Why does France care about its colonial past?

Creator: © Eric Gaillard / Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron insisted on Sunday that France would not remove the statues of the controversial characters from the colonial era, as has happened in some other countries in recent weeks. Among the calls for the abolition of statues related to the French slave trade or colonial harm, Macron said: “the republic will not remove any traces or names from history … it will not remove any statue.” “We should look at our entire history together,” including our relationship with Africa, for “truth” instead of “denying who we are,” said Macron. 

Unusually for a French leader, Macron admitted that someone’s “address, name and skin color” could reduce his chances of success in French society, and called for a fight so that everyone could “find their place” regardless of ethnicity or religion. He promised that he would be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination.” 

At least 15,000 people demonstrated in Paris on Saturday, the last of a series of French protests caused by the death of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement, but increasingly focused on France’s own tensions between police and minorities. Assa Traore, sister of 24-year-old Adam Traore, who died near Paris in 2016. After being arrested by the police, she turned to Saturday’s protest. “George Floyd’s death echoes in my younger brother’s death in France,” she said. “What is happening in the United States is happening in France. Our brothers are dying. ” Traore’s family claims he was strangled when three officers held him down with the weight of their bodies. Authorities say the cause of his death is unclear. One banner worn by the crowd at Place de la Republique was: “I hope I won’t kill me today for being black.” Another carries a message to the government: “If you sow injustice, you rebel.” 

Myriam Boicoulin, 31, who was born on the French island of Martinique, said she was marching in Paris on Saturday because she “wants to be heard.”

In response, the government banned police chokes and swore to fight racism amongst the police – but it now angered police unions that claimed they were unfairly painted as white supremacists and organized their own protests. Calls for a reassessment of France’s colonial heritage are also growing, which causes division in Macron’s camp. Over the past two days, the culture minister has condemned the decision to cancel the Paris screening of “Gone with the Wind” – a film that has long been criticized as romanticizing slavery – as contrary to freedom of expression. And he strongly condemned activists who tried to take African art from a Paris museum dedicated to the work of art from former colonies.

But government minister Sibeth Ndiaye – Macron’s close ally and the most prominent black figure in current French politics – wrote an extremely personal essay on Le Monde on Saturday, calling on France to rethink the color blind doctrine, which aims to encourage equality by completely ignoring the race. “We can’t hesitate to name things and say that skin color is not neutral,” she wrote. She called on the French to “confront our memories” about their history and find a “common narrative” with former colonies. He promised he would be firmly against racism, but he also praised the police and insisted that France should not remove the statues of controversial figures from the colonial era. Macron first spoke on the subject since the death of George Floyd in the US, which sparked protests around the world, including several in France, where demonstrators expressed anger over racial injustice and police brutality, especially against former French minority colonies in Africa. 

Source: AP, French media

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