11 October 2006


~~~r.i.p. coretta scott king.~~

so i was reading the international french newspaper Le Monde this morning (its kind of like the french new york times), and of course there's a shit-ton (credit goes to max for introduction of the expression "shit-ton" into my vocabulary) of articles about the mohamed drawings that got published in the danish newspaper. the debate over these drawings here, like anywhere else at the moment, is intense. on one hand, its a question of the liberty of the press--on the other, the seeming racism of the pictures and their effect.

the way that americans and the french think race is very different. the difference is very noticeable; i was talking with margaux, an american friend of mine here a couple of weeks ago, who said that she had french friends who seemed really fabulous and nice and radical-slash-liberal, and who she got along well with, and then all of a sudden, wham, they would make comments that sounded outrageously racist, leaving her wondering how the fuck she didn't see that before. of course, that kind of situation happens all the time among white radical-slash-liberals in the states too. in seattle i saw that trend way more than in atlanta, where race relations are in the very (polluted) air that everyone breathes. say what you will about the white flighters living on the northside of atlanta, but even they, geographically far removed from the majority of people of color living in atlanta, are often aware of race. in seattle, which is way more super-whitey-ville (although there are tons of folks of asian descent, but i would say that folks of asian descent are treated somewhat differently by racist social structures, who tend to view them as a 'model minority') than the atl, i heard more comments that made me cringe than in the south, where even bougie ass white-flighters are ashamed to say a lot of racist things out loud. and i think being ashamed of saying racist things is a damn good kind of shame.
but back to french vs. american race.
so when margaux related this to me, i knew exactly what she was talking about. after living with thomas a few months i heard him bust out with somethings that i couldnt believe, they sounded racist, and i was out of my head with how the hell i had managed to start living with someone who was racist without seeing it beforehand. it took a lot of working through what race means, but i was able then to pinpoint these differences:

  1. what do you think of first? first of all, i think that the main social difference that americans think is race. this is because in the states there is a far more violent history of what slavery, the civil war, segregation, and the civil rightts movement means, and these things just did not happen or did not have as much of an impact on french society. the french think class before they think race. this is because communism has had a huge impact on french society (in may 1968 france was very close to becoming a communist state). not so with the us.
  2. what the word race denotes. in france, race is very closely linked to nationality and ethnicity, and even people's families. you can insult someone by saying "[maudit] sa race", which basically means "fuck that person's whole race"; but in french, that means their whole family, not their race. in the states race means before anything else, skin color. this is certainly because in the us there are plenty of people of color who have been in americans way longer than white folks; and also, the melting pot thing, while it is often a load of crap, has actually worked-- in europe you are often judged by your last name; people can unconciously compute where it comes from very quickly (again the importance of family in the notion of race). in france, if you are have a different skin color, its not unlikely that you come from any number of countries which are closer to france than texas is to maine. hence nationality.
  3. politcially correctness. the french hate politcally correctness in the same way that they hate vegetarianism (kind of like sticking their thumbs in the ears and going "naaanaaanaaa those amerikkans are crazy it is not humanly possible that people can live like that")--(that said, anti-americanism in france is *not* the rule and even if the french bash the us they also consume tons of american-ish things, not the least of which is mcdonalds, or "mcdo", where, by the way, you can order beer and croissants). and they see that a lot of pc talk is tied up by the way race is spoken about in the us. also there's a lot of talk now about the influence of this on american-style 'ghettos' based on race that are now being seen more and more in france.
  4. "color blindness". first of all, let me say that color blindness, idealistic as it may be, is a load of horse shit. kind of like polyamory, it is a nice idea that generally results in one party (and more often than not the party that just so happens to be the marginalized party) getting hurt. it just doesnt practice very well. the france however, is all about this supposed 'colorblindness'. affirmative action (la discrimination positive) doesn't exist here, because identity claims are not so de rigeur in france; this seems yucky on the one hand, but on the other, a socialistic state requires a strong amount of communal identity (as opposed to individualist identity) in order to function. of course the former pres. françois mitterand was socialistic. conservative assfaces jacques chirac, dominique de villepin, and nicolas sarkozy (president, prime minister, and secretary of state/minister of the interior, respectively) are certainly *not*, and are slowly but surely dismantling all remnants of socialistic policy in france. also part of why there are more 'ghettos' and individualist identity claims surfacing now. anyways, colorblindness is, i repeat, a load of horsey-horse shitola. if you are white, please don't cover up your racist ways of thinking and behaving by saying "i don't see color", then following that up with "i have brown friends!". just pick one pathetically bullshit line of logic and stick with it.
  5. so what if race is different those folks are still assholios? so this is really the crux of it. how do you stay friends with someone if they say things that sound like they might have a symbolic hood made from a bedsheet in their closet? from the best that i can figure, this is where cultural difference really fucks with radical-slash-liberal folks (i.e., is it culturally appropriate to say that genital mutilation is flat wrong?)(on that side of things, i would say, yeah, its seriously fucked up to mutilate someone's sex life and identity--even though i dont think gender should be genitally based-- without their consent). but who i am to say that the american conception of race is more accurate-slash-better?

while france is in no way the third world (even though y'all, showersand towels and fridges here are teeny weentsy more often than not--see pictures below-- example a normal sized american towel costs about 25 euros {~$30} at monoprix, the french target), it is important to realize that that when it comes to being the biggest and baddest and invadingest and most culturally-imposing imperialist country on the planet, it is without question the us that wins the prize. so i accept that what sounds to me fucked up is based on strong culturally-specific notions of race, and that people can be good people and say things that come from very different strong culturally-specific notions of race, and which are not racist by that reckoning. discuss.

a typical french shower:


i have no idea who this guy is but this is a typical french towel size:

and the fridge:

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