Thursday, December 23, 2010

Politics of Color

Several years ago I saw up close the troubled state of 'diversity' questions on the French far-left. I was at a local meeting of the NPA where proposed bylaws for the new party were under discussion. One of the comrades, a young woman of visibly African origins, though impeccably French, was suggesting that just as 'parity' would guarantee equal representation to women in the party's governing bodies, so some form of ethnic 'parity' might be useful as well. She had just attended a regional gathering of party activists and taken note of the absence of people there who "looked like me," as she put it. Her suggestion was roundly rejected by the others, who pronounced it 'anti-Republican,' an affront to the full and equal citizenship enjoyed by people of color, and an invitation to consider such people as second-class party members. The suggestion was never voiced again.

I recall that story while reading in today's Monde an op-ed piece by François Durpaire in which he decries the failure of the French left to embrace what he calls France's "visible minorities." Professor Durpaire, who is something of a pioneer in 'identity studies' in France, recalls the moment in 1956 when Aimé Césaire felt compelled to leave the French Communist Party because of its indifference to ethnic concerns, and the incomprehensibility of that gesture for the Left, then and now. He notes the solidarity many on the left felt for the social demands of protesters in Martinique and Guadeloupe last year, but the absence of support for inclusion of créole in the bac. Wedded to its marxist heuristic traditions, the Left cannot see the double causation at work in the collapse of the quartiers: it understands the economic problem, but fails to see the overlay of ethnic discrimination. The PS's call for "Real Equality" may seek to address some of the barriers to upward mobility--access to schooling, hiring discrimination--but fails to take in the magnitude of the problem for those who are visibly 'different.' What good does it do to repair the elevator, asks Durpaire, if the doors are blocked?

I was interested to notice that M. Durpaire's academic competence extends to the US: his research includes North American studies as well as post-colonial francophone topics. He was prescient enough to write a biography of Barack Obama in 2007--the first non-English biography. All this suggests to me that the French Left could learn a lot, as he has, from the example of that woebegone American institution, the Democratic Party. For all its shortcomings, the party of donkeys has forged and maintained a durable relation with America's 'visible minorities,' without whom it would win very few elections. The future of its social program rests with the growth of those communities (particularly the Latino ones), much as for Durpaire the progressive future in France rests with the young, and especially those whose ancestors, as he says, were not Gauls. To that honor roll so dear to the Left, that starts with 1789 and passes through 1848 and 1871 en route to 1936 and la Libération, he would add France's post-war "multicultural revolution." It's a challenge in historical revision the French Left can hardly afford to overlook.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home