(Photo : Eric Feferberg / AFP)
“Black, Blanc, Beur” is the France I grew up in through out the 1980s and early 1990s. In the north East of Paris, at a time when being of Malian descents; my brothers and I were by excellence the minorities in the block, things looked much simpler, with lots of hope awaiting us in a near future, at least, this what I imagined. Time has passed and today the roles seem to have been reversed. No individual born from Malian parents can today pretend to be part of the ethnic minority group of any of the blocs of the nineteenth district of Paris. I still remember the day when my blackness was first revealed to me through one of the rare, long and still sincere historical explanation given to me by my Mum. The incessant bullying my brother and I were experiencing during our first years in primary school had finally urged me to inquiry, and ask my progenitors for the reason for such treatment inflicted to us at school and in the bloc. My Mum’s speech on that day was my first history lesson. It linked and mixed family history with the interesting History of Humanity. It was thus that I learnt that unlike a single and simple fruit that had just fallen from a tree; I was of noble and important lineage. This somehow explained the bulling I experienced from both whites and other ethnic minorities. I was different and despised for my singularity. This early experience build up my personality, it made of me a strong boy, who would physically respond to any form of injustice, which ironically and progressively by the way made me a violent boy and a leader with a strong personality. It was thus that very early in my childhood, I opted for complete pride of what made me different. Black of West African descents with four eyes – cause I used to wear thick glasses- with a strong Muslim consciousness was my identity, my only trademarks.
In front of exclusion and discrimination many other youngsters of ethnic minorities’ origins were after me to come to the same conclusion and state of mind of self esteem and pride. Exposure of one’s difference in front of the feeling of exclusion and despise for such differences, here is how many individual identities were often built and constructed among the youngsters of immigrant descents in France. These new identities adopted and valued by the younger generation have eventually become part of the French cultural landscape today.
However according to the last news these are disturbing facts for the present government. Eric Besson the French minister of integration and immigration has recently decided to open a debate on French national identity. If the idea sounds fine, the statement of an UMP militant last summer casts doubt on the real objective of the government through such issue. In an UMP meeting last August, a lady was indeed heard uttering the following words when speaking of Amine, another UMP militant of northern African origins: -He is a good French -He is like us; he drinks alcohol, and eats pork.
An accurate analysis of this very statement reveals according to Houria Bouteldja from the “the Indigènes de la République” movement what the French institutions really mean through their new debate on French national identity. But as she says national identity must not be “decreed” by the state or government but “observed” as it real is.