The official line so far as the French establishment is concerned seems to be that ‘race’ does not exist, which is scientifically quite true. But this slides over into a claim that ‘the Republic’ is ‘universalist’ in its treatment of all its citizens and therefore to accuse the French state, or its representatives, such as the police, of being institutionally racist is an unacceptable insult.
Those who benefit from this interpretation of ‘universalism’ are not those subjected to racism, but the perpetrators. Like the Islamophobia that hides behind the French version of secularism, laïcité, racism is alive and dangerous behind the universalist screen of French official rhetoric. As Zemmour shows evening after evening on CNews.
One of the great champions of this form of denial, both of public institutional and personal practice, the former prime minister Manuel Valls has a new political book out on the subject, ‘Pas une goutte de sang français’ (Not a drop of French blood). Born of Spanish-Italian parents, he grew up in France and jokes that he has “not a drop of French blood, but the Republic flows in my veins”. Universalism was vital as it is “democracy”, he explained repeatedly during his tour of the broadcasting studios to publicise his book over the weekend that marked the UN’s anti-racism day.
He is only treading in the footsteps of France’s greatest. Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine, was born on her parent’s slave plantation in the Caribbean, but, say historians, there is no evidence that he was not already what we would term today a white power fanatic. Just after his coup d’etat that put a final end to the last dregs of the French Revolution in 1799, Bonaparte declared of the Revolution’s abolition of slavery: “I am for the whites because I am white, I do not have any other reason and that is a good one. How could one grant liberty to those Africans, to those people who had no civilisation, who did not even know what France was?”
Valls, you see, a bit over 200 years later, was famously caught on camera touring the street market in the town of Evry where he was mayor, declaring that he wanted “quelques Blancs, quelques Whites, quelques Blancos”, that is some white people as stallholders to give a better image of the town. Oh, he explained afterwards, he was not referring to the colour of the market sellers, just the bric à brac on their stalls.
It is not going to be easy for the country’s young basketball players to change this France that they know only too well. They first need to establish their freedom to talk publicly and openly, across the media as well as in private, about their personal and collective experiences, to establish their right to be heard without which the right to freedom of speech is an empty promise.