- Africa and France: Postcolonial Cultures, Migration, and Racism by Dominic Thomas
In Africa and France: Postcolonial Cultures, Migration, and Racism, Dominic Thomas discusses several aspects of postcolonial contexts with France in mind as well as cultures, migration and racism. It is tempting to be cynical when contemplating the question of France’s cultural, economic, and political position in the twenty-first century vis-à-vis other European nations and the Western world in general. Most certainly, the recent surge in refugees from war-torn parts of North Africa and the Middle East, coupled with an inability to accommodate them, supports the argument that France and Europe have abdicated their role in the region to the United States, Russia, and China. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the expansion of the European Union, and the emergence of new economic powers and the Arab Spring paved the way for a political transformation and forced France to redefine and shift its foreign policy. [End Page 128]
Meanwhile, France has indisputably had a complex historical relationship with its former African colonies, and Thomas utilizes his background in comparative literature as well as French and francophone studies to unravel the political realities of long-standing mobility between Africa and Europe. The book covers literature, film, and museums and provides ethnographical analysis of contemporary French and francophone societies as a backdrop to illuminating important issues of Frenchness and national identity. Without making specific predictions about particular outcomes, this book is in line with many publications produced by dependency theorists, who have written on the unequal interaction between Africa and Europe during colonial and postcolonial eras.
The book has ten chapters, of which the first and second discuss the conflict between immigration policy and its implementation by state-sponsored public institutions, demonstrating the disconnect between the government’s objectives of redefining immigration policy during this period in France, considered one of political transition, and the realities within the region. Focusing on the Quai Branly Museum and the National Center for the History of Immigration, Thomas surveys exhibition sites in Europe during the colonial and postcolonial eras and thereby highlights opportunities for society to engage in comparative historical analysis to improve the contextualization of the public discourse that has ensued.
Readers see the symbiotic linkages between Europe and other regions of the world through a long history of contact, informed by slavery, colonialism, immigration, and a multiplicity of transnational networks and practices. The exponential growth of museums on the European landscape has raised cultural, economic, political, and social concerns. This is especially pertinent in assessing the roles played by these nations. The development and expansion of overseas marketing opportunities and their incorporation into a European economic sphere of influence cannot be dissociated from museum history. In fact, the overarching framework of these museums highlights the existence of anti-immigration sentiment in France, as well as cynicism regarding the notion of their-history-is-our-history mentality.
The construction of the Quai Branly Museum was an attempt to illustrate France’s commitment to global cultural diversity and reconstructing the postcolonial memory. Thomas rightly sees “a world of difference between the projection of colonialism and the concern with eliminating obstacles to the integration of postcolonial communities into European society” (p. 16). This relation perpetuates the transcolonial legacy that has informed complex processes of acquisition and display within the French state and museums.
Chapter three connects the government’s rethinking and redefining of immigration policy by exploring immigration and national identity through the prism of recent laws. During colonial rule, France propagated and championed assimilation as its modus operandi. In 1946, the Constitution of the French Union, for example, gave Africans the same rights as French citizens. They were, in theory, free to move about on French territory; however, after [End Page 129] these colonies became independent, successive French governments made efforts to redefine this right and reduce the influx of immigrants. France has been reeling in economic crisis for a while, and in times of...