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What is like to be french and Black?

Posted on 0 Comments 3 min read

As french citizen, I think I’m pretty good, at least for the time being. I mean, I do the job. I pay my bills, I pay my taxes, I vote, I love delicious meals and I’m always up to litteraly criticize everything and everyone when I’m abroad. But as a French black man, it’s difficult to not feel frustrated. I remember when I’ve first heard “N*gga In Paris” in a British Night Club. I jumped in the middle like it was my National Athem, despite the fact I knew it wasn’t about my black french *ss but about Kanye and Jay-Z, two rich and famous African American guys. I’m not even from Paris! Nevermind. The song was about “n*gga” and I’m black. It says “Paris” and I live in a country whose capital is Paris. So, after me and myself had a very deep conversation, the final decision was: this song was about ME.

This is what is like to be french and black! You often have to enjoy your blackness through African Americans. I think France is the only place where non-black people prefer to refer to a black person in another language (english) instead of just sayingNoir. You can’t even take time to have a seat with them and explain: It’s Okaay Jeannot! I’m not upset when you’re saying “noir” because I’M NOIR because they have already decided what’s insulting and offensive for you. Since Paris used to embody freedom for African Americans during racial segregation, french society adopted the anglicism “Black” as a nice way to name people of Sub-Saharan African descent. It sounds pretty cool, you know, Nae-Nae, Jazz, Hip Hop, Michael Jordan, Soul, Funk, Barack Obama, Gospel, BeyonceMichael Jackson (?) and all this stuff so cool about African American Culture. Whereas, the french word “Noir” make people think about slavery, colonialism and all embarrasing things that confront France’s past regarding Africa and Black history.

I come from a country in Africa – Cameroon – where it’s very common to hear young people talking about europeans using the english term “white” even in French. That’s because French and English are official languages of Cameroon. But for french-speaking people, it’s more slang (we call it camfranglais). You won’t hear a grown man or woman use this word in a meaningful conversation. That’s why it’s often hard for me to take someone old enough to be my dad seriously when he uses the word “Black” instead of “Noir”. It’s like hearing my african mother say “What’s up bro?!” with a New Era cap on head.

But when you don’t name someone, he doesn’t really exist. And if someone doesn’t exist, then you don’t have to deal with his issues, right? Being French and Black means listening mainstream media pointing racism in America, talking about the first African American to be elected to the presidency in US or celebrating Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King without questionning black people issues in France. When you think about it, it’s certainly the smartest way to (not) deal with race issues. But the more funny is when it comes to discussing topics like Blackface and you hear white people say: “France is not the US”. “Okay! Then WHY are you still calling ME “BLACK” AND NOT “NOIR”?”

Wilfried ESSOMBA-KEDE
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What is like to be french and Black?