Paris: The Colonial Legacy of France

Over the last fifty or so years, all across Europe, the old Imperial powers have given up (most of) their empires. Rather than identifying themselves as the head of an international support base, they have sought to force a new identity as a geographical union of equals – although it would seem that some are more equal than others – just ask the Greeks about that one. The project of the European Union turns the attention of European states away from their former colonies :the Commonwealth, L’Union Française, la Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa etc, towards their neighbours. To some extent the more equal balance of power, shared climate and common history between European states, as opposed to the vast disparity in all of the above within the former colonies, should make for a more equitable world picture.

The colonial legacy of France and other European powers came up last night when I was chatting with a Black American woman, who had migrated to France. She told me that she was shocked about the level of racism in France when she arrived here, and it has only got worse since she has lived here. I was quite surprised at this – given that I associate race relations in the US with slavery and the Jim Crow laws, and told her of my surprise given the legacy of the United States. She responded angrily.

Hey, Honey, just what do you think the “legacy” of the United States is? The “legacy” of the United States is that we were told Whitey that they couldn’t treat us that way, we fought them, fought them more and we’re still fighting them.

Rather embarrassed I blurted out that I meant that divisions between Black and White was more apparent in the states than in Europe, where there have traditionally been few non-whites.

…and just where do you think those slaves came from Honey, they were shipped over by the Europeans, it was the Europeans who captured them and sold them, it was the Europeans who hacked their heads off and left the skulls as warning for anyone that might think of getting away from them, little kids would pass those skulls on the way to Christian schools and get told that was what happened if you didn’t do as God said.

Yeah the whites in America enslaved and beat and killed the blacks there, but remember they had good teachers. And don’t forget those whites came from Europe in the first place, they stole the land from the people who lived them and stole people from the land they lived on, put them together and called it the “Land of the Free”.

I said that I supposed that as it happened “over there” in Africa, Europeans didn’t see it as something that they were responsible for in the same way as it didn’t really impact on their lives and they didn’t see it.

She interjected

…but they did see it! They did it. They might not have done it in European countries, but it was European soldiers that killed and enslaved Africa – and where do you think they came home to – yeah, that’s right – they came back to Europe.

A hundred years ago, France controlled most of North and West Africa (purple on the map to the right). The Arab Spring has seen uprising in many of the countries which France used to control, including Tunisia, Algeria Morocco and Mauritania. Consequently the unrest and unsettlement of many of the local population have led to some seeking refuge within Europe, and France is the most logical place for them to head for. The mess created in Libya by NATO intervention and particularly the persecution of Black Africans, many of them from former French colonies, together with the invasion of Cote D’Ivore, another former French colony by Sarcozy has left many of its residents no choice but to fear for their lives and run for a safe haven, and where safer than the place which is in control of the bombs?

The inward turn which is the European Union makes for a powerful bloc of very rich nations, populated predominantly by whites creating a fortress Europe. No longer have citizens of former colonial countries the kind of paternal support that was offered while the Commonwealths were the focus of attention, nor is the same kind of responsibility shown to them, except within a disciplinary framework – where Sarkozy feels quite entitled to interfere in the affairs of Cote d’Ivoire as a result of past interference. Robbed of their native languages, cultures and traditions with bastardised forms of their colonial master imposed, many of the citizens of L’union française feel – to all intents and purposes – French.

Fifty thousand Africans have immigrated to Europe as a result of the wars, invasions and general unrest within their own countries. Many of them speak French, have a French culture and a French identity as a result of the colonisation – consequently although many first arrived within the boundaries of Europe on the tiny island of Lampedusa, when Berlosconi granted them three month temporary residence permits, they did exactly as he hoped that they would do, and use the free movement of the Schengen area to exit Italy and head for France.

Colonialism has not ended – it is just better hidden. No longer do European soldiers travel hundreds of miles to hack the limbs off the natives, they pay some locals to do that for others while bombing them from the air. Immigration is the consequence of century of exploitation. No longer do Europeans capture ships and transport Africans hundred of miles with many dying on the way to live in slavery in rich countries, now the Africans pay for their own transport, only to find that once they arrive at their master’s home that the plantations are no longer open air


Other Paris dispatches from Second Council House of Virgo

Paris: The Centre and the Periphery

Paris: Rage Du Nuit

Paris: Down and Out in Paris 



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