnic minorities still face as much marginalization as they did in the late twentieth century. Another song released the same year, the cover of Charles Trenet’s ‘Douce France’ (‘Sweet France’, 1947) by the collective calling itself Les Enfants du Pays (The Children of the Country) is strikingly similar to ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ in its subject matter (contemporary multiethnic France) and its music video.24 Its tone and message, however, could not be more different from ‘Nou Pas Bouger’. Where the former uncritically espouses an optimistic ‘vivre ensemble’ (living together) mentality, ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ suggests that such a point can only be reached by taking a step back to point out and contest institutionalized spectacularism—a move that also involves interrogating whiteness. Comparing these two songs more closely reveals how ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ moves beyond the limitations of ‘Douce France’: not only does it (unlike ‘Douce France’) cast a critical eye on constructions of Frenchness and alterity (particularly the vocabulary of genealogies that situate racial and ethnic minorities as ‘other’), but, more importantly still, it (unlike ‘Douce France’) also turns the gaze back on itself to contemplate its own role (and that of the larger cultural marketplaces in which it circulates) in perpetuating both stereotypical images and the institutionalized spectacularism that legitimate them.
At its core, Les Enfants du Pays’s cover of ‘Douce France’ puts forth an extremely positive and timely message through its vocal delivery, musical composition, and music video: contemporary France’s landscape is richer because of its citizens’ diversity.25 Choosing Trenet’s song specifically to deliver this message adds additional weight to the message. Written while he was residing in the United States, Trenet’s original lyrics (the same ones performed by the over fifty athletes and artists in the remake) exude nostalgia for the country he had left behind. This same nostalgia has become a perennial organizing principle of the extreme right wing party, which often decries the disappearance of the France depicted in Trenet’s song. Les Enfants du Pays’s choice of song not only highlights the heterogeneity of those who now claim ‘douce France’ as their home, but also calls into question the notions of an historically homogeneous French population on which conservative rhetoric of nostalgia draws.
Though Trenet’s lyrics remain unchanged in the Les Enfants du Pays cover, the vocal delivery and musical composition depart quite dramatically from the original. In the original, Trenet delivers all of the lyrics alone; in the cover, individuals (of wildly differing timbres and vocal ability) each sing one line from the verse and multiple voices come together on the chorus. This move suggests that, far from one (p.129) homogeneous vision and narrative, contemporary France draws its strength from its diversity. In terms of musical composition, unlike Trenet’s original, which features simple instrumentation (rhythmic piano, rhythmic guitar, and a xylophone), the cover sounds much fuller. Its instrumentation—including guitars, stringed instruments, accordion, and a variety of percussion—lends a multicultural air, while the minor keys and quarter-tones recall North African music. All of these elements produce a textured, interesting, and harmonically balanced whole, musically reiterating the song’s larger message.
Les Enfants du Pays’s music video juxtaposes shots of the multiethnic cast of celebrities singing and dancing with shots of a painter who, over the course of the four-minute video, transforms an all-black canvas into his masterpiece: two impressionistic hands giving thumbs up (one blue, one red) accompanied by the words ‘Les Enfants du Pays / Douce France’ in white. Throughout the bulk of the video, the multiethnic cast (shot primarily individually, or in groups of three or four) performs against solid black or white backgrounds, clad in black or white clothing. The cinematography employs split screens, wipes, and shadow fades to further the black and white motif. The portrait-in-the-making topos stands as a metaphor for the larger video: it paints the portrait of contemporary (and, above all, multiethnic) France. Black and white come together, forming integral parts of the collective portrait.
A superficial comparison of the videos of ‘Douce France’ and the ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ remake reveal striking resemblances. In each, black and white chromatics dominate the first three-and-a-half minutes, giving way to color for the last thirty seconds. Both also make use of the portrait topos. Closer examination of how they visualize this portrait-in-the-making, however, reveals their opposing messages. Unlike ‘Douce France’, in which the portrait’s painting is confined to the video’s diegesis, the portrait in ‘Nou Pas Bouger’—a series of archival video clips projected onto a panel of hanging strips (discussed in more depth below)—draws from already completed footage to construct its narrative. Moreover, whereas ‘Douce France’ resists deeper delving into some of the more problematic moments in the making of France’s collective portrait, ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ makes these tensions a focal point for its audience. These seemingly small differences capture the significant ways in which the two visions of contemporary multiethnic France differ. Whereas ‘Douce France’ seeks to promote a ‘vivre ensemble’ message in the present (the diegetic portrait), ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ insists that this vision of France can only be achieved through first critically (p.130) interrogating the historical underpinnings of racial, ethnic, and national identities in France (including whiteness) as well as the gaze that continues to posit minorities as internal others (the archival film). I now turn to the lyrical and musical composition of ‘Nou Pas Bouger’, and the visual composition of its video, to illustrate how it moves beyond these limitations of ‘Douce France’.
In ‘Nou Pas Bouger’, L’Skadrille’s lyrics remain pessimistic about transcending notions of French national identity that depend on ideas of genealogical and cultural purity. In their view, racial and ethnic minorities ‘continueront pour d’éternels étrangers’ (will always be considered foreigners).26 Despite this seemingly bleak assertion, L’Skadrille complicate the narrow vision of French national identity that demands its citizens cast off their national origins and cultural heritage, ultimately proposing that Frenchness itself (because of the country’s diverse population) has its roots elsewhere. Though both members of L’Skadrille were born in France, they deliberately affirm their national heritage: ‘Je suis du Mali / Je suis en France’ (I am from Mali / I am in France).27 Such a statement seems to fly in the face of France’s colorblind universalist ideals that (at least politically) deny the pertinence of its citizens’ national origin. Such a line also resists easy readings. One could read it as a means of strategically adopting a marginalized positionality—that is, performing the very position of ‘outsider’ that others inscribe onto them. Yet L’Skadrille’s bold declaration might also be sincere. Read this way, L’Skadrille demand that the audience consider alternative visions of national identity that would allow space for potentially conflicting constituent elements to coexist.
Just as the duo locates its roots outside of France, Keïta’s lyrics use a vocabulary of genealogy (often used to ‘other’ racial and ethnic minorities) to provocatively suggest that French national identity’s roots extend beyond the nation’s borders. In the song’s opening, Keïta first addresses whiteness, pointing out (in Bambara, translated in French subtitles in the video) that after colonization, ‘les blancs sont restés vivre en Afrique, partout en Afrique’ (white people stayed to live in Africa, everywhere in Africa).28 Not only does this line resuscitate the historical entanglement between France and its former colonies, it also complicates notions of Frenchness, inverting L’Skadrille’s line discussed above. Keïta reencodes ‘whiteness’ as foreign, complicates views that race can be neatly mapped onto national and continental borders, and celebrates cultural and racial relativism. From a purely numerical standpoint, the whites who live in Africa are no less minorities than blacks in France; (p.131) yet only the latter are forcibly removed from a territory they now call home: ‘Maintenant ils veulent qu’on rentre chez nous’ (Now they want us to go home).29
In his second lyrical intervention, Keïta similarly contests how blackness is often equated with unbelonging in France. Praising the tirailleurs’ (colonial troops) service to France, he proclaims, ‘Ce n’était pas la guerre de leurs mères, ce n’était pas la guerre de leurs pères, mais ils sont nombreux les Noirs qui sont morts pour cette guerre’ (It was not their mothers’ war, it was not their fathers’ war, but many were the blacks who died for that war).30 Evoking the literal genealogy of the tirailleurs (through the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’) in his larger discussion of how these soldiers fought a war that was not their own, Keïta offers a more inclusive vision of genealogies in which the colonies and métropole are inseparable. In fact, Keïta’s role as griot—whose traditional function in society was to preserve the population’s history and to sing individuals’ lineages—lends additional significance to these lines and to the song as a whole. Though the ‘Nou’ (We) in the song’s title initially seems to refer only to a limited subset of the larger French population (racial and ethnic minorities in France), this history, as Keïta’s lines suggest, is also the history of France itself. Cultures and genealogies often pegged as ‘foreign’ become an integral part of Frenchness, and the more restrictive vision of ‘Nou’ gives way to an all-inclusive ‘Nous’. In singing the history of this marginalized population, Keïta sings the history of all of France.
‘Nou Pas Bouger’ also critiques notions of national identity rooted in conceptions of cultural purity, articulated most powerfully through its musical composition. Triangulating the major points on the Black Atlantic, the music affirms transatlantic identitarian struggles and reminds the audience that this circulation (in which Europeans are also implicated) bears directly on questions of belonging in contemporary France. Compared to the original musical track (discussed in Chapter 2), which deploys a more global 1980s musical aesthetic, the remake is much more abrasive and multivalent. From the first beat, one notes distinct differences from the original: the prominent xylophone and bassline have been replaced by a drum machine and kora and the upbeat compound rhythm (carried by prominent triplets) is now straight. The remix’s instrumentation has become simultaneously more traditional (the kora is the instrument that traditionally accompanies the griot) and more contemporary (the synthesized drum beats are characteristic of hip-hop). The hip-hop elements forge a connection across the Black Atlantic, reminiscent of earlier African American forms of musical (p.132) expression such as jazz.31 In fact, hip-hop’s circulation throughout the Black Atlantic32 and across national boundaries33 makes it, for Lipsitz, ‘the most important recent manifestation of post-colonial culture on a global scale’.34 By bringing together diverse musical traditions, the song charts a cultural genealogy that has both historical and social implications: the topics discussed in the song (notions of belonging, immigration, and race in contemporary France) cannot be divorced from histories of dispersal and subjugation, or those of national and transnational struggle in which the cultural works participate.
Finally, the song not only critiques these restrictive notions of French national identity through its lyrics, its video’s visual dynamics also expose the gaze that continues to posit the racial and ethnic minority as the hyperexamined ‘internal other’ while whiteness passes unexamined. Like the 1989 music video, the remake features a central dancing figure. Unlike the dancer in the 1989 video, who was clad in a traditional mask and grass skirt, the 2007 video’s dancer wears modern dance apparel: his torso remains bare and he wears white athletic style pants.35 The contrast between his black skin and white pants inverts the uniform the two members of L’Skadrille wear during the majority of the video—white tops and black pants. Many of the dancer’s moves effortlessly blend a combination of slower, fluid motions and faster, explosive ones, demonstrating his precise body control. Coupled with his bare torso, which highlights his muscles, these movements spectacularize the black body, recalling how it was studied, classified, and put on display during the many colonial exhibitions and Negro villages, such as the Exposition coloniale discussed in Chapter 1.36 The dancer’s body and movements thus remind viewers of preconceived notions of the black body’s strength, flexibility, and ‘exotic’ movements, and challenge them to acknowledge how these same stereotypes have shaped national identity and immigration discourse in contemporary France.
Additionally, like the original video, the 2007 remake features vertical lines and archival footage that disrupt the continuity of the musical performance; however, their implementations differ drastically. The majority of the 1989 video depicts musicians performing the song against a white background; the three segments of archival footage it incorporates (always coterminous with the entire video’s frame) interrupt the musicians’ performance. At other moments, the original video evokes histories such as colonization and the slave trade not through archival footage but through sequences produced for the video, such as the close-ups of shackled feet slowly walking left to right or (p.133) the handcuffed wrists moving from right to left, analyzed in Chapter 2. The 2007 music video presents the archival footage differently. First, it lacks staged sequences in which actors perform historical moments; the video only evokes these histories through archival footage. Second, the 2007 version’s set design—namely, the central panel of hanging strips onto which words and archival images are projected—introduces multiple frames into the video, a feature not present in the original. This relationship between the panel and the video’s larger frame, however, is not immediately apparent to the viewer. Even though the vertical lines created by the gaps between the strips are visible, the low light within the larger frame during its first three shots (first: the song’s title projected onto the strips; second: close-up archival footage of an African man wearing a traditional hat; third: a medium shot of a group of people welcoming a colonial official) prevents the viewer from noting that the panel structure is not coterminous with the set itself. After ten seconds, the camera zooms out slowly (as archival footage continues to play), and over the next five seconds, three silhouettes move toward the central panel. The low light initially prevents viewers from discerning whether or not these shadows are diegetic to the archival footage, but at sixteen seconds, bright rear lights come up, revealing the three artists standing in front of the panel. The camera then jumps such that the edge of the panel is again coterminous with the video’s edge.
Projecting the images onto the panel of hanging strips reflects on framing and gazing dynamics more generally. L’Skadrille and Keïta primarily perform in front of the panel; however, the dancing figure often moves through, destabilizes, and parts the hanging strips, which similarly disrupts the coherence of the images or words projected onto them. This move suggests the need to return to and, more importantly, actively engage with history in order to construct a more nuanced vision of multiethnic France. Moreover, the frame-within-a-frame construction exposes and subsequently invites its spectator to examine the institutionalized spectacularism that posits alterity as a spectacle, while whiteness remains in the comfortable role of gazer.
Finally, this set design also allows the video to turn the gaze back on itself as a cultural object and the role it plays in constructing images of race in France. During the video’s final thirty seconds, the artists step through the panel of hanging strips to actively participate in the scene (Figures 7 and 8). The camera captures their transition from the music video set to the world inside the panels through one seemingly continuous shot, panning slowly to the right as the artists (followed (p.134)
closely by a multiethnic crowd) walk down a colorful, graffiti-lined street. The group’s measured, steady pace suggests progress. During this hopeful march, however, the camera continues to pan to the right, and just as the camera captures the group head-on, the image begins to (p.135)
fracture, the color becomes less saturated, and what was presented as one unified image dissolves as the hanging strips return to disrupt the image. Still without any discernible cuts, the camera continues its pan to capture both the image of the crowd marching, now projected on the hanging strips, and a projector behind the scene, before the screen suddenly goes black and the video concludes (Figure 9).
This ending puts the video itself literally on the same plane as the archival images that have come before, to suggest that ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ itself is but one image among many possible narratives about contemporary France. In taking a self-reflexive stance on its own role in perpetuating both images of alterity, and the institutionalized spectacularism that legitimize racial and ethnic minorities as an object of inquiry, ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ joins Mabanckou’s and Miano’s novels which, as I discussed in chapters 3 and 4, respectively, use their intermedial textual form to similar ends. Doing so also allows ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ to transcend the limitations that haunt ‘Douce France’: its resistance to critically examining the overwhelmingly optimistic ‘vivre ensemble’ message it puts forth.
Like ‘Nou Pas Bouger’, the Devoir d’Insolence project to which I now turn probes the ways in which discourses of ‘genealogy’ and ‘culture’ put forth latently white visions of French national identity, and also plays with multiple levels of framing. In so doing, it exposes and interrogates the white gaze, while simultaneously maintaining a cautious perspective (p.136) on the role it plays—as a commodity—in exoticizing racial and ethnic minorities in France.
Talking Back, Staring Back: Bouamama and Saïdou’s Devoir d’Insolence
In 2010, French sociologist Saïd Bouamama joined Saïdou, rapper and vocalist from the Lille-based popular music group Z.E.P. (Zone d’Expression Populaire)37 to publish a book and accompanying album entitled Devoir d’Insolence. This collaborative effort bridging the ivory tower and the banlieue38 is just one example of Bouamama’s larger efforts as a public intellectual in France, and fits in to his work as one of the founding members of the radical political party Indigènes de la République (Natives of the Republic).39 This activist-group-turned-political-party emerged just before the widespread rioting in France in 2005, proposing to fight what it saw as continued colonial mentalities in the present. Additionally, one of its main concerns is to promote solidarity between marginalized people, especially in France.40
Given how Bouamama’s sociological projects, guided by political commitment, draw from both the academic and popular spheres, it is no surprise that he chose to collaborate with Saïdou, whose group Z.E.P. resists straightforward generic classifications and prefers instead to promote itself as musicians united by common political struggles.41 Though it is often branded a hip-hop group, even its instrumentation testifies to its complex aesthetics: its four permanent members are Saïdou (singer), Salim Sferdjella (accordionist), Kamel Flouka (acoustic guitar), and Saknes (drum box and backup vocals). In fact, though Saïdou does, at times, rap his lyrics, most of Z.E.P.’s musical compositions draw from a variety of musical backgrounds, interweaving French chanson-style singing, North African rhythms and instrumentation, an upbeat French accordion, and hip-hop style synthesized drum and percussion tracks to create multivalenced musical narratives.
Turning now to this intermedial project, I trace how both the text and the album critique notions of French genealogical and cultural purity in order to interrogate restrictive notions of French national identity. I first explore Bouamama’s writings on the 2009 National Identity Debate in France published in Devoir d’Insolence to tease out how the notion of genealogy becomes a proxy for race in France. Then I turn to the album, analyzing closely two tracks in particular: ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ (p.137) (a play on words meaning both ‘The Face of French Heritage’, which emphasizes the critique of the latent association between whiteness and Frenchness, and ‘I’ve had it with French Heritage!’) and ‘Nique la France’ (‘Fuck France’). These songs’ musical composition, instrumentation, and even sampling practices illustrate the album’s larger contestation of notions of cultural purity. What is more, they, like ‘Nou Pas Bouger’, take a step back to contemplate the gazing dynamics that allow for such pure notions of culture and identity to persist. Ultimately, the project also scrutinizes itself to consider whether the discourse of protest also constitutes a site that perpetuates the very institutionalized spectacularism it seeks to combat.
In the Devoir d’Insolence text, Bouamama explores the relationship between genealogy, race, and national identity through the lens of the 2009 National Identity Debate discussed in this book’s introduction. He points to the many responses collected on the debate’s website that proposed genealogical or familial definitions of Frenchness (such as ‘someone whose French ancestry goes back five generations’),42 as evidence that national identity is viewed as ‘une essence […] quasiment inscrite dans les gènes, qu’il faudrait préserver des influences extérieures’ (an essence practically inscribed in one’s genetic code that must be protected from outside influences).43 In his view, the debate was merely a screen meant to reinforce the image of ‘une Europe blanche et chrétienne devant préserver sa pureté face aux dangers d’une immigration noire, arabe et musulmane’ (a white Christian Europe that must preserve its purity in the face of black, Arab, and Muslim immigration).44 Bouamama’s assessment here bears striking similarities to Zack’s conclusions about race in the United States discussed earlier. Just as the ‘social one-drop rule’ effectively preserves notions of genealogical whiteness, so too do the genealogical articulations of Frenchness latently racialize national identity in France’s colorblind context. As Bouamama’s critique highlights, these identities (white Europe and black, Arab, and Muslim immigrants) are mutually co-constitutive.
Like the Devoir d’Insolence text, the music album that accompanies it also contests the myths of cultural (and racial) purity underpinning Frenchness. Many of its songs, for instance, ironically reference tired refrains about threats to French linguistic purity. Elsewhere, the album compounds such linguistic tensions; for instance, its fifth track, ‘Inscris, “je suis arabe”’ (‘Write down, “I’m Arab”’), which might best be described as a spoken word performance, superimposes—but pans to opposite mono channels—its two vocal tracks spoken in different (p.138) languages. The one in Arabic (panned left) begins just a few seconds before the one in French (panned right). Speaking simultaneously, the two vocal tracks compete for recognition, challenging the listener to grapple with how multiple identities and narratives might complement or conflict with one another.
The album draws on a variety of influences to call into question notions of national identity as homogeneous culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in the album’s ninth track, ‘Troubadour’, which reflects on the position of the singer as spokesperson for his or her community and a journalist of his or her time. The troubadour tradition originated in France’s Occitan region, a multicultural Mediterranean contact zone within a much larger multiethnic France whose landscape hardly resembled the unified nation it has become. Evoking this tradition within a song critiquing rigid notions of national identity not only establishes cultural continuities between the rap and troubadour art forms, it also emphasizes that the very notion of ‘Frenchness’ from which minorities supposedly depart is a relatively recent development.
Many of the songs also deploy references to canonical French cultural works and authors to a similar effect. Some such references are made in passing (‘démasquer le racisme de Voltaire’ [unmasking the racism of Voltaire]),45 while others are more sustained. For instance, the album’s eighth track, ‘La part du fromage’ (‘Share of the Cheese’) recasts La Fontaine’s canonical fable ‘Le corbeau et le renard’ (‘The Crow and the Fox’)—originally a tale warning against falling victim to flattery—as an interaction between normative French society (the crow) and marginalized individuals (now a magpie instead of a fox). When the magpie politely requests his ‘share of the cheese’ (‘Si maître corbeau sur son arbre perché voulait partager son fromage’ [Would Mr. Crow, perched in his tree, kindly share his cheese]) the crow refuses, citing their difference in species as his reason (‘lui il ne partage qu’avec ceux de sa race’ [he only shares with those of his race]).46 Drawing on and subsequently rewriting French canonical cultural works in music dealing with those often imagined to be at France’s margins repositions these populations squarely at the nation’s center.47
‘Nique la France’—the song for which Bouamama and Saïdou would face legal troubles, which I discuss below—takes as its focus discrimination in contemporary France, contesting how national identity is often raced implicitly through the notion of culture. The lyrics, for instance, evoke Muslim religious identity as a set of cultural practices (such as not eating pork) that mark practitioners’ exclusion from French (p.139) national identity: ‘Ils veulent l’intégration / Par la Rolex ou le jambon / Ici on t’aime / Quand t’es riche et quand tu bouffes du cochon’ (They want integration / By Rolex or ham / Here you are loved / When you’re rich and you eat pig).48 Elsewhere, however, the lyrics interrogate the supposed purity of this cultural identity; for instance, they point out how some markers of cultural ‘otherness’, including North African cuisine and music, have become normalized in France: ‘Certes ils adorent le couscous / Et Cheb Khaled’ (Of course they love couscous / And Cheb Khaled).49 Just as ‘Troubadour’ evokes the cultural and ethnic plurality of medieval France to underscore how the very notion of a unified nation (and a national culture shared by its citizens) is a modern construct, these lines from ‘Nique la France’ underscore the arbitrariness of what constitutes national cultural identity.
The musical composition of ‘Nique la France’ (particularly its instrumentation) also complicates notions of cultural purity. ‘Nique la France’, like most of Z.E.P.’s songs, is comprised of four major musical elements that testify to their multiple identities: a melodic accordion, a rhythm accordion, a synthesized drum track, and Saïdou’s vocals. The song’s opening prominently features the melodic accordion—one of the most ‘traditional’ French instruments—whose minor key, long-held notes and chords (rather than single notes) lend a tone of resistance and discord. Though the minor key might create an air of tension in the song—reinforced through Saïdou’s vocal delivery—this tension does not devolve into a threatening, hate-filled, or even nihilistic tone. Neither, however is it resolved by the song’s end. Rather, the song’s musical composition emphasizes the lyrics’ force, suggesting that though at times different ‘cultures’ (all of which make up France) might clash, they nevertheless unite in harmony.
In addition to critiquing minorities’ marginalization, ‘Nique la France’ also turns its attention to iterations of the normative gaze that perpetuate this dynamic. The song’s lyrics highlight how whiteness functions as the unexamined, ubiquitous norm, arguing that racial and ethnic minorities’ absence in larger arenas constitutes both structural and everyday forms of discrimination.50 The song focuses in on two venues where minorities are conspicuously absent—France’s National Assembly and its official historical discourse—affirming that ‘à l’Assemblée / Il y a que des culs tous blancs, / [Le racisme est] dans vos souvenirs, dans votre histoire / Dont vous êtes si fiers / […] / Il est dans vos mémoires / Et impossible de s’en défaire’ (In the National Assembly / There are only white asses, / [Racism is] in your memories, in your history / Of which you are so (p.140) proud / […] It’s in your memories / And it’s impossible to dismantle it).51 This mention of whiteness—the only explicit one of the song—puts the National Assembly’s racial composition into dialogue with French history to suggest the latter’s whitewashing.52 For the artists, the television screen and history books promote racially homogeneous visions of Frenchness where whiteness’s ubiquity is not ‘seen and named’ (to reprise Dyer). The force of Z.E.P.’s song, then, is to do just that: to see and name whiteness.
Another song, ‘La gueule du patrimoine’, incorporates both authentic and staged audio samples to examine how collective demonstrations and cultural works (including ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ itself) become a site through which minority identities are made visible. In so doing, it points out the risk inherent in such works: that speaking out against discrimination becomes a stereotypical narrative associated with racial and ethnic minorities and thus perpetuates institutionalized spectacularism in the cultural marketplace. The song begins and ends with authentic audio samples from a news report covering a protest in Marseille in October 2010 against the Besson immigration law.53 In the opening moments, protesters’ voices quickly fade to a journalist’s commentary, followed by an interview between another journalist and a French individual, who bemoans the rise of immigration and the loss of French culture. A woman’s sudden ululation gives way to Saïdou’s ironic response to the French interviewee, wherein he celebrates examples often cited as evidence of the decline of French cultural purity (‘Sacrilège! Il y a du halal à la cantine, la chorba dans la cuisine / le hijab à la piscine’ [Sacrilege! There’s halal in the cafeteria, chorba in the kitchen / hijabs at the pool]).54 All of the song’s elements—Saïdou’s diction, vocal delivery, and the musical composition—ooze irony, inviting dialog rather than confrontation.
This invitation to dialog, however, is rebuffed within the song itself during two spoken, staged conversations (2:26–2:36; 2:57–3:06) between a cultural consumer and Saïdou. Through these interludes, the song considers how, paradoxically, its own discourse of protest and resistance has become a new exoticized stereotype ascribed to racial and ethnic minorities. In the first of these two conversation scenes, the song’s French listener (panned left) proclaims his appreciation for ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ itself: ‘le métissage, le brassage de cultures […]. Ces jeunes qui expriment leur colère […]. J’adore!’ (the hybridization, the mixing of cultures […]. These youth who express their rage […]. I love it!).55 In the second conversation segment, the listener assesses the work’s (p.141) strengths: ‘d’habitude je n’aime pas le rap, mais ce que j’aime c’est que vous ne tombez ni dans la victimisation, ni dans les clichés’ (normally, I don’t like rap, but I like that you resort to neither victimization, nor clichés) before declaring, ‘puis quelle maîtrise de la langue française!’ (and what mastery of the French language!).56 The cultural consumer’s comment clearly indicates the extent to which the artists in Z.E.P. are seen as foreigners in their own country. Musically, these interludes are sparser than the rest of the song; the drum tracks and melodic accordion drop away leaving only the rhythmic guitar and accordion—a musical composition that privileges the listener’s voice and emphasizes his comically exaggerated French accent. At several points Saïdou’s short responses (such as ‘Ah, ben, pas, pas fait exprès, hein’ [Well, I didn’t do it on purpose], ‘ah, bon?’ [oh, yeah?], and ‘ça alors!’ [well I never!]) punctuate the listener’s reflections, but the latter categorically refuses to dialog with Saïdou.57
When the critic ignores Saïdou’s synchronous responses, Saïdou instead responds asynchronously in the verse that intervenes between these two spoken interludes. He apes the French listener’s expectations, positing them as contemporary outgrowths of the types of exotic performances expected of colonized subjects (‘obedient Fatmas’ and ‘béni-oui-oui’—a derogatory term used for Maghrebi collaborators with French colonizers):
- Oui, c’est mignon, un petit beur qui rap sur la musette
- Voici une petite Cosette, fais-nous ta chansonnette
- Vas-y, fais-nous saler sur un air d’accordéon
- Raconte des petites histoires d’enfants d’immigration
- Raconte-nous les contrôles, les discriminations
- Allez, réveille en nous un peu d’indignation.58
- (Yes, it’s so cute, a little beur [child of North African parents] that raps
- to an accordion
- Here’s a little Cosette, do your little song for us
- Go ahead, throw the book at us with your accordion music
- Tell us your little stories of immigrant children
- Tell us about the racial profiling and discrimination
- Go ahead, awaken a little outrage in us).
In these lines, Saïdou foregrounds a paradox he faces: using his work to discuss discrimination serves to reinforce the association between cultural works produced by minority artists and narratives of discrimination and (p.142) hardship. Aping what a French audience expects to find in his music (‘the racial profiling and discrimination’), Saïdou illustrates how institutionalized spectacularism permeates the cultural marketplace and reinforces the equation between racial and ethnic minorities and exotic spectacle. In this way ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ recalls Alain Mabanckou’s Black Bazar which, as I discussed in Chapter 3, uses its literary sape to a similar end. By incorporating the French cultural critic’s perspective into his song, Saïdou also examines processes of legitimization to which his work (as well as works explored in earlier chapters) are subjected. As his patronizing and infantilizing diction (the use of the informal second-person pronoun ‘tu’, ‘it’s so cute’, ‘little’, ‘little song’ etc.) makes clear, such larger cultural marketplaces are far from equal playing fields; rather, they favor certain voices and narratives. In critiquing these inequalities, Saïdou also insists on white France’s need to define itself negatively against racial and ethnic minorities’ struggles. Ultimately, Saïdou’s song constitutes a deft preemptive response to any attempt to analyze it.
Though ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ anticipates and ironically responds to how listeners often view this type of popular music, its ending nevertheless remains pessimistic about the ability to move beyond such a framework where racial and ethnic minorities (and their cultural works) are regarded as an exotic spectacle. After Saïdou’s last line, the song once again incorporates a thirty-second authentic audio sample of the Marseille protest during which one hears a group chanting ‘J’y suis, j’y reste, je ne partirai pas’ (I’m here, I’m staying, I will not leave) and ‘Première, deuxième, troisième génération, on s’en fout, on est chez nous’ (First, second, third generation, we don’t give a fuck, we’re in our land) set to whistles, claps, and drums.59 The silence to which the sample fades, however, is suddenly and dramatically broken when the exaggerated French listener’s voice returns in the song’s final second to declare ‘J’adore!’ (I love it!).60 Allowing the listener to have the last word repackages the narrative that precedes it, and suggests that, even though cultural works such as Devoir d’Insolence are important venues through which racial and ethnic minorities (and marginalized populations more generally) can speak out against the discrimination they face, they might also ultimately reinforce stereotypical narratives. Saïdou implores his audience to examine both what narratives are legitimated and also the structures (institutionalized spectacularism) responsible for legitimizing them. In this way, ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ gestures toward interrogating larger systems of knowledge production—a topic I consider (p.143) more fully in this chapter’s conclusion when I return to questions of disciplinary exoticism.
If ‘Nique la France’ and ‘La gueule du patrimoine’ expose this gazing dynamic, another cultural work associated with the Devoir d’Insolence project—the video for ‘Nique la France’—inverts it. In the music video, two older white men join Saïdou and rap the majority of the song’s lyrics. The video begins with a close-up of Saïdou, who proclaims ‘Z.E.P., Zone d’expression populaire, featuring’, while the two white men—one clad in a blue jumpsuit and the other in nondescript dark clothes and a red cap—sweep the alley in the background. Elsewhere in the video, the white rappers don athletic gear similar to the type often seen in rap videos.61 The men’s clothing, associated with rappers, ethnic youth, and street sweepers, evoke marginalized positions in French society, heightening the viewer’s awareness of their dominant subject positions. The video effectively ‘makes whiteness strange’, in this very narrow context, paving the way for it to be critically examined in spaces where it is typically ubiquitous (such as in the National Assembly).
The music video’s tone—like that of the album—is also ironic, exemplified through the white rappers’ vocal delivery and the backing track’s musical composition, which differs significantly from the original track. Looking directly into the camera, the white rappers introduce themselves using enunciative performances typically found in hip-hop. The first man identifies himself as ‘Buster Robert’, and the second as ‘M.C. Jean-Pierre’—two very generic French names—before ‘Buster Robert’ states ‘deux-zéro-dix’ (two-zero-ten, 2010, the year of the song) and ‘M.C. Jean-Pierre’ proclaims, ‘C’est du lourd, gros!’ (This is heavy, yo!).62 Their decidedly slower pace than that heard on typical rap songs lends a comical tone to their performance and, like their clothing, draws attention to their race and age. The musical composition of ‘Nique la France’ in the video (particularly the melodic accordion track) differs significantly from the original album’s track discussed above. Instead of the drawn out notes in a minor key, the video’s accordion plays practically all short, single notes in a major key. The playful tone produced by the musical composition and vocal delivery reduces the possibility of confrontation and instead invites dialog.
The music video also explores and subverts the gazing dynamics in a way not possible in a purely musical work. Specifically, the video stages multiple gazes to position whiteness as an object of critical scrutiny. As Gabriele Griffin and Rosi Braidotti have argued, challenges to normative gazing dynamics have taken two principal forms: ‘looking back or (p.144)
claiming the visual field, rather than looking down or being the object of visual inspection’.63 In the video, one notes both types of oppositional gaze. First, when the video begins, Saïdou looks straight into the camera (just as Meiway does in ‘Je suis sans-papiers’, discussed in Chapter 2), laying bare the gazing dynamic that would position him as the object of the hegemonic gaze.64 Second, at various moments throughout the video, Saïdou silently surveys the white rappers, subjecting them to his gaze, which is, in turn, captured by that of the camera (Figure 10). This chain of gazes also implicates the viewers, inviting them to examine their own ways of gazing on the artists and, consequently, race and ethnicity in France.65
In this way, the video also comments on ways of seeing, spectatorship, and spectacle. It reverses the role white masculinity typically occupies (normative subject) and presents it as ‘lacking’ through Buster Robert and M.C. Jean-Pierre’s comically imperfect performance.66 The video’s visual dynamics (like the act of incorporating the listener’s voice in ‘La gueule du patrimoine’) casts a look back at the white spectator, catching him or her in the act of looking, recalling bell hooks’s ‘oppositional gaze’.67 Coupling this dynamic with the video’s insistence on the performed nature of identity (through the exaggerated actions of both the cultural critic and the white rappers), Z.E.P.’s works thus call attention to the scopic dynamics that allow whiteness to evade critical scrutiny before ultimately subjecting whiteness to this gaze. What is more, the playful video offers a progressive model for white French individuals to imagine an anti-racist, anti-colonialist position that avoids the pitfalls (p.145) of guilt and blame discussed in Chapter 4 which threaten to forestall critical dialog.
As I have traced in this chapter, both ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ and Devoir d’Insolence contest how racial, ethnic, or cultural differences mark individuals as deviating from latently white notions of Frenchness. Recently, however, such critiques put forth in cultural works have themselves been labeled discriminatory. In fact, as I hinted above, the song ‘Nique la France’ found itself subjected to such accusations. Not only were several of Z.E.P.’s concerts canceled (notably one in Audincourt, where the mayor Martial Bourquin refused to rent a room to the group, citing potential clashes with conservative constituents), but conservative anti-discrimination group l’AGRIF brought charges of discriminatory hate speech against Bouamama and Saïdou. It is important to note that l’AGRIF has not brought charges against the music video’s white rappers, who perform the same lyrics as Saïdou does on the album and in live performances. In the following section, I take a closer look at these charges in particular as well as the larger discourse of ‘anti-white racism’ in which they are situated. In my view, these charges ironically substantiate the very claims at the heart of both ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ and Devoir d’Insolence: namely, that latent normalized white notions of French identity perpetuate images of racial and ethnic minorities as hyperexamined internal other.
From Anti-French to Anti-White and Back Again
Were one introduced to France’s political landscape for the first time in 2012, one might doubt that France’s colorblind universalist context denies the existence of ‘race’ as a politically useful category—particularly given the amount of attention paid the term ‘anti-white racism’ in political and media discourse. A phrase that seems to further racialize discussions of racial discrimination, ‘anti-white racism’, which originated in the ultraconservative National Front almost thirty years ago, has gained increasing currency in early twenty-first-century France. This trend raises several questions, including: if races are not acknowledged as politically salient categories, how might one conceive of preventing and punishing racial discrimination? What are the risks and stakes of articulating different types of racial discrimination? What are the implications of deploying such rhetoric for French colorblind universalism and for normative (white) conceptions of national identity? And, (p.146) finally, from a disciplinary perspective, what are the risks and stakes of the models we use to examine these complexities? To work through these questions, I read ‘anti-white racism’ as a narrative. Situating this term within the larger context of France’s anti-discrimination legislation and anchoring my analysis in three recent examples, I trace how the narrative of ‘anti-white racism’ has evolved, shifting from a term evoked in instances of physical violence and discriminatory hate speech to a charge now leveled against individuals and works that speak out against racial discrimination.68 Finally, returning to l’AGRIF’s case against Bouamama and Saïdou, I put this narrative of ‘anti-white racism’ into dialog with the Devoir d’Insolence’s message to consider the implications for alternative visions of French national identity.
In order to understand the nuances of ‘anti-white racism’, we must first turn to the history of anti-discrimination efforts in France more generally. As one might imagine, the very act of drafting anti-discrimination legislation in a colorblind context poses particular challenges. Perhaps unsurprisingly, French legislators resisted the vocabulary of race and, as Erik Bleich has illustrated, only added the word ‘race’ to its 1972 anti-discrimination law on the very morning the law passed.69 Had lawmakers not done so, Bleich reminds us, ‘there would have been no mention of the word “race” in the French law against racism’.70 This initial reluctance to acknowledging ‘race’ in the legislative and juridical realms, however, did not prevent the term ‘anti-white racism’ from becoming used more widely in the popular and media discourse of the time.
Though the group that brought charges against Bouamama and Saïdou (l’AGRIF) first articulated the notion of ‘anti-French racism’71 in the 1980s, one of the first moments when the term ‘anti-white racism’ garnered widespread attention outside of the National Front’s narrow context came in 2005, when public figures associated with the Zionist movement Hachomer Hatzaïr et Radio Shalom (including Alain Finkielkraut, Jacques Julliard, and Bernard Kouchner) denounced an event they described as ‘ratonnades anti-blancs’ (anti-white racist attacks).72 Using the term ‘ratonnades’, which, in the context of the Algerian War for Independence (1958−62) meant ‘anti-Arab beatings’, to describe this supposed act of ‘anti-white racism’ linguistically equates the victims of colonial racist structures and those formerly responsible for putting these structures in place. According to reports, conflict broke out on March 8, 2005 between a group of (primarily white) high school students protesting the Fillon Law (which proposed significant revisions (p.147) to France’s high school curriculum and the baccalaureate exam, the most controversial of which were not applied) and another group of primarily racial and ethnic minority high school students.73 News media described how the French police force prevented (white) protesters from leaving the scene, which only further aggravated the situation. Hachomer Hatzaïr and Radio Shalom characterized the violence thus: ‘des lycéens, souvent seuls, sont jetés au sol, battus, volés, et leurs agresseurs affirment, le sourire au lèvres, “parce qu’ils sont Français”’ (high school students, often alone, were thrown to the ground, beaten, and robbed, and their aggressors proudly declared, smiling, that it was ‘because they were French’).74 Most reactions criticized (or dismissed outright) Hachomer Hatzaïr and Radio Shalom’s ‘anti-white racism’ claim. In fact, even the national high school students’ union, which spoke on behalf of the victims of this violence, characterized Hachomer Hatzaïr and Radio Shalom’s claim that the incident was racially motivated as ‘irresponsible’.75 Remarkable in this text is the slippage it invites between Frenchness and whiteness. Though it explicitly claims that the violence was motivated by national origin (‘because they are French’), its larger portrayal of the incident as a ‘ratonnade anti-blanc’ depends on equating Frenchness and whiteness.76 Though highly criticized and mostly dismissed, this ‘call’ nevertheless marks a watershed moment as one of the first instances of use of ‘anti-white racism’ within a broader French context.
When, later that same year, widespread rioting tore through French banlieues, conservative politicians and theorists blamed rappers for inciting the violence and for generally promoting anti-French, anti-white sentiment. For instance, in November 2005 French UMP senator François Grosdidier presented Justice Minister Pascal Clément with a petition (signed by 202 members of the French parliament) calling for legal action against seven musicians and groups.77 As Charles Tshimanga traces, however, such clashes between conservative politicians and musicians in France are hardly unprecedented—one of the earliest and most severe examples came in 1993 when the rap group NTM (from nique ta mère [fuck your mother]) was fined, imprisoned, and censored.78 In 1991, Union for French Democracy representative Charles Ehrmann contested then Minister of Culture Jack Lang’s decision to offer a subsidy to NTM because, in his view, it promoted ‘gangs who graffiti, rap, and participate in a culture of hip-hop, and through their lyrics and actions, one of virulent anti-whiteness and anti-Semitism’.79 Though these earlier cases were not explicitly branded ‘anti-white racism’, they nevertheless illustrate the growing way in which rap music—particularly those works (p.148) expressing frustration with discrimination—has itself been branded as discriminatory.
Another highly mediatized episode of ‘anti-white racism’ that came just a few years later not only drew public attention back to this topic, but it also sparked larger formal discussions within and among anti-discrimination groups. In 2010, LICRA (la Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme; the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism) brought a civil suit against a twenty-eight-year-old man who, while committing a violent crime in the Parisian metro, is reported to have called out ‘sale blanc, sale Français’ (filthy white, filthy Frenchman).80 Though the discrimination case was ultimately dismissed (the man was still found guilty of assault), it opened debates among anti-discrimination groups regarding the existence of anti-white racism and the risks and stakes of acknowledging it. The MRAP (le Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples; Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples), for instance, initially opposed enumerating specific types of racial discrimination, but in 2012 revised its guiding document, specifically naming anti-white racism as one of its main targets:
Promouvoir des identités artificielles et ‘uniques’, qu’elles soient nationales, religieuses, ethniques ou raciales, conduit inéluctablement au racisme. Ces enfermements identitaires émanent des groupes dominants, mais se reproduisent dans les groupes dominés: le racisme anti-blanc en représente un avatar. Le MRAP le condamne à ce titre d’autant plus qu’il apporte une inacceptable et dangereuse non-réponse aux méfaits et aux séquelles de la colonisation.81
(Promoting artificial and ‘unique’ identities, be they national, religious, ethnic, or racial, inevitably leads to racism. These identitarian imprisonments emanate from the dominant groups, but are also reproduced in dominated groups: anti-white racism represents one of its forms. The MRAP condemns it in this respect all the more so as it offers an unacceptable and dangerous non-response to the misdeeds and consequences of colonization.)
Striking in the MRAP publication is that in making its larger claim about universality (that is, the universality of discrimination), the organization nevertheless cannot help but take recourse to a vocabulary of uniqueness. Though it states in no uncertain terms that affirming ‘unique’ identities leads to racism, it simultaneously adopts this vocabulary of ‘uniqueness’ in explicitly naming ‘anti-white racism’. Other anti-discrimination (p.149) groups, such as la Ligue française pour la défense des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (the French League for the Protection of Human and Citizen Rights) and SOS Racisme, critiqued the MRAP’s decision, arguing that this revision effectively introduces those same problematic categories (such as race) into the realm whose role is to contest them.
Both the LICRA case and the MRAP’s subsequent actions also drew fire from the scholarly community for similar reasons. A group of French academics called the MRAP’s decision ‘worrying’ because it:
ne peu[t] que semer la confusion parmi les militants antiracistes et donner aux véritables racistes l’occasion de citer, à l’appui de leurs propos ou de leurs actes, une organisation dont la raison d’être depuis des décennies est la lutte contre le racisme.82
(can only sow confusion among anti-racist activists and give real racists the opportunity to cite, in support of their words or acts, an organization whose purpose for decades has been the fight against racism.)
In their view, the fact that the genealogy of such a term is situated firmly within the context of the extreme right cannot be ignored. What is more, a dangerous extension of this logic is that (though this is implicit rather than explicit in their text) accepting the legitimacy of ‘anti-white racism’ conflates issues of structural racism and discrimination with violence and aggressive speech, and effectively blames victims of the former for their own circumstances.
Finally, in 2012 ‘anti-white racism’ again found itself in the national spotlight. Jean-François Copé, then candidate for the presidency of the UMP against incumbent François Fillon, used his public platform to act upon the intent he had outlined earlier the same year in Manifeste pour une droite décomplexée (Manifesto for a Guilt-Free Right): to ‘break the taboo’ on ‘anti-white racism’.83 For him, ‘anti-white racism’ is not limited to individual instances of violence or hate speech, but rather describes a much more pervasive mentality:
des individus—dont certains ont la nationalité française—méprisent des Français qualifiés de ‘gaulois’ au prétexte qu’ils n’ont pas la même religion, la même couleur de peau ou les mêmes origines qu’eux.84
(individuals—of whom some have French nationality—despise French people they classify as ‘Gauls’ under the pretext that they don’t have the same religion, the same skin color, or the same origins as them.)
Equating the targets of ‘anti-white racism’ with ‘Gauls’, Copé’s slippery logic implicitly racializes Frenchness and supposedly pure ‘Gallic’ (p.150) ethnicity as white, recalling Amselle’s critique of late twentieth-century political rhetoric discussed above. This diction also exemplifies what Ruth Frankenberg calls ‘power-evasive language’,85 dismissing the possibility that one group has more institutional, economic, and structural power than another. Many speculated that Copé’s treatment of the topic was a political ploy to garner more conservative support in his bid for control of his party; nevertheless it appears to have worked—he won the election with 50.8% of the votes later that year.86
Looking back on these three moments reveals how ‘anti-white racism’ has evolved as a narrative in contemporary France. Originally a concept easily dismissed as part of the ultra-conservative National Front’s xenophobic political platform, not only has it been taken seriously in legal realms (court cases and guiding documents) when race has played a role in physical or verbal assault, it has subsequently become a much more abstract concept that seems synonymous with anti-Frenchness. In fact, if ‘anti-white racism’ is as pervasive as Copé claims, it would seem to follow that race is never not an issue in contemporary France. To discuss one’s origins as well as the discrimination one faces because of them becomes an attack on those perpetuating the discrimination. Overall, this shift in the narrative of ‘anti-white racism’ from a label applied to individual violent acts to an anti-French mentality perpetuates associations between whiteness and Frenchness. More important still, these declarations also represent a skillful sleight of hand, insisting that artists like those discussed here are attacking Frenchness itself, rather than the legacies of French colonial racism still present in contemporary France. As I have shown throughout Race on Display in 20th- and 21st-Century France, contemporary works like those examined in this chapter point out how, to interrogate the legacies of colonial racism, we must also interrogate the institutionalized spectacularism that determines how such narratives will be packaged.
Conclusions: From ‘Anti-white racism’ to Disciplinary Institutionalized Spectacularism
Shortly after publishing Devoir d’Insolence in 2010, French sociologist Saïd Bouamama and rapper Saïdou found themselves facing charges of discriminatory hate speech. In bringing its charges, l’AGRIF focused narrowly on select lines from only one of the album’s songs (‘Nique (p.151) la France’), reducing the more complex narrative offered not only in the song’s musical composition but also the larger intermedial Devoir d’Insolence project (of which ‘Nique la France’ represents only one part). Moreover, l’AGRIF’s case, perhaps intentionally, ignores the ‘Nique la France’ video, naming neither ‘Buster Robert’ nor ‘M. C. Jean-Pierre’ as defendants. In its charges against Bouamama and Saïdou, l’AGRIF claims that certain passages of ‘Nique la France’ (in which, let us remember, the word ‘white’ only appears once) constitute:
injures (et provocation à la haine pour certains passages) commises envers un groupe de personnes, en l’espèce les Français blancs dits de souche, en raison de leur origine (le fait d’être Français de souche), de leur appartenance à une race (en l’espèce la race blanche) ou de leur non-appartenance à une origine ou une race (en l’espèce noire et arabe) ou une religion (en l’espèce musulmane) déterminée.87
(slander [and inflammatory hate speech in certain passages] committed against a group of people, in this case white French people ‘of pure stock’, because of their origin [the fact of being of pure French stock], their belonging to a particular race [in this case, the white race], or their non-belonging to an origin or a race [in this case, black and Arab] or a given religion [in this case, Muslim].)
To take these claims (that the song’s critique of French racism is ‘anti-white’) seriously, however, depends on equating Frenchness and whiteness—the very same association the song contests. As João Galli puts it:
Par ailleurs, on pourrait réfléchir au fait qu’être anti français, c’est être anti blanc, aux yeux de ceux qui s’émeuvent des ravages dudit ‘racisme anti-blanc’. C’est bien la preuve que le coeur du problème est la division raciale qui sous-tend la définition de l’être français.88
(Moreover, one can think about the fact that to be anti-French is to be anti-white in the eyes of those who say they are victims of the devastating effects of ‘anti-white racism’. This is the very proof that the heart of the problem is the racial division that underpins the definition of Frenchness.)
Though, as I have traced above, France categorically refuses to acknowledge racial categories, the widespread slippage between anti-Frenchness and anti-whiteness illustrates the latent (white) racialization of Frenchness. In the end, the Parisian court rejected the problematic associations at the heart of l’AGRIF’s initial claim when it ruled in favor of Bouamama and Saïdou, affirming that Français de souche is not a legally recognized category in France.
(p.152) The more complex analysis of the song I have offered above reveals the tensions at the heart of l’AGRIF’s case. As I concluded, the main target of the song—and larger project’s—critique is not whiteness per se. Rather, its target is the implicit racializations of Frenchness promoted through cultural and genealogical rhetoric as well as French colonial racism. Ironically, l’AGRIF’s case is, in many senses, more explicit in its discussions of race than the song it charges with ‘anti-white racism’. Whereas both the Devoir d’Insolence project and the ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ remix foreground how discourses of ‘immigration’, ‘genealogy’, and ‘culture’ have been coopted to racialize Frenchness as white, l’AGRIF’s case (and surrounding discussions of ‘anti-white racism’) depends on and reinforces this very correlation. The shift in l’AGRIF’s own rhetoric—from decrying ‘anti-French racism’ in the 1980s to ‘anti-white racism’ in the early twenty-first century—captures the slippage at the heart of the works’ critique. It is to this equation (French equals white) that the cultural works examined draw our attention. Unpacking these myths thus requires us to look to cultural works which explore the matrix through which national identity, culture, and genealogy are raced.
Of equal importance, as the cultural works considered in this chapter suggest, is interrogating the institutionalized spectacularism that continues to allow whiteness to evade critical scrutiny. The work ‘Nou Pas Bouger’ and Devoir d’Insolence accomplish goes beyond mere exposition in this regard. Not only do they answer the call to ‘make whiteness strange’ but, like the works studied in chapters 3 and 4, they also turn the gaze back on themselves to interrogate their own role in perpetuating images of race and national identity.
In concluding, I would also like to insist on a parallel between the types of work done by the texts examined in this chapter and the type of work accomplished by the discipline of French cultural studies (as well as race and ethnicity studies in the francophone realm). From a disciplinary standpoint, many scholarly publications have explored the contours of race, national identity, and Frenchness and have sought—like the cultural works examined here—to destabilize the associations between racial and ethnic minorities and foreignness. In other words, their project has been to make alterity familiar. However, while insisting on the un-alterity of racial and ethnic minorities in France, these studies also necessarily simultaneously reinforce the opposite—images of minorities’ alterity. They also risk participating in institutionalized spectacularism, reproducing on a disciplinary level the gaze that holds racial and ethnic minorities as the object of critical inquiry, while (p.153) allowing whiteness to pass unscrutinized. In my view, the larger goals of these studies, therefore, require us to take up the call made by the works themselves.
Ultimately, this project of ‘making whiteness strange’ in France, where ‘race’ is articulated through non-racial vocabulary such as ‘genealogy’, ‘culture’, ‘national identity’, and ‘immigration’, also necessarily complicates existing discussions in the field of whiteness studies, where ‘race’, though problematized, is nevertheless acknowledged. Additional studies of whiteness in explicitly colorblind universalist contexts will offer more nuanced and complex ways of theorizing race in those domains where it is currently ‘seen and named’. The reflections and analyses offered in this chapter mark a preliminary investigation into how such discussions might be opened. With this I offer my own invitation: having seen our image (in the form of the listener parodied in ‘La gueule du patrimoine’) reflected back to us, let us not only accept Saïdou’s call to dialog, but also work through the larger claims of disciplinary exoticism to which his work points.
(1) Notable recent examples include Pascal Blanchard et al., eds., Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014); Trica Danielle Keaton, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Tyler Stovall, eds., Black France/France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Pascal Blanchard et al., La France noire: Trois siècles de présences des Afriques, des Caraïbes, de l’Océan Indien et d’Océanie (Paris: Découverte, 2011); Pap Ndiaye, La Condition noire: essai (p.188) sur une minorité française (Paris: Editions Calmann-Lévy, 2008); Dominic Thomas, Black France: Colonialism, Immigration, and Transnationalism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007).
(2) Richard Dyer, White (London: Routledge, 1997), 1.
(5) Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère, eds., De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’ (Paris: La Découverte, 2013). On the need for a critical inquiry into ‘whiteness’ in France and an interrogation of its normative association with national identity, see especially Carole Reynaud-Pallgot, ‘La Construction de l’identité nationale et raciale en France aux XIXe et XXe siècles’, in De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’, ed. Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère (Paris: La Découverte, 2013); Françoise Vergès, ‘La “ligne de couleur”: esclavage et racisme colonial et postcolonial’, in De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’, ed. Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère (Paris: La Découverte, 2013); Sylvie Laurent, ‘Pourquoi s’interroger sur les Blancs? De l’utilité des whiteness studies’, in De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’, ed. Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère (Paris: La Découverte, 2013); Pascal Blanchard and Gilles Boëtsch, ‘La Construction du “Blanc” dans l’iconographie coloniale’, in De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’, ed. Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère (Paris: La Découverte, 2013).
(6) Fatima El-Tayeb, European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), xxviii.
(7) Trica Danielle Keaton, ‘The Politics of Race-Blindness: (Anti)Blackness and Category-Blindness in Contemporary France’, Du Bois Review 7, no. 1 (2010), 105.
(9) David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism (Malden, WA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 187.
(11) Jean-Loup Amselle, Affirmative Exclusion: Cultural Pluralism and the Rule of Custom in France, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 5.
(12) Alec G. Hargreaves, Multi-Ethnic France: Immigration, Politics, Culture and Society (New York: Routledge, 2007), 1.
(14) Naomi Zack, Race and Mixed Race (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1993), 9.
(17) Anne McClintock, ‘Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family’, Feminist Review 44 (1993), 63; emphasis in original.
(19) Éric Fassin, for instance, writes, ‘On the one hand, DNA testing was strictly controlled in France: the special treatment of immigrants could thus be considered as a form of discrimination. On the other hand, the amendment implied a redefinition of the family in biological terms. In other words, both arguments had to do with the racialization of immigration, as well as the nation’ (‘Entre Famille et nation: la filiation naturalisée’, Droit et société 72, no. 2 , 523). Dominic Thomas echoes this sentiment: ‘Defining newcomers to France differently from their French counterparts has instead served to support prevalent assumptions that visible minorities and immigrants belong to a distinct social configuration, outside the dominant order of things’ (Africa and France: Postcolonial Cultures, Migration, and Racism [Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013], 68).
(21) ‘Guéant persiste et signe: “Toutes les civilisations ne se valent pas”’, Le Point (5 February 2012), accessed 1 May 2014, http://www.lepoint.fr/politique/hierarchie-des-civilisations-claude-gueant-persiste-et-signe-05-02-2012-1427704_20.php.
(23) For a thorough discussion of what is—and is not—permitted in terms of discussing ‘ethnicity’ in France, see Alec G. Hargreaves, ‘Veiled Truths: Discourses of Ethnicity in Contemporary France’, in Ethnic Europe: Mobility, Identity and Conflict in a Globalized World, ed. Roland Hsu (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010). Of course, as I discussed at length in this book’s introduction, race is not ‘named’ explicitly, and racial and ethnic minorities are not ‘seen’ through official ethnic statistics, which remain illegal in France. See, for instance, Erik Bleich, ‘Antiracism without Races: Politics and Policy in a “Color-Blind” State’, French Politics, Culture, & Society 18, no. 3 (2000); Patrick Simon, ‘The Choice of Ignorance: The Debate on Ethnic and Racial Statistics in France’, French Politics, Culture & Society 26, no. 1 (2008).
(24) Charles Trenet, ‘Douce France’/‘En écoutant mon coeur chanter’ (Columbia, 1947), 78 rpm single; Les Enfants du Pays, ‘Douce France’ (2007), accessed 20 May 2014, http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xy4m0_les-enfants-du-pays-douce-france_music.
(25) Curiously, though conceived to help disadvantaged young people gain access to professional training, the proceeds from selling this single went to the French football federation’s Fraternité Insertion Football fund.
(p.190) (26) Salif Keïta and L’Skadrille, Nou Pas Bouger (Universal, 2007), CD.
(31) For instance, Nick Nesbitt affirms that ‘this black Atlantic vernacular [of] modernism arose from and protests against society while steadfastly maintaining the concrete musical image of a utopian intersubjective social experience’ (‘African Music, Ideology and Utopia’, Research in African Literatures 32, no. 2 [Summer 2001], 184).
(32) See for example George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place (London: Verso, 1994); Tony Mitchell, ed., Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001); S. Craig Watkins, Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2005); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); James G. Spady, Samir Meghelli, and H. Samy Alim, Tha Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness (Philadelphia, PA: Black History Museum Press, 2006).
(33) See for example El-Tayeb, European Others; Adam Krims, Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Alain-Philippe Durand, ed., Black, Blanc, Beur: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the Francophone World (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002).
(36) In fact, as Pascal Blanchard notes, at human exhibitions ‘the “savage” body was staged in such a way that it was eroticized, displayed naked or semi-naked, and made to move in “ritual dances” in a way which escaped the canons of Western movement’ (‘Human Zoos: The Greatest Exotic Shows in the West: Introduction’, translated by Teresa Bridgeman. In Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires, edited by Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, Gilles Boëtsch, Éric Deroo, Sandrine Lemaire, and Charles Forsdick [Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008], 20). Similarly, the dancer’s male body here calls to mind the predominance of male objects of the French gaze in the children’s comic books and musical works I discuss in Chapter 1.
(37) The group’s name comes from the acronym for ‘Zone of Popular Expression’, but it is also a play on the French phrase ‘Zone d’éducation prioritaire’ or Priority Education Zone—areas designated as requiring additional resources to combat students’ historical underperformance.
(38) Though banlieue is often translated as ‘suburb’, this refers to its (p.191) geographic positioning outside of a main metropolitan center. French banlieues are often imagined as hotbeds of unrest and socioeconomically marginalized zones.
(39) The name plays with the two connotations of the word indigènes (natives). During French imperialism, indigènes, under France’s Code de l’indigénat (Code of the Indiginate) were not afforded the same legal status as French citizens. The activist group’s name therefore draws connections between this inferior legal status and how France’s racial and ethnic minority populations are treated in contemporary France. Though they are ‘natives of France’, they are nevertheless treated in the same way as their forebears were under colonial rule (as ‘natives’ and therefore not entitled to the same rights as French citizens).
(40) The Parti des Indigènes de la République’s members have outlined their visions of French society in publications such as Sadri Khiari, Pour une politique de la racaille: immigré-e-s, indigènes et jeunes de banlieues, Discorde (Paris: Textuel, 2006); Houria Bouteldja, Sadri Khiari, and Félix Boggio Évanjé-Épée, Nous sommes les indigènes de la République (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2012).
(41) Annie Lacroix-Riz, ‘Entretien avec Z.E.P.: “Ma musique est une musique de lutte”’, Investig’Action (14 April 2011), accessed 1 May 2014, http://www.michelcollon.info/Entretien-avec-Z-E-P-Ma-musique.html?lang=fr.
(42) The website, no longer operational, published individuals’ responses to the question ‘What does it mean to be French today?’ Some of the responses attempted to delineate definitive criteria (based on family history), such as having family roots in France over a certain number of generations. Other responses, especially those that received the most comments, however, proposed more inclusive visions of Frenchness. Select contributions (and the resulting discussions) originally available at http://contributions.debatidentitenationale.fr/ are accessible through the Internet web archive (the ‘Internet Wayback Machine’).
(43) Saïd Bouamama and Z.E.P., Devoir d’Insolence (Paris: Darna, 2010), n.p.
(47) This move also places Z.E.P.’s album in dialog with other popular music works such as M. C. Solaar’s ‘La concubine de l’hémoglobine’ which, as Mireille Rosello shows, rewrites Rimbaud’s Le Dormeur du val or, as I have discussed elsewhere, Médine’s ‘17 octobre’, which references canonical symbols of French culture (such as Joan of Arc or Monet’s Les Nymphéas) to reinscribe Algerian immigrants into French history. See Mireille Rosello, ‘Rap Music and French Cultural Studies: For an Ethics of the Ephemeral’, in French Cultural Studies: Criticism at the Crossroads, ed. Marie-Pierre Le Hir and Dana Strand (p.192) (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000); Katelyn E. Knox, ‘Rapping Postmemory, Sampling the Archive: Reimagining 17 October 1961’, Modern & Contemporary France 22, no. 3 (2014).
(50) Here, I am drawing from Philomena Essed’s formulation of ‘everyday racism’ articulated in Understanding Everyday Racism: An Interdisciplinary Theory (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1991).
(52) Such a claim has also been made by Cameroonian novelist Léonora Miano who, as discussed in Chapter 4, points to the casting of white French actor Gérard Dépardieu as Alexandre Dumas—glossing over the writer’s complex racial heritage (Habiter la Frontière, 72). Similarly, for Lilian Thuram, former soccer player and current director of the Thuram Foundation, the whitening of French (and world) history means that few black historical figures are accessible to children—a gap he has sought to fill by publishing a book celebrating forty-three figures of African descent from around the world entitled Mes Étoiles noires: de Lucy à Barack Obama.
(53) This law later became known as the loi Besson-Hortefeux-Guéant, and was adopted on June 16, 2011. It principally modifies laws governing the treatment of ‘portable’ foreigners by increasing the maximum detention limit, restricting access to French asylum juridical outlets, and creating additional detention zones (‘Zones d’attente pour des personnes en instance’). For the full text of the law, see http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/francais/les-decisions/acces-par-date/decisions-depuis-1959/2011/2011-631-dc/decision-n-2011-631-dc-du-09-juin-2011.97377.html.
(63) Gabriele Griffin and Rosi Braidotti, ‘Whiteness and European Situatedness’, in Thinking Differently: A Reader in European Women’s Studies, ed. Gabriele Griffin and Rosi Braidotti (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 223. Though Griffin and Braidotti’s analysis of this gaze emerges from the field of feminist scholarship, they nevertheless demonstrate how it carries over into the field of whiteness studies.
(64) For a particularly insightful analysis of the potential limitations of (p.193) escaping such gazing dynamics, see E. Ann Kaplan, Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze (New York: Routledge, 1997), 293−98.
(66) Here, I am again drawing on Laura Mulvey’s foundational essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, in which she proposes that white female subjects were often depicted as ‘lacking’ in order to affirm white male subjectivity and legitimate the white male gaze (‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen 16, no. 3 , 121). See also my discussion of the gendered dynamics of the Female gaze on Nénufar and on Négrette in Chapter 1.
(68) This act also recalls accusations of ‘reverse racism’ in the United States.
(69) Bleich offers a particularly nuanced reading of France’s two major antidiscrimination laws—the law of 1972 and the Gayssot law of 1990 in ‘Antiracism without Races’.
(72) Finkielkraut later published L’Identité malheureuse (2013) and was elected to the Académie française in 2014, where he occupies chair 21. The Indigènes de la République party vehemently opposed his election to this position, particularly because of Finkielkraut’s right-wing politics, pointing out, ‘Il est désormais chargé de veiller sur la culture française; on verra l’idée qu’il en a’ (He is responsible for keeping watch over French culture now; we’ll see what his idea of it is) (qtd. in Ajari). Finkielkraut has been at the center of many media controversies: his article critiquing the vivre-ensemble mentality, for instance, formed the basis for a special issue of the magazine Causeur. See Alain Finkielkraut, ‘Malaise dans l’identité: quatrième leçon sur le vivre-ensemble’, Causeur (November 2014).
(73) For a particularly inflammatory article on the confrontation that ultimately led to Finkielkraut, Julliard, and Kouchner’s outcry, see Luc Bronner, ‘Manifestations des lycéens: le spectre des violences anti-Blancs’, Le Monde (15 March 2005), accessed 1 May 2014, http://www.lemonde.fr/a-la-une/article/2005/03/15/manifestations-de-lyceens-le-spectre-des-violences-anti-blancs_401648_3208.html.
(74) The text is no longer available from the organizations themselves, but has been reproduced multiple times electronically. See ‘Racisme “anti-blancs”: un appel contesté’, Nouvel Observateur (2 April 2005), accessed 1 May 2014, http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/societe/20050325.OBS2251/racisme-anti-blancs-un-appel-conteste.html.
(p.194) (75) ‘Racisme “anti-blancs”: un appel contesté’. For other analyses of the text, see also Damien Charrieras, ‘Racisme(s)? Retour sur la polémique du “racisme anti-Blancs” en France’, in De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’, ed. Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère (Paris: La Découverte, 2013); Vergès, ‘La “ligne de couleur”’.
(76) Éric Fassin, too, points out the dangers of this association: ‘Bref, l’appel [de Hachomer Hatzaïr et Radio Shalom] ne renforcerait-il pas l’idée que les Blancs sont les Français et les Français, blancs?’ (In short, might not the call [issued by Hachomer Hatzaïr and Radio Shalom] reinforce the idea that whites are French and that French people are white?’) (‘Aveugles à la race ou au racisme? Une approche stratégique’, in De la Question sociale à la question raciale? Représenter la société française, edited by Didier Fassin and Éric Fassin [Paris: Découverte, 2006], 131).
(77) The petition’s central target was Monsieur R’s song ‘FranSSe’ from his album Politikment incorrekt (2005). Other artists named include Smala, Fabe and Salif, and bands Ministère A.M.E.R., 113, and Lunatic.
(78) The group was charged with disrespecting public officers (‘outrages à personnes dépositaires de l’autorité publique dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions’ [abuses of those holding public authority while they are carrying out their duties]). France’s Interior Minister brought a suit against the group Ministère A.M.E.R. the following year. See Rosello, ‘Rap Music and French Cultural Studies’, 86−87. See also Charles Tshimanga, ‘Let the Music Play: The African Diaspora, Popular Culture, and National Identity in Contemporary France’, in Frenchness and the African Diaspora: Identity and Uprising in Contemporary France, ed. Charles Tshimanga, Ch. Didier Gondola, and Peter J. Bloom (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009).
(79) Karim Hammou, ‘Y a-t-il une “question blanche” dans le rap français?’, in De Quelle Couleur sont les Blancs? Des ‘petits Blancs’ des colonies au ‘racisme anti-Blancs’, ed. Sylvie Laurent and Thierry Leclère (Paris: La Découverte, 2013), 192.
(80) ‘Quatre ans requis contre l’auteur présumé d’une agression raciste “anti-blanc”’, Le Monde (26 April 2013), accessed 1 May 2014, http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2013/04/26/un-proces-pour-racisme-anti-blanc-s-ouvre-a-paris_3167184_3224.html.
(81) MRAP (Le Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples), ‘Projet d’orientation MRAP 2012: un MRAP mobilisé face aux enjeux d’aujourd’hui’ (2012), accessed 1 May 2014, http://www.mrap.fr/documents-1/projet-orientation-2012.pdf.
(82) Michel Agier et al., ‘“Racisme antiblanc”: le texte du MRAP “préoccupant”’, Rue 89, Le Nouvel Observateur (15 June 2012), accessed 1 May 2014, http://www.rue89.com/2012/06/15/racisme-anti-blanc-le-texte-de-la-mrap-preoccupant-232670.
(p.195) (83) Jean-François Copé, Manifeste pour une droite décomplexée (Paris: Fayard, 2012).
(85) Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 167−73.
(86) Initial reports that Copé had beaten incumbent François Fillon by a narrow margin (50.3% to 49.7%) led the latter to contest the results. After further review, an election board confirmed the initial outcome (announcing that Copé had won 50.8% of the votes) and a later vote confirmed that Copé would serve out his entire three-year term.
(87) Bernard Antony, ‘Nique la France: la plainte de l’AGRIF enregistrée par le doyen des juges l’instruction de Paris’ (28 February 2011), accessed 5 October 2013, http://bernard-antony.blogspot.com/2011/02/nique-la-france-la-plainte-de-lagrif.html [emphasis added].