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Colonial Metropolis

The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris

Jennifer Anne Boittin

Publication Year: 2010

World War I gave colonial migrants and French women unprecedented access to the workplaces and nightlife of Paris. After the war they were expected to return without protest to their homes–either overseas or metropolitan. Neither group, however, was willing to be discarded. Between the world wars, the mesmerizing capital of France’s colonial empire attracted denizens from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Paris became not merely their home but also a site for political engagement. Colonial Metropolis tells the story of the interactions and connections of these black colonial migrants and white feminists in the social, cultural, and political world of interwar Paris and of how both were denied certain rights lauded by the Third Republic such as the vote, how they suffered from sensationalist depictions in popular culture, and how they pursued parity in ways that were often interpreted as politically subversive. This compelling book maps the intellectual and physical locales that the disenfranchised residents of Paris frequented, revealing where their stories intersected and how the personal and local became political and transnational. With a focus on art, culture, and politics, this study reveals how both groups considered themselves inhabitants of a colonial metropolis and uncovers the strategies they used to colonize the city. Together, through the politics of anti-imperialism, communism, feminism, and masculinity, these urbanites connected performances of colonial and feminine tropes, such as Josephine Baker’s, to contestations of the colonial system.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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pp. -

Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-

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pp. ix-

Every twist and encounter in my journey through archives and libraries has shaped my work in significant ways. When I first arrived, Paris was in the grip of prolonged strikes. Not only was it far more difficult to navigate public transportation with two large bags, but the Archives Nationales, where I would have started my research, were closed....

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pp. xiii-xxviii

On May 6, 1931, a black man walked up the steps of a brand new metro station in Paris.1 The Métro Dorée station was built as part of the French government’s bid to lure what would eventually be 8 million visitors to the event known as the Colonial Exposition. Analogous to a world’s fair, the Colonial Exposition was a project to showcase France’s colonial empire both to its own citizens and to other nations....


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pp. xxix-

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1. Josephine Baker: Colonial Woman

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pp. 1-35

When Josephine Baker finished her first performance in Paris in the 1925 show La Revue N

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2. Dancing Dissidents & Dissident Dancers: The Urban Topography of Race

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pp. 37-75

In the late 1920s Malagasy corporal Bernardin Rakoto, serving in the French army at Bastion 89 near Paris, was perceived by authorities as exerting a negative influence on his subordinates by politically proselytizing them. Just as vexing was the fact that he had a white French mistress who was the mother of his child. While recording the latter information, Agent Joé commented with disapproval: “Of course...

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3. A Black Colony?: Race and the Origins of Anti-Imperialism

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pp. 77-110

Black workers sought unity in race. The problem was that they did not all agree upon what it meant to be black. One of the most persistent underlying tensions within black, anti-imperial organizations was the question of who, truly, was a fully committed member. On the surface, differences of opinion often had to do with perceptions of race...

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4. Reverse Exoticism & Masculinity: The Cultural Politics of Race Relations

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pp. 111-132

In November 1932 the communist cell of the newly formed Union des Travailleurs Nègres (UTN) met and discussed how to sell the organization to black men in Paris. The politics of race and antiimperialism had created a core, political black colony, but there was an entire sociocultural dimension to colonial Paris that still needed to be affected. Hence, one member argued that above all they should not “immediately impose communist politics upon members. They...

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5. In Black & White: Women, La Depeche Africaine, and the Print Culture of the Diaspora

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pp. 133-169

In the fall of 1935 the black Martinican woman Paulette Nardal arrived at the Union des Travailleurs Nègres (UTN) headquarters. She picked up a pen, not, as was her habit by then, to craft an elegant, pithy, and feminine depiction of the black woman’s experience in Paris. Instead she committed her ink to dozens of envelopes, helping the UTN mail its newspaper, Le Cri des Nègres. That particular edition caught her eye because it decried Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia. Yet how did Paulette Nardal, ...

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6. "These Men's Minor Transgressions": White Frenchwomen on Colonialism and Feminism

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pp. 171-211

In 1930, in one of several articles she wrote for La Dépêche Africaine, Marguerite Winter-Frappié de Montbenoît responded to the métis question, an ongoing debate involving anthropologists, government officials, and others regarding the legal, social, and “scientific” ramifications of being métis. As the president of la Française Créole—The French Creole, a Paris-based organization that since at least 1909 had been providing opportunities for social gatherings for French men and women from the old colonies, including La Réunion, Martinique...

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pp. 213-221

The 1927 letterhead of the Ligue de D


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pp. 223-275


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pp. 277-304


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pp. 305- 321

E-ISBN-13: 9780803229938
E-ISBN-10: 0803229933
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803225459
Print-ISBN-10: 0803225458

Page Count: 654
Illustrations: 6 illustrations, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 649913999
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Colonial Metropolis

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Paris (France) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Paris (France) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • City and town life -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
  • Anti-imperialist movements -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
  • Feminism -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
  • Africans -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
  • Antilleans -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women, White -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
  • France -- Colonies -- Africa -- History -- 20th century.
  • France -- Colonies -- America -- History -- 20th century.
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