- Frenchness and the African Diaspora: Identity and Uprising in Contemporary France ed. by Charles Tshimanga, Didier Gondola, and Peter J. Bloom
In November 2005, France was struck by violence in the cités, the projects at the outskirts of French cities primarily populated by African migrants [End Page 292] and their offspring. While that particular uprising has been presented in the media as politically important, it should be noted that rioting as a way for young people in the banlieues to protest injustice has been occurring frequently over the last twenty-five years, without much attention being paid to them or the underlying social causes. Even as recently as June 2011, violent clashes between young people and the police occurred in the cité des Tarterêts in Corbeil-Essonnes. As a whole, this social unrest attests to the relations between particular groups—the French citizens born from African migrant parents and the sovereign power—as well as revealing the treatment of "difference" in contemporary France. The reaction of successive French governments to social unrest has been to draw a line between "them" and "us": that is between those who they deem unworthy of or unable to access "Frenchness," and those who are properly "French" and "Républicain." In this vein, a powerful discourse, more or less dooming the cités to become lawless zones (zones de non droit) has gained acceptance; at the same time as this discourse became prevalent, the French parliament tried to pass a law recognizing French "colonial grandeur" in the colonies.
Frenchness and the African Diaspora endeavors to shed light on the challenges that the African Diaspora is bringing to Frenchness, by raising extremely pertinent questions on identity in contemporary France. Divided into three parts of four chapters each, the book, edited by Charles Tshimanga, Didier Gondola, and Peter J. Bloom, stands out as an important contribution to scholarship on postcolonial identities. In that light, the editors make it clear that "though diverse in their approaches to the notion of Frenchness, [the essays in the volume] explore a complex range of tensions that preside over the obliteration of 'True France' and the emergence of a new, multicultural France" (9). The book's impact derives from its diversity of approaches and of contributors whose areas of expertise range from history, media studies, and sociology to philosophy and political sciences.
In order to scrutinize the complex developments of national identity in France and its relations with French citizens of African descent, Frenchness and the African Diaspora starts with essays aiming at understanding the 2005 riots in France, then moves on to its second section to examine key moments of the France-Africa relation, such as colonization, citizenship, and containment. The third and final part of the book is dedicated to what the editors have called "Visions and Tensions of Frenchness." Among the merits of Tshimanga, Gondola, and Bloom's edited work is an understanding of contemporary France that is strongly rooted in the colonial history of the country of human rights. Thus, the volume stresses the importance of understanding how the concept of Frenchness has been reshaped both [End Page 293] by the colonial experience and the offspring of African descendants who are French citizens. Frenchness and the African Diaspora could be summarized as an attempt to understand youth resistance culture in contemporary France, for as Didier Lapyronnie suggests in his article, the 2005 urban riots introduced a new dimension to the history of social unrest in France. Lapeyronnie identifies rioting as a "collective action," one that belongs to the normal repertoire of political activity; despite their depiction as monstrous anomalies by the media and French officials, youth violence, vandalism, and looting are justified "ordinary behaviors" of political resistance. They serve as a valid response to injustice, for "the discrimination is exacerbated by the general impression that the police enjoy impunity, which, in the eyes of the young, allows officers to strip them of all rights and exert unrestricted power over them" (30). The notion of (in...