Decolonial Translation Group

“We shall not be saved by white anti-racism”, by Sadri Khiari and Houria Bouteldja


 "So what is it that they want, the Indigenous1? Here we take up some of their ideas, among the most important ones, and this is published by credible and respected media, and yet they grumble. On the French intellectual scene we are if not the best, at least the closest to them, and yet they throw their shoes at us. Hmm, I always thought they were sectarian."(Someone)


 One after the other, within an interval of a few days, Rue89 posted two important contributions, an article by Jérémy Robine intitled “To go beyond the racial question, we have to tackle it,” and an interview with Eric Fassin under a title just as explicit: “The national identity policy has constructed a white France.”

These were interventions, in which we suppose the authors have expressed what they consider to be the most relevant of their political reflections (and we will consequently abstain from commenting on their other publications).

 At first reading, we are struck by their proximity – down to the very formulations they use – with certain analyses proposed by authors that have defended the Indigenous people of the Republic for years. We can add, without feigned modesty, that we noted this resemblance with great satisfaction.

 It has been tangible in the public debates for some time now, that a double recognition of both the colonial and racial questions has emerged, first in the academic field, and then more recently within political controversies. The interventions of Robine and Fassin seem all the more precious in that they appear in an unashamed way on the columns of big media publications.

 So we can only welcome this development. But we have a small reservation nonetheless. We owe this advancement to the big march of 1998 commemorating the abolition of slavery and the January 2005 Call of the Indigenous people, followed quickly by the rallying effort against the law of January 23rd 2005, and especially the revolt of the poor neighborhoods in November of that year. However, these growing new points of discussion, around the structural racialization of French society and state, were only given legitimacy in the public debate when they were seized by White academics.

 Let's hope, nevertheless, that their work contributes effectively to the reflections of White political forces that are worried about the rise of racism. Let's also hope – since it is the reality of the racial society – that through their writings they have given a green light to indigenous researchers, who have made only a shy effort in this direction until now.


Never have White intellectuals gone so far

 Jérémy Robine's article and the interview with Eric Fassin have a common characteristic that we think interesting to highlight. That common point is also their blind spot. Never, or to be careful let's say only rarely, in France, have White intellectuals with access to the media, gone so far in the explanation of the racial question, not as a sociological interrogation, but as a political issue.

 It is paradoxical, however, that both of them seem to remain imprisoned in a discourse that is itself not far from the social ill they so aptly denounce. The indigenous is absent from it. Or, to say it in terms with which they are more likely to  identify, although their discourse does not obscure the presence of those who are racially oppressed, it obscures their existence as subjects of the history that is being made, as actors of the power balances that are being constructed, as an acting social and political body, and as a determining force that can transform French society.

 Do Blacks, Arabs and Muslims living in France form a sort of inert material on which racism is constructed? Are they only the projected shadows of White people's racism? That is what one is tempted to believe when reading Robine and Fassin.


No mention of forms of resistance

 It is significant, for example, that in both articles, there is no mention – or only in such a marginal way that we missed it – of the multiple forms of resistance to racial oppression, of which the post-colonial immigrant populations are the main actors. Nor is there any mention of their direct or indirect impact, at the scale of the neighborhood or of the whole country, on white society and also on themselves.

 Reading the articles makes you think that racism is an issue that concerns the white political field alone. Basically, Fassin deplores the fact that the French Socialist Party (PS), with the pressure from the right-wing party that is itself under pressure from the  far right, remains incapable of confronting the racial question; as for Robine, he hopes, all the same, for a sudden jolt from Hollande that re-establishes anti-racism as a component of the left's political identity.

 We could have seen honorable intentions behind this if the two authors were careful enough to remind readers that Blacks, Arabs and Muslims weren't only victims of racism, but also the primary necessary actors of the anti-racist struggle, and that our hopes should be placed in them, not in the Left or in François Hollande, for the opening of a new page in the history of the struggle against the racialization of social relations.


 The invariant of white anti-racism

 Clearly, the famous slogan2, “Don't touch my pal” is a very enduring one. Just like Ariel Sharon, SOS-Racisme only survives on life support. One of its main founding ideologies continues, alas, to operate within the left and far-left: anti-racism is first and foremost the realm of Whites, the good White person that protects the Arab or Black “pal” from the bad White person.

 Of course, we are told, no one is stopping that “pal” from partnering up with the good White. And if the “pal” persists, before considering solidarities with the Whites, in wanting to defend oneself on one's own terms, to think out their line of defense, to organize, exist for oneself, then they will be a bad “pal”, lousy, sectarian, communitarian, vengeful, and numerous other idiocies that we have heard all these years.

 Jokes aside, it is interesting to note that, despite the deep differences between the discourse of SOS-Racisme's ideologues and the discourses of Robine and Fassin, there persists a constant, that should make them question themselves in the process of tackling the issues they raise: simply forgetting that Blacks and Arabs do not simply sit there receiving the blows, waiting for the White racists and anti-racists to settle their differences among themselves.

 In reality, it is harsh but true, without the struggles of the indigenous, Robine and Fassin would not exist. Or at least not as media-invited speakers on the racial question. The academic, editorial and media fields, as well as the white political forces, would have remained obstinately closed off to the racial and colonial questions.


Political autonomy of activists of immigrant backgrounds

 Thus, the ongoing debate reveals definite progress, but also worrying constants that confirm the remarks expressed in an article published on the website of the Indigenous People of the Republic, under the title “Beyond the BBF border” (Blanchard, Benbassa, Fassin, but also many others could have given us their initials for that article).

 These well-known persons do have the credit of making the racial and post-colonial issues audible on the intellectual and political stage. However, they have risen as representatives of a radical pole in the anti-racist field, thus tracing a border, that nobody else can legitimately change, and beyond which the defended positions would be identified as extremist, sectarian, infantile and many other unavowed vices.

 What is taking form here is an attempt to reclaim the control of an intellectual and political dynamic, initiated by non-White forces, to re-integrate it within the Left once it has been cleaned up from whatever made it indigestible to their eyes.

 While efforts are being made towards an appropriation of the racial question by the anti-racist left, immigration activist movements and movements in the neighborhoods are finding that their will to exist with full political autonomy is being contested. If you want to fight, we are being told, do it within the confines of the big house of the Left. We dare not add that within the Left, we were always given the maid's room.

 Like others, Robine and Fassin refuse to acknowledge that the state of conflict between Whites and non-Whites is not only politically structuring, but precisely for that reason, it also implies, as a prerequisite to any vague attempt at convergence with others, the practical recognition of the right of the indigenous people to construct their political independence. Also their right to define their own stakes, to say no to the Right as well as to the Left, to commit to working alongside all anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles, including Palestinian armed resistance, even-though these draw their inspiration more from their own cultural resources, for example Islam, rather than from the universalist references of the Left.

 In other words, consistence on the racial question requires you to acknowledge, welcome, and encourage the rise of an indigenous movement, whose center is first of all within itself, and which defines itself primarily according to its own causes. That is the condition of our generosity.


The hope to be saved from racism by the Whites

 This decisive step, that would make them clearly join the ranks of the non-Whites, neither Robine nor Fassin would take this step in the articles under discussion. Despite their unquestionable clarity on the racial question, their discourses on Rue89 unfortunately has a familiar scent.

 We have cited SOS-Racisme, and we are now tempted, even if we risk being mean, to mention Albert Camus. On certain points, the political positions that appear through the articles are closer to the attitude of the author of “The Plague” towards the Algerian national liberation movement, than to that of the suitcase carriers3, who didn't hesitate to betray their supposedly natural side to join with the side thy really belonged to.

 Although Robine and Fassin are not bystanders in the face of the racial conflict currently taking place in France, we wonder whether they are not largely preoccupied with encouraging the white world to root out the infected abscess that partially neutralizes it's left, before the Blacks, Arabs, and Muslims impose themselves in the political field, with their radicalism, and their determination towards autonomy, and then impose God only knows what demands, that may go too far in disrupting the “values” of the white world.

 In the end, we the indigenous, are left with only one possible ideal, which is the hope of being saved from white racism by... Whites, who have become lucid Whites, and to get integrated into a reconciled society according to norms and modalities that we have not, at least partially, chosen.

 Do not misunderstand us! If we chose to comment, with no concessions, on the interventions of Robine and Fassin, it is because their work is useful and interesting (it would not have occurred to us to debate with Yvan Rioufol or Eric Zemmour).

 It is also because we recognize, in their work, the expression of contradictory tendencies and unstable positions that have spanned the white anti-racist spaces, stuck between the rock of the growing state racism, partisan and popular, and the hard place of the indigenous resistance, although uncoordinated and hesitant, is starting to rise in strength. And although it remains rare, radical white anti-racism also exists. We find it in our struggles, where activists are constantly working with us and proving us right.


Translated by Samr Tabri.


Source : rue 89  and PIR.

1 The notion of indigènes (indigenous) used here has a particular referent in French colonial history. The French empire used the term indigènes to refer to colonial subjects in all its colonies across the world. The Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic in France is composed principally of French youth of African, Arab, Muslim, Maghrebian and Antillean origin, born and raised in France, who live the experience of colonial racism and its consequent social marginalization and exploitation.

2 “Touche pas à mon pote”: slogan spread by SOS-Racisme, an anti-racist organization founded in 1984 and linked to the French Socialist Party.