Blackface Endures in France: On Being Black in Top French Schools

Blackface rears its head at a top French business school. Despite national denial, it has a long history in France.

Being a black student in one of French top schools is pretty complicated. No matter how much you try to blend in, you’ll always stand out because of the scarcity of others like you. France’s elite schools are notoriously white, posh and homogeneous and little efforts have been taken to change it.

Positive discrimination schemes tend to be frowned upon in France, and when they exist, they tend to heavily favor white students because the government refuse to acknowledge racial and ethnic discrimination. You have to keep quiet and not make too much fuss, yet endure racial micro-agressions on a daily basis. And France’s top universities tend to believe they can get away with racially abusing their students under the guise of “jokes” or that “no harm was intended”

The Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord or EDHEC is a prestigious business school near Lille, France. Last month, a student association organized a fancy dress party. Things took a sour turn when some white students showed up wearing blackface and fake afro wigs, dressed as the characters from the movie “Cool Runnings," “Jules Winnfeld” from Pulp Fiction as a (in their words) “tribute” to black culture. One POC student saw the picture online after the party and rang the alarm about what went on during the event.

via Twitter

To the surprise of the student association who saw nothing wrong with dressing up in blackface, the pictures went viral on French Twitter. As long as people’s intentions are harmless, they simply didn’t understand why blackface would even be considered offensive.

The school initially declared that there was nothing wrong. Therefore, there were no actions to be taken. Allegedly, one Programme Leader at the Master's department went as far as saying that discrimination against black people simply didn’t exist, and slavery never existed in France, contrary to the US.

On one hand, one can understand white people’s surprise regarding the fact that blackface is offensive. Cultural racism and micro-agressions are so ordinary that they are literally, part of the French culture and fiercely defended as a right to offend, and freedom of speech. Indeed, Blackface has existed pretty openly in France since the 1800’s when the country settled its colonial empire in Africa. Blackface has always been part of the cultural landscape. You can still see it on the packaging of France’s popular brand of chocolate powder Banania, in the ad campaign of the fashion brand Kiabi, on the face of french comic Michel Leeb, inside bakeries in Nice and French presentators Jean-Michel Maire et Valérie Benaïm proudly displayed blackfrace in the popular TV show “Touche pas à mon pote” in 2014.

via Twitter

Of course, people of color did object and denounce it, but they were quickly dismissed in France. It wasn’t until 2012 when prominent French activists of color like Sihame Assbagne, Kiyemis and Mrs Roots began a campaign to sanction brands and people doing blackface, that the backlash gained a mainstream platform.

The bigoted views allegedly held by EDHEC and its staff are sadly not surprising in a country that prides itself in burying its head in the sand instead of admitting the diversity of its population, let alone its troubled colonial past and the French army’s continued imperialist actions. Like the US, France has an history of normalizing blackface. And it’s not the first time the University is caught in a racist controversy.

According to Buzzfeed France white students from EDHEC had a party where some of them did blackface to dress up as the Jackson 5 and “Sister Mary Clarence” from the movie Sister Act. The backlash became so big that the University released an official statement on its Twitter account, saying that the students had apologized and the university itself joined them. According to them, these actions were the polar opposite of the values the university believes in.

One can wonder if that is true. If the business school has a history of students doing blackface in the name of the freedom of speech and if its teaching staff openly hold racist views, the incident accurately shows that the university actually doesn’t understand how dressing up as a black person doesn’t stand perpetuates racism. Nor do they understand how damaging the normalization of racial micro-agressions is and that dressing up as black people never has, never is and never will be funny.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Congress of Families is Expanding its Homophobic Agenda into West Africa

The far-right organization recently held a regional conference in Accra.

Last year, Ghanaians took to the streets to protest against laws criminalizing homosexuality. The protests were primarily in response to a 72-page report published by the Human Rights Watch which detailed how violence towards members of the LGBT community by mobs or their own family members was on the rise. Scores of protesters insisted that the country's Penal Code was not only a dated colonial-era relic but that it led to LGBT Ghanaians being treated as second-class citizens without basic human rights. While countries such as Botswana and Angola made huge strides this year and decriminalized homosexuality, Ghana's discriminatory laws have remained and lives continue to be affected because of it.

On November 1st, the World Congress of Families (WCF), a far-right organization that has been pegged a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosted a regional conference in Accra, Ghana. The two-day gathering included Ghana's political and religious leaders who subscribe to the conservative "pro-family" and "natural law" ideologies which condemn homosexuality, Islam, abortion and other reproductive health rights. There is increasing concern among members of the LGBT community, activists and allies, that LGBT people will experience even more targeted violence not only in Ghana but other African countries where homosexuality has still not been decriminalized.

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Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Guinea-Bissauan Soccer Player Ronaldo Vieira Was the Target of Racist Chants During a Game

During a recent game at Sampdoria's Luigi Ferraris Stadium, visiting supporters chanted 'monkey' at the player.

Ronaldo Vieira is a Guinea-Bissauan soccer player who joined the Italian soccer team Unione Calcio Sampdoria (U.C. Sampdoria) as a midfielder last year. According to BBC Sport, the 21-year-old was unfortunately the target of racist slurs during a game against Associazione Sportiva Roma (A.S. Roma) at the Sampdoria's Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa yesterday. After the first half of the game, fans of A.S. Roma began chanting "monkey" at the player. While Italian soccer authorities have generally condemned this recent incident and those in the past, the problem persists.

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#BuyBlack: The 8 Black-Owned Brands To Shop For On Black Friday

It's that time of year again, here is OkayAfrica's 2019 gift guide for you to #BuyBlack this Friday.

You know we're near the end of 2019 once the holiday season comes back around. Thanksgiving is upon us and the bargain shopping and gift-giving is set to commence thereafter. Despite this American holiday being questionable in of itself, Black Friday is a prime occasion to highlight, support and spend exclusively with black-owned businesses.

Just like we mentioned last year, let's keep the 'for us, by us' energy going. Even beyond the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, tap into the businesses that continue to contribute to wealth-building, development and employment in Black communities around the world.

Here is OkayAfrica's curated shortlist of black-owned brands to take note of this Black Friday—including some standout home decor, fashion, skincare and beauty brands you should know.

Take a look below.

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'Queen & Slim' soundtrack cover.

Burna Boy Samples Fela's 'Shakara' on New Track, 'My Money, My Baby' From 'Queen & Slim' Soundtrack

The film's official soundtrack also features tracks from Lauryn Hill, Blood Orange, Megan Thee Stallion and more.

The official soundtrack for Queen & Slim has arrived, and it features a standout solo track from none other than Burna Boy.

"My Money, My Baby" is a heavily Afrobeat-tinged track that features a prominent sample of Fela Kuti's 1972 song "Shakara." The pulsating track also sees the singer, channeling Fela's signature talk-style of singing and repetition. Check it out below.

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