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THE POLITICS OF RACE-BLINDNESS

(Anti)Blackness and Category-blindness in Contemporary France

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2010

Trica Danielle Keaton*
Affiliation:
Department of African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt University
*
Professor Trica Danielle Keaton, Department of African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt University, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Box 351516, Nashville, TN 37235-1516. E-mail: trica.d.keaton@vanderbilt.edu

Abstract

The discourse of “race-blindness” in contemporary France cannot help but engender what it seeks to evade, “race” consciousness. Nowhere, is this dynamic better illustrated than by the current public debate on “Black” consciousness, “Black” identity discourses, and “French Black” activism that have emerge in response to an avoided “race” question in hexagonal France where “Blacks” have now reached a critical mass. In examining these issues, I argue that “French Black” activists are, however, limiting their own effectiveness when its adherents also retreat from a critical concept of “race” in their anti-black struggles. While the potent ideals of French republicanism are intrinsic to “race” avoidance, this stance unwittingly contributes to the prevalent practice of camouflaging the very discrimination and racism that such activists seek to document through controversial ethno-racial statistics, presently proscribed in France. Negated with “race” is the under-stated significance of the semantic particularity of the notion of “black” and its relevance in anti-black discrimination, also explored in this essay. By this, I am referring to those stigmatizing meanings of “black” prior to its incorporation into social categories used to designate and rank people so-perceived and so-denoted in Europe where those meanings crystallized and migrated beyond its shores. The critical use of “race” by these activists, then, would force the recognition, presently occulted, that this construct has played a fundamental role in structuring belonging and opportunity in France, and thereby buttress demands for statistics to demonstrate and analyze that lived reality towards its undoing. Ultimately, the existence of anti-blackness and anti-black struggles serve to illustrate that France has not escaped its “race” question or fulfilled it promises of “race-blind” equality.

Type
State of the Discipline
Copyright
Copyright © W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research 2010

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