(asked by Monique from New Mexico)

What do you know of the African American experience in France, the entire country not just Paris as far as living and working there?
Are they perceived as Hip Hop culturalists or are you more aware of the diversity that African Americans as a group represent? Can you put it in terms of class meaning how are the bourgeois compared with other classes toward African Americans? Do you have to be famous to get more equal treatments or does that even play a role?
Interesting question Monique, but pretty hard to answer for the simple reason that the number of African Americans living in France is very low and that definitely makes any educated generalization next to impossible to make. So it’s not impossible that I say a thing or two that are not totally accurate.
Let’s start with “out of Paris”, as the number of black people in general is very low away from Paris. I guess I can say without being totally wrong that the number of African Americans in France -but not in Paris- is negligible. And, associated with the fact that there aren’t that many black people either, the general population doesn’t really make a difference between Africans, French Caribbean people, and other black people not part of those two groups (African Americans, Black South Americans, etc.). Which means that non racist people will treat them the same way as they treat anybody else, and racist people will treat them the same way as they treat other black people (which 99% of the time means, they won’t treat them any different from anybody else, they’ll just make racist comments in their back once they’re gone).
In Paris, while there is a history of African Americans living in the city, we cannot really talk about an African American community at all. There used to be one, in between the two world wars, after black GIs came to fight during WW1 and stayed when they discovered a country with no segregation (it’s a bit more complex than that, but you get the idea), but they left with WW2 and never came back in numbers high enough to constitute a “community”
So nowadays African Americans living in Paris can just be considered as part of the American community.
They’re not associated too much with the hip hop culture for the simple reason that African Americans living in France belong mostly to the middle class or higher, for obvious reasons (people from the ghetto can’t afford to move to France). Although a lot of French people (those from the French “ghettos” but also other French people) tend to associate African Americans in the US with the hip hop/R&B culture, but it’s really hard to generalize.
All in all, French people don’t really know the African American cultures that well, more than ever, what they know, they know it from pop culture (music, movies, TV, etc.)
There isn’t really any difference of treatment according to social classes. In France you’ll find racist people in every layer of the population (I kinda have the feeling that most racists are actually either bourgeois or working class, but I could be wrong), and they won’t have prejudices because that person is African American, but simply because that person is black (in other terms, nothing to do with culture and everything to do with skin color). But once again, racism -especially racism against black people- while existent, tends to be overemphasized by the media in my opinion, especially foreign media.
In other words, when an African American moves to France as they tend to be not from the lower classes, and as such they’re not likely to hang out with the French lower classes, the people that they will meet will most likely treat them not as black people, but as American people.
That’s my feeling about the issue, but once again, I’m not black and I don’t know any black expat that well.
If anybody who is African American and who lives in France wants to share their experience, they’re of course more than welcome to do so.
(and being famous doesn’t give you equal treatment, it gives you special treatment, regardless of your skin color)
pixel What do you know of the African American experience in France?

5 Responses to “What do you know of the African American experience in France?”

  1. Hard to tackle such a big topic, but a very good start. I'm mixed race (African-American and white) and I live in Paris, so I can only speak from my own experience living in the capital (and not in the rest of France).

    I think you're basically right that African-Americans are considered more part of the "American" community than anything else, though of course our skin color is visible, so until the French find out we're American (we just need to open our mouths for them to figure that out), we are considered simply "black."

    My overriding feeling is that of being a "foreigner." The French can be pretty xenophobic and I don't find that I'm treated any worse because I'm also mixed race - I think the foreigner-phobia applies to everyone if they're not French.

    I think French blacks do have a harder time here, though. Like in so many places, I feel like my 'American-ness' is a protection and gives me privilege, as right or wrong as that may be.

  2. there was an interesting post the other day on art goldhammer's french politics blog about a modem meeting using the theme from "shaft" to introduce a black candidate.


    tu parles d'un gang de mongoles!

  3. I'm a black woman living in France and when I first came I was overwhelmed by the difference. France has their own problems with racism that doesn't really apply to us. We're just Americans (with a cool, jazzy flair LOL).

    When I went into modeling, however, that was an entirely different story. France is very particular about the images that they advertise to the public. I've found that when French people are racist, they are frank and even friendly about it.


  4. I just wanted to say that your reply was very interesting and that parisimperfect's reply was also informative and interesting.

    This is helpful for me because I just recently got accepted into a study abroad program where I'll be studying at the Sorbonne for a year.

    I studied abroad last summer in England and although the UK has a different culture I did do some traveling in mainland europe and the general consenus I got from being an african-american in europe is that you will be treated first and foremost as an american. If you are capable of speech, the locals will know.They may even complement you on your accent, which happened several times.But I just wanted to share that observation so that if african americans decide to travel outside of France to other parts of Europe, they can be aware that the same issues arise…

    But again, really interesting and informative post.

  5. The following was a great NPR episode of "This American Life" that talks about this subject: http://www.ThisAmericanLife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=165

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