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  • "Miss Eurafrica":Men, Women's Sexuality, and Métis Identity in Late Colonial French Africa, 1945-1960
  • Rachel Jean-Baptiste (bio)

The 1960 issue of the magazine L'Eurafricain (The Eurafrican) featured a cover photo of a woman announced as "Miss L'Eurafrique" (figure 1). 1 Edited from Dakar under the auspices of the Union internationale des métis (International Union of Mixed-Race Persons), the magazine was written in French and printed in Paris. The membership of the union consisted of métis primarily from French-ruled sub-Saharan Africa. The primary mandate of the union was to advocate for financial, moral, and educational assistance to métis children. Published once or twice a year between 1945 and 1960, L'Eurafricain was the public face of the organization. The publication was a medium through which contributors sought to cultivate a sense of common identity among métis persons across geographical boundaries, facilitate communication among members, report on various métis social and cultural events, and promote the organization's lobbying efforts. Contributors to L'Eurafricain included métis across French-speaking Africa as well as some black and white benefactors. It is not clear from extant records whether an actual pageant was held, what the criteria for judging were, who witnessed the pageant, how many contestants competed, and from where in French Africa these contestants hailed. The photo is a headshot of a café au lait-toned woman identified as Miss Marie Céline, a "young métisse (mixed-race woman) of Niger."

A rather modest photo in comparison to those of post-World War II pageants in the United States, Miss L'Eurafrique looks at the camera in an unprovocative and grave manner. Her long hair is plaited into a single, neat [End Page 568] braid without a stray hair in sight. Though her age is not indicated, she appears to be youthful, likely in her mid- to late teens. Her face is devoid of makeup, her ears sport simple teardrop jewels, and she wears no other accessories or bodily adornments. The picture ends at chest height, revealing a round-necked and long-sleeved white shirt that covers her chest and leaves only her neck exposed. It is probable that this was the uniform she wore as a student at a Catholic school. More than just an indication of perceptions of beauty, the photo of Miss L'Eurafrique reveals how some métis in French Africa negotiated racial identity through gendered representations of sexual respectability and biological and social reproduction. 2


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Figure 1.

Miss L'Eurafrique, 1960.

This article traces the imbrication of race, sexuality, and gender to show how contributors to L'Eurafricain, nearly all men, sought to carve out a space for métis identity and status in French colonial West Africa and emerging independent African nations from 1945 through 1960. The cover photo of Miss L'Eurafrique conveyed "an idealized version of womanhood" as conceptualized by the union, whose primarily male leadership sought to articulate métis identity in the French possessions after World [End Page 569] War II. 3 The relationship between Francophone Africa and France was shifting from one of colonies and metropole to the semblance of civilizations and nations on a more equal footing. Across the French-speaking African diaspora, intellectuals and politicians engaged in new conversations about the meanings of African and black identity in a moment of nationalist agitation. The meanings of race and métissage (race mixing) were frequent themes in these conversations. The issue of L'Eurafricain on the cover of which Miss Eurafrica appeared focused on the 1959 meeting of the International Union of Métis. Page after page featured speeches by attendees and summaries of meetings. Debates among union members about métis identity shifted between conceptualizations of métis as a distinct category, French, African, noir (black), or blanc (white). In this moment of political change, the union shifted from an earlier focus on soliciting the French government to provide assistance to and recognition of métis as members of French society. Instead, delegates emphasized that métis were integral members of and a legitimate constituency in emerging...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-3605
Print ISSN
1043-4070
Pages
pp. 568-593
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-31
Open Access
No
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