These racist attacks assault the heart of the Republic

Christiane Taubira

Last week, France’s much acclaimed Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, a Black woman from the French Department of Guyana, was confronted with yet another series of racist slurs in the city of Angers where she was to deliver a speech to the magistrates. A group of men, women, and children, evidently representing the good Christian family model, was waiting for the minister outside the courthouse. When Christiane Taubira passed by them, they shouted, “Taubira, get lost, you stink, piss off.” Then, a 12 years old girl hurled  a racist slur involving monkeys and banana, something she learned in her family circle no doubt. Even a Catholic priest was seen screaming racist epithets.

These attacks have been Christiane Taubira’s everyday life since she was appointed Minister of Justice, but initially they were somewhat more limited. Last spring, however, after Taubira passed the “le mariage pour tous” (marriage for all) bill, the vitriol escalated. Many have applauded her determination and her superb appearance at the Assembly, echoing Simone Veil’s fight for abortion rights. She received a standing ovation, from representatives of the left, center as well as some right wing supporters. She is no average politician.

Coming from a family of eight, Taubira left Guyana to study. She holds two PhDs and quotes commonly René Char, Paul Ricoeur or Aimé Césaire and Léon Gontan Damas, the poets of Negritude.  Now, she is courageously introducing a bill to reverse the penal policies of increasing lock up at a time of reduction of funding for social services, introduced by the previous government under Sarkozy. Sarkozy and some of his ministers and collaborators were known for statements and actions that encouraged the racialization of French society by stigmatizing and insulting many from various origins.

First, there was Sarkozy’s infamous address at the University in Dakar in 2007, where he argued that Africa is backward. He said, “The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has not entered history”, suggesting of course that the white man had a “civilizing mission”. Then there was his collaborator Claude Gueant who proposed that “not all civilizations are of equal value” (toutes les civilizations ne se valent pas). Then there was the “identity discourse” debate that he wanted to bring to the Assembly, out of which emerged the newly created Ministry of National Identity. Sarkozy’s political approach has ripped apart the social fabric of France.

In a recent interview, Christiane Taubira, remarked that under the previous government “an inner enemy has been constructed … It has thrived under the doctrine of decline.” These attacks are part of the deconstruction of social cohesion, which is the constant inspiration for Taubira’s work at the Ministry of Justice.  For Taubira, the “not republican right” has forgotten the history of the French nation. This is more serious than a slip up. It signals that something particular has been going very wrong, even though racism has always been rampant in the former colonial powers, especially at the time of financial crisis. Here, the sense of impunity that these demonstrators showed is “a challenge to the republic,” said Taubira. She called on the political leaders of the country to speak clearly as the foundations of a country are shaken when a Minister of Justice is attacked in these racialized, sexualized terms. She expressed her surprise “that there hasn’t been a clear and distinct voice decrying this drift in French society.”

Instead of the “clear and distinct voice,” the right and extreme right wing has done everything to control the debate through a reverse attack against Christiane Taubira , so as to signal that they are the masters.

Some voices have been heard not only to denounce the attacks but also to express distress, as Christiane Taubira has been an iconic figure of the hope for a better republic for many French women and men. In the face of these nationalist racist, sexist attacks, it is clearly time to finish the work of the revolution and rewrite the emblem of the French Republic. Let “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” become Liberty, Equality, Humanhood.


(Photo Credit: Liberation / Francois Guillot / AFP)

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.