Monday, July 27, 2020

Have the French finally started talking about the racism in their country?

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BLM Protest in France | Source: Thomas de LUZE via Unsplash

France, which boasts about being a color-blind nation, isn’t truly what it asserts. For a non-white citizen living in France, being subjected to bias and ethnic profiling at the hands of some insensitive police officers is a real possibility.

Structural and institutional racism is evident in France, where children as young as 10 years old have to routinely endure police stops, even without being suspicious of any illegal activity. These unlawful stops often involve humiliating body pat-downs and searches of personal belongings are   usually left unrecorded by any agency.  

A speaker at the French media coverage of the Middle East at the Alliance Française in Beverly Hills, Slimane Zeghidour, in an interview with the ‘French Morning’ agency said that, “there is a very strong prejudice of class that is translated to a stigmatization of people”, adding that these targeted people are mainly immigrants from Maghreb or Africa.

The brutal killing of George Floyd in the US kicked off huge protests against the institutionalized racism in France as well. Hundreds of people protested at the Presidential Palace in Paris while 2500 people attended a rally in Lille, 1800 in Marseille, and 1200 in Lyon displaying  placards similar to those in the US – ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’.

Alongwith protesting the death of George Floyd, people in France also drew the attention to the murder of a 24-year old black man Adama Traoré in police custody in July 2016 in their own country. The police officers involved in this incident were exonerated which triggered mass protests at that time in France.

Such blatant racism and ethnic prejudice is the result of a sense of supremacy ingrained in the collective psyche of white citizens who constitute the overwhelming majority in France. Instead of acknowledging their racial bias, a large section of whites have started blaming the minorities as the cause of their economic and cultural problems.

When a black national icon of France, Lilian Thuram, the most capped player in the history of the French national team, spoke about the racism incident in a football match in Italy, it caused a massive storm in France.

Thuram said, it is not the world of football that is racist, but "Italian, French, European and, more generally, white culture" is racist. He further stated that "Whites have decided they are superior to blacks and that they can do anything with them," and “It is something that has been going on for centuries unfortunately and to change a culture is not easy."

Thurham was highly criticized and branded ‘anti-white racists’ by the far-right extremists and their sympathetic journalists. This criticism later expanded in the mainstream media as well.

Not only the far-right extremists, even the government flatly denies the existence of extreme violence and institutional discrimination in France.

“I don’t believe we can say that France is a racist country,” says Sibeth Ndiaye, a French Government spokesperson to the journalists after a cabinet meeting, when people took to streets in June 2020, all the while justifying that France cannot be compared with the USA.

Well, with fueling protests and awareness, things are slowly changing and the taboo around race and white supremacy is losing its grip. People have gradually started to acknowledge their identity as ‘white’ or ‘black’ and the mainstream media is now talking about race.

As Mr. Fassin, a sociology professor at the University of Paris says, “My hope is we'll realize that talking about race isn't against democracy but rather about democracy”, he reflects optimism for a better tomorrow.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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