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Black Dragons: The Black Punk Gang Who Fought Racism & Skinheads in 1980s France

The Black Dragons created an alternative politicized space to stop the terror spread by skinheads in 1980s Paris.

In a new short series, Okayafrica contributor Aude Konan will be highlighting little known black punk communities around the world, and how they work to gain more visibility within their local punk scenes.


The first part of the series is a portrait of the Black Dragons and their fight against racist skinheads in 1980s France.

Black punk communities seldom exist in France.

Many French black punks don’t gather in groups as they don’t feel the necessity to further ostracize themselves from a punk scene that’s already not so welcoming of non-white faces. Throughout the years, though, a few black indie punks groups have emerged such as Mau Maus in the 1980s or the still active Zenzille.

One of the closest things France had to a black punk community was the Black Dragons, a group united by a will to fight back against racist skinheads and a strong sense of belonging to the Parisian suburbs.

The Black Dragons were an anti-fascist group formed in the 1980s in the northwestern Parisian suburbs. They were initially founded in the U.S. during the late ‘70s, largely influenced by the Black Panther Party.

Before the French branch was created in Paris, two black groups dominated the scene: the Del Vikings and the Black Panthers (named after the American party). These groups have been portrayed in Gilles Ellie Cohen’s photography book Vikings &Panthers.

Black Dragons. Photography by Yan Morvan.

The Del Vikings were apolitical, focused on rockabilly music, the party scenes and a love of vintage American cars from the '50s. Many Del Vikings switched from flamboyant rockabilly to punk, like the young punk Petit Jean, who allegedly got killed by skinheads during a fight in Les Halles.

Indeed, racists and xenophobic attacks soared during the 1980s due to the rise of the far right party Le Front National and prominent fascists skinheads groups like the GUD and PNFE. They would patrol specific Parisian neighborhoods, especially Les Halles, a metro station and mall, attacking passersby.

They’d also attack people at punk gigs. In 1983, the skinheads launched one of their most horrific attacks: 'la chasse aux Beurs' or 'hunting Arabs.' The attack resulted in the deaths of 23 people.

Unable to get any type of protection from the police, groups of anti-fascist vigilantes appeared, like the Ducky Boys and, later, the Red Warriors. They chased down skinhead groups armed with baseball bats, knuckle-dusters and tear gas. The rise and fall of these groups is featured in Marc Aurèle Vecchione’s documentary Antifa: chasseur de skins.

Following the 'chasse aux beur', a young man, Yves “Le Vent,” created the French branch of the Black Dragons in 1983. At its height, the Black Dragons had between 600 to 1,000 members. Contrary to the other 'antifa' groups like the Red Dragons, the Black Dragons were mostly made-up of black members.

The Black Dragons’ black and Arab French members were often working class, second generation children of migrants that came from the French banlieues. They considered themselves French, but were faced by racism in their streets and neighborhoods.

Invisible in a country that didn’t seem to acknowledge them and lacking proper representation, these young people pledged allegiance to groups like the Black Dragons, which gave them a home and a purpose.

They were aware of the inherent institutional racism at play within the French establishment, but their main concern was the daily racist attacks Black and Arab people were victims of.

Hunting skinheads was, for them, more than a petty vengeance: it was a necessity.

The autobiography J’étais un Black Dragon (I was a Black Dragon) written by Patrick Lonoh, a former Black Dragon, describes the inner workings of the movement and the solidarity inside of that community.

Easily recognizable by their bomber jackets, the patches covering them and heavy Dr. Martens boots—an uniform they openly “borrowed” from their rivals after winning fights—the Black Dragons created an alternative politicized space to stop the terror spread by skinheads. They were supported by the newly created anti-racism movement SOS Racisme.

One branch of the Black Dragons called “Miss Black Dragons” was entirely dedicated to women members, as a way to boost their members. They would only fight other all-female skinhead groups.

Music was also a component of the movement. Politically conscious French ska and punk bands like Les Beruriers Noirs, La Souris Déglinguée, and Laid Thénardier encouraged their fans to stand up against skinheads and hired 'antifa' groups to act as bouncers during their gigs.

With the explosion of hip-hop music in France in the late ‘80s and the decline of skinhead groups, more black gangs (called the zoulous) were formed, like the Mendys and Les Requins. The spread of these new groups led to a strong animosity and rivalry between them.

The Black Dragons grew a reputation of being a violent gang as they become subject to multiple controversies.

In the early ‘90s, a brutal row between them and their rival gang the Mendys lead to the death of Oumar Touré, a Mendys member.

Despite the fact that the Black Dragons punished their members for attacking women, ten of them were accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in the mid ‘90s.

Eventually, the war between gangs caused the Black Dragons to disband and disappear amidst scandals and legal issues with the justice system.

Nowadays, the members are middle-aged civilians who still maintain strong links to each other. The fights against skinheads have died down, but racism and xenophobia in France are still on the rise.

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

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And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

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