Perspectives

Is It Better to Be Black in France or America?

Racial prejudice is deeply rooted in the United States, where many whites reduce Black people to their slave heritage. This attitude is not shared in France, as the bulk of slavery took place far from the mainland. However, the reality for today’s French-Africans is far from idyllic.
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A white bartender waits on Féral Benga, a Senegalese dancer, model, and icon of the Harlem Renaissance, at a Paris cabaret around 1950. This scene would have been unthinkable in the United States. © Adoc-Photos/Corbis/Getty Images

In the late 1950s, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a Minister of State in the Fourth Republic, was in New York representing France at the United Nations. The former Ivory Coast politician was accompanied by his chief of staff, a high-ranking, almost stereotypical white official, who decided to take the minister to Harlem one evening. The pair went to a bar for a drink and the Black waiter, who had naturally never heard of Houphouët, could not believe that a Black man could be a government minister in a white country. In Paris, this would not have surprised anyone. This little story is a good illustration of the situation of African-Americans and Black people in France.

Subscribe today to read our comparative analysis, published in our May issue in collaboration with the bimonthly magazine La Revue – Pour l’intelligence du monde and RFI radio.

Listen to Guénola Pellen, director of publication of France-Amérique, and Dominique Mataillet, a journalist at France-Amérique and La Revue and the author of the article “Is It Better to Be Black in France or America?”, on the radio show Le débat du jour (in French) on RFI on Thursday, April 29, 2021, from 1:30 to 2 pm EST (10:30-11 am PST). The show will later be available as a podcast on the station’s website.

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