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Reviewed by:
  • Black France / France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness ed. by Trica Danielle Keaton, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Tyler Stovall
  • Yasmina Muthoki Martin
Keaton, Trica Danielle, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Tyler Stovall, eds. 2012. Black France / France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness. Durham, N.C., and London: Duke University Press. 322pp. $94.95 (cloth); $25.95 (paper).

Black France / France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness, edited by Trica Danielle Keaton, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Tyler Stovall, uses a nuanced approach to discuss and problematize variously identified questions by relying on solid contributions from a diverse group of authors to form a well-rounded interpretation of race issues in France. Among the questions asked are: How do we begin to understand the complexities of black identity in France? How is black defined in a country where myriad expressions of blackness exist, including African immigrants and their children, African Americans (who came to France as expatriates), and West Indians now residing in France?

The volume is a product of France Noire—Black France: The History, Poetics, and Politics of Blackness, a conference held in June 2008 in Paris. The contributors expertly break down issues of race and racism in France from historical, sociological, political, and narrative standpoints.

The editors have compiled an impressive collection of studies that deal with the paradoxical issue at the center of race in France: the French Republic denies race as an identifying category, yet racism and discrimination are apparent in French society, as evidenced by the 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois riots, dubbed the French Katrina by some observers. Positing that a distinct French form of blackness exists in social, cultural, and political forums in France as a response to antiblack racism, the editors accept that racialization in France can be compared to that in the United States in regard to housing discrimination, racial profiling, and xenophobia; however, they deny the imposition of US ideals of race on French society and maintain that French notions of blackness remain grounded in French and European histories.

An attempt has been made to answer the question “What does it mean to be French now?” Accordingly, the editors have divided the book into three parts that approach distinct themes and expose the social, historical, and political importance of race in France. Part one, “Theorizing and Narrating Blackness and Belonging,” combines broad theoretical analyses of the meaning of blackness in France, the lasting effects of colonialism in postcolonial France, and past imaginings of relationships between black Africa and France, such as Léopold Senghor’s Eurafrique, with more personal narratives, which truly express what it means to black life in France. The second part, “The Politics of Blackness—Politicizing Blackness,” explores [End Page 140] the challenges and limitations involved in forming a universal black identity in France as a protest to antiblack discrimination, approaching issues of immigration, national identity, and even the definition of black, as opposed or in conjunction with noir.

Part three, “Black Paris—Black France,” turns to the symbolic importance of Paris as a destination for black American expatriates and as a center for black diasporic culture. This section approaches issues of constructing a global black French identity, including Josephine Baker’s “rainbow tribe,” connections between antiimperialist activists in Paris and Marseilles, and the siting of black monuments in Paris. Certain chapters stand out. Gary Wilder’s “Eurafrique as the Future Past of ‘Black France’: Sarkozy’s Temporal Confusion and Senghor’s Postwar Vision” (pp. 57–87) utilizes Sarkozy’s 2007 address in Dakar, Senegal, as a lens through which the possibilities of a new and more honest postcolonial democracy can be examined. Sarkozy’s mention of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s Eurafrique, a notion that serves to support his accusations that Africa is backward and primitive, leads to a temporal confusion in his speech; his rhetoric harks back to a time when France was a colonial power. Wilder juxtaposes Sarkozy’s speech with Senghor’s vision of Eurafrique, which served as what he calls a social contract between France and French Africa, a mutual agreement for shared development and equality. Wilder links Senghor’s postcolonial ideals to the xenophobic...


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pp. 140-141
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