Updated: Jul 8, 2021
It’s been a very intense week for us, as it has been for most people of color and white allies in the United States, France and around the world. Our organization helps young migrants in France, whom by default (i.e., as a result of European colonialism and the US’s bombing campaigns in the Middle East) are young people of color. Our young members come from countries that have been greatly impacted from the actions of white people. They are in France as a direct result of these past actions. They are not properly cared for in France as a direct result of the lasting impact of colonial power and oppression. Soul Food exists because of this. We created this organization to fill a vacuum.
While things are imploding in the United States because Black people are angry and tired of watching their brothers and sisters be murdered at the hands of law enforcement, and tired of watching their white “friends,” silently watch, we are following from afar and reflecting on the situation in France. Here things are fundamentally different in the sense that the US is a country founded on violence. It is a country that was formed through genocide and migration. Many Americans believe that freedom means the government doesn’t have the right to interfere in their lives, and they cherish their guns, and the false sense of security gun ownership allows, more than the lives of their Black neighbors.
In France few people have guns and most people think this mentality is ridiculous. However, in France, white French people also silently watch as their “friends” are racially profiled by police and never ask why the French government is not more representative of the people it is meant to represent. Or why at a Halloween party, people openly wear blackface and share photos of this covert form of white supremacy the next day at brunch, without facing criticism. Or why at the dinner table, when racist comments (or jokes) are made, no one speaks up. In France, people do not speak openly about race and racism. They use the “boot-strap” theory regularly and some teachers are against teaching facts about how French people invaded other countries, committed crimes against humanity and aided genocides. Accurate statistics on race and ethnicity are actually illegal, making it impossible to address institutional racism adequately because the data needed to fully understand discrepancies and make fundamental changes is missing.
Many “progressive” French people are happy to talk about the disgraceful racists in the USA, but refuse to examine their own white privilege and the racism happening in their own country, at their own dinner tables. They prefer to blame the mothers of young migrants who “send” their kids on dangerous journeys to Europe, as if any mother would ever do anything like that if they had a choice.
These same French people refuse to question why their friend groups are not more diverse, or if it is ethical to profit from another culture without ever actually respecting it enough to be an ally and protect it. They reject the need to educate themselves on the root causes of migration and do not have open conversations with their children about privilege and racism, for fear of “trauma.”
We feel this very deeply at Soul Food. Since most of our young members are boys, when confinement started, we sent them messages of warning because we knew that there was a greater risk of police stopping them because of racial profiling, which is rampant in France. We see how marginalized they are because of a system and a country that are setup in a way to make them look and feel like outsiders.
It is part of our mission to change this. We are determined to make sure that while our young members are able to integrate in positive ways (by learning French, trying local food, learning about local culture, etc.), they also never feel that their culture is in anyway less valid than French culture. We make sure to take them to the Louvre to see Renaissance paintings, but also to small music venues in the Goutte d’Or to listen to Black music. We know that our young members belong in both places, equally. We only place them in prestigious establishments for professional opportunities because instead of taking their ability, intelligence, hard work, and motivation into account, if taken in by the French state, they are treated as a number, and given the bare minimum, which in turn sets them up for a failure. We aim to change this.
It’s true, the level of white privilege and delusion that so many Americans feel they are entitled to in the name of "freedom" is horrifying, but the level of white privilege and denial of its existence in France is appalling and warrants close examination as well. Uncomfortable conversations need to be had. History must be reframed and relearned. American freedom, as well as French liberty, equality and fraternity must be redefined. There is much work to be done.
Below is a list of resources to read, watch and listen to, people to follow, organizations you can contribute to, and further actions you can take in order to start this important work. Some are only available in one language but others are multilingual resources (subtitles available, publications available in multiple languages, etc.) so take a minute to explore. It’s important to listen, learn and speak out against racism in all forms, both when it happens around the dinner table, and on a national platform. One is either racist or anti-racist. There is no in-between. It is no longer acceptable to be silently non-racist. We must all be vocally anti-racist. Anything less than that is a contribution to the problem.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The 1619 Project, The New York Times Magazine
Le racisme est un problème de blancs by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcom X by Ilyasah Shabazz
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Comment parler du racism aux enfants by Rokhaya Diallo
I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, written by James Baldwin
Dire à Lamine, directed by Collectif Cases Rebelles
13th, directed by Ava DuVernay (available on Netflix)
The Hate You Give, directed by George Tillman Jr.
Hístoíres Crépues (Seumboy’s YouTube channel)
Gardiens de la paix by Ilham Maad on arte Radio
The Breakdown podcast (@TheBreakdown)
Kiffe ta race podcast
Rokhaya Diallo (@RokhayaDiallo)
Assa Traoré (@assa.traore_)
Shaun King (@shaunking)
Organizations doing good work: