The necessary revisit of the Slavery and Colonial past of France
Thanks to the context created by the assassination of George Floyd, who moved the whole world and lifted the veil on the urgency of the problem of racism in the world, we have been witnessing for a few weeks in the USA and in Europe, to an extraordinary multi-ethnic and transgenerational movement, demanding for more justice and equality for black people.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in USA, this movement that has already marked the history, has challenged all the living forces of the country: federal government, states and businesses, on the place of blacks in society, racism and institutionalized discrimination of which they are victims.
Thus we are witnessing a revisit of the symbols of racism on the daily life, a questioning of historical figures who played a role in favor of slavery and racism, until unbolting of concerned statues.
Meanwhile, France ruled by President Macron that it was not a subject. Indeed during his speech, while condemning acts of racism, he brushed aside the possibility of unbolting statues of historical figures, specifying “the Republic will not erase any trace” and “it will not unbolt statues ”.
Yet France, which has been a major player in slavery and colonization, would be well advised to make a real introspection on its history and the characters who have become divisive today, at the risk of accentuating the division within the nation.
Indeed today more than ever we have within the Republic, two France who look at each other like faience dogs.
One celebrates Colbert for his economic action and the other condemns him in memory of the black code of which he is the instigator.
One celebrates Jules Ferry for his action in favor of the school and the other remembers him through the crimes of colonization.
One praises a cult in memory of General de Gaulle and the other remembers the many crimes of wars of independence waged under his orders.
How can national unity be built in this context?
How to write a national story even when the hero of one is the executioner of the other?
Jules Ferry said “the superior races have a right on the inferior races”, then when we celebrate Jules Ferry in our schools, which one do we celebrate? The racist or the school reformer?
For the descendants of slaves and colonized people who today are part of the Republic called “united and indivisible”, how should they consider it ?! What memories should they keep of him? That of a “Hero” or a “Hangman”?
How can we not consider ourselves marginalized, since the slightest voice that is raised in protest against these “executioner-heroes” is immediately bullied, accused of victimization?
It’s the dictatorship of the majority!
Where is fraternity? Where is equality? Where is freedom then?
How to envisage a common future when so many sons and daughters of the nation are not entitled to the chapter?
This is the dilemma in which France plunges every day, in its desire not to respond to the complaints of blacks and maghrebis who are part of the Republic in their own right and who are not found in the national story.
This culpable silence in which the elites of the nation are walled up, on the fallacious pretext of the universalism of the Republic, are precisely playing into the hands of extremists and separatists of all stripes.
It is an error, which reinforces the feeling of division and discrimination of “visible minorities” as they are called.
How to justify keeping characters as divisive in the national story even when in the past, streets have been renamed including that of Marshal Pétain because no longer reflecting the values of the Republic. Do we have to remember that before the facts he is accused today, namely collaboration with the Nazis, Pétain was a hero of the Battle of Verdun during the First World War?
So does this mean that Colbert’s slavery and Ferry’s colonialism are more tolerable than Pétain’s Nazism?
If this is the case, we can better understand this article of Law no. 2005–158 of February 23, 2005 which suggested that: “school programs recognize in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa , … “, thus celebrating the” virtues “of colonization.
Is this not an absurdity, that of wanting to find benefits for colonization, an oxymoron of bad taste?
How to value achievements that have been made at the cost of the blood of millions of people?
Any attempt to justify colonization in this way is abject and hypocritical. It only shows the little resentment and lack of compassion of the settlers of yesterday.
How to ask people who have been forcibly deported, torn from their land, their families, to estimate their executioners for their actions?
How can we ask families who have lost their brothers, their parents, their sons, who have been plundered with all their resources to celebrate their settlers?
No, there is no virtue in slavery or colonization, and to want to find it is deeply dishonest.
Fortunately this paragraph of the law of February 2005 was repealed in 2006, nevertheless it is very revealing of the state of mind of certain elites and politicians of this country on the question of the slavery and colonial past of France.
Now there can be no reconciliation without forgiveness and there can be no forgiveness without repentance.
And what is repentance if not acknowledging one’s fault on the one hand, confession on the other hand and finally renouncing the fault committed.
And this is precisely where the shoe pinches, we are in the middle of the ford. The repentance process has not been completed.
President Macron, by recognizing colonization as a crime against humanity, during his visit to Algeria in 2017, took the first step, that of acknowledging the fault.
There remains still the sincere confession which passes through a stripping of pride and vanity, to dress in shame and humility.
Yes, sincere repentance produces concrete actions that testify to the guilty party’s desire to reconcile with the victim. We are unfortunately still far from it.
This lack of sincere repentance for the crimes of slavery and colonization is today a serious obstacle to the path of forgiveness and reconciliation between the two Frances, and beyond between France and Africa.
How then can we not understand, without justifying it, the anger of some who push for vandalism?
This anger resulting from the bitterness and the frustration of several generations, must be heard and a right response must be brought to it, for fear of sinking into the vicious circle of reciprocal hatred.
Whether we like it or not, our destinies are now linked, for better or for worse.
It is up to us to make the best of it by giving us the means to turn the page on this inglorious past, both for the West and for Africa; and open a new page in our history, make respectful, just and peaceful relationships for the benefit of all.
Yes, we must transform this disenchantment into brotherly love because, as Lamartine said, “Selfishness and hatred have only a homeland; the fraternity has none. “
May we listen to his wise words.