France-Amérique: You were born in Lomé to Togolese parents. You are also French and American. What do your three passports from three different continents mean to you?
Claude Grunitzky: I was born in Lomé, the capital of Togo, but because I was raised in Washington and Paris, educated in London, and moved to New York as a young entrepreneur some twenty years ago, I am a true cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world. Populist demagogies driven by political nationalism mean we are often forced to choose sides because the word cosmopolitan now has pejorative undertones. But I am proud of my transcultural status with my three passports, because it enables me to display my multiple identities and sensitivities without having to turn my back on my African origins.
What is your perspective on the recent social movements that have shaken America, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter?
Through the media group I created twenty years ago, I have worked to combat racism, sexism, and other forms of injustice. The Occupy Wall Street movement began in front of my apartment building, as I live opposite the New York Stock Exchange. I spoke at length with protestors at the time, in September 2011, but I felt they were less motivated. What is happening at the moment with Black Lives Matter is a source of great hope, as the use of new, interactive means of communication has enabled the widespread sharing of shocking images. These videos, filmed by citizen witnesses, are now forcing political and economic leaders to act.
You were open about your support for Barack Obama and now believe that Joe Biden will win the next election. In what way would this victory bring hope?
I became an American citizen because Obama’s election gave me so much hope. Back in 2008, I was delighted that he chose Joe Biden as vice-president, because I knew his background. When he was a senator, Biden had already proved that he could unite people and was an active voice on social justice matters. Biden understands the importance of migratory exchanges and the openness of American democracy, given his attachment to the pluralism of opinion. The Black voters in the South who enabled him to win the democratic primaries trust him because he encourages dialogue between cultures.
I began my career as an entrepreneur at the age of 24. I founded a magazine based on diversity called Trace. By studying societal changes across three continents through the lens of cultural diversity and new hybrid identities, I developed the concept of “transculturalism” before making it the running theme of my professional, cultural, and academic activities. Two partners and I also created a television channel, Trace TV, and recently launched the online media platform True Africa to defend the values and aspirations of transculturalism.
In light of your personal experience, what are the main challenges for the American social model and the French system of cultural integration?
Leaders in France and the United States have to understand that citizens’ expectations change. What’s more, the nature of exchanges transforms when it encounters differences and new technologies that appear to be more powerful than certain traditions. Instead of building walls, integration has to accelerate based on the idea that cultures exist and evolve through dialogue, not in isolation. My hypothesis is that societal changes are inevitable, and that promoting diversity and equal opportunities can help with social cohesion.
Interview published in the August 2020 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.