As French politics starts up again after the summer, and preparing the 2022 presidentials begins to interest all the mainstream political parties, questions of racism are centre stage – who will win the votes of the ten million people who voted for Marine Le Pen in 2017?
In this atmosphere, a hard-right but sophisticated and influential magazine, Valeurs Actuelles, frequent guests on TV political analysis programmes, launched a political attack on the antiracist movement. It published an anonymous short story entitled “Obono the African” in which Black France Insoumise MP, Danièle Obono, is transported in a time machine back to the age of slavery (where she will learn that it was mostly the Africans’ fault!) The story was illustrated by a drawing of Mme Obono in chains, and is chock full of the most disgusting racist stereotypes of Africans.
Daniele Obono, along with the other MPs from the France Insoumise has been active supporting in parliament and in the media the Yellow Vest Movement and the huge strikes to defend pensions. She and the people around her have helped move the FI to better positions on islamophobia (though more progress is needed) and the FI leadership supported last November’s first ever mass demonstration against islamophobia.
The Right detest Obono because she is a Black political leader, but she is also often denounced by left wing people, or even Left activists, convinced of the dangers of an (imagined) Black separatism. When, a few years back, she participated in a couple of educational meetings only open to Black people, this counted as a scandal in France, so weak is much of the French Left on racism. As a number of Black activists’ networks in the country have grown in strength in recent years, these weaknesses are becoming more visible.
On Saturday 5th September, several hundred people demonstrated in Paris in support of the MP, who is taking the magazine to court for “racist insult” over this publication. There should have been more (and I know plenty of Left people who would not go because of their disagreements with what they think she stands for).
Though Emmanuel Macron phoned Mme Obono to assure her of his solidarity, he had himself accepted an interview in this magazine and praised it as a ‘very good magazine’. Although Macron comes from political traditions which did not put islamophobia centre stage, these days he is of course adapting, hoping to win some votes of those who went for Le Pen in 2017. So, in his keynote speech this week, he underlined the dangers of ‘separatism’, of those who ‘want to impose on everyone the law of their group’. He is too cowardly to say so, but everyone knows he is attacking Blacks and Muslims. The antiracist movement has its work cut out for it.