Black France is made up of all the people who live in the European part of France (as opposed to the French Caribbean) who are at least part black African by blood. Just like Black America is made up of the black people in America.
Sounds simple except for one thing: it is an American way of looking at France.
Sure, there are black people in France. In fact, France has more black people than any other country in Europe, even more than Britain, something like 2.5 million. So in that sense there is a Black France.
But unlike most blacks in America, they do not have a common culture of their own. They do not even have a common history: some come from Africa, some from the Caribbean and some grew up in Europe. Some are mixed and do not see themselves as black. And even if you just take those who come from Africa, they think of themselves mainly as Cameroonian or Malian or whatever, not as “black”.
All of which is a bit strange because the idea of “negritude”, of blackness as being something good and powerful and true, started in France in the 1930s.
It has only been since about 2005, when the black ghettos of Paris burned, that some blacks, mainly the young who grew up in France, have begun to see that despite whatever country their parents came from, they share a common black experience and destiny shaped by the racism of France.
On paper France is not racist. Few talk about race or blackness. The government does not even count people by race. France is supposed to be above all that, colour-blind, universal and post-racial: so long as you speak French and take on French ways you are French. It does not matter what you look like or where you came from. Like Josephine Baker. Culture comes first, not the colour of one’s skin.
It sounds good, but in practice it does not always work out like that.
For example, about 37% of the French have a university degree, but among blacks it is 55%. Yet while 34% of the French are working class, 45% of blacks are. So French society is clearly racist against blacks – even if more hatred is directed against Arabs.
Or: despite the two million or so blacks who live in European France, the only blacks in the National Assembly are those from overseas, from places like Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Or even take Josephine Baker herself. She felt accepted and at home in France in a way she never could in the land of her birth, America. And yet think about how she became famous: by dancing wild and free and almost completely naked. She was acting out a stereotype that whites had about blacks as exotic, naked savages, even though she herself was a washerwoman’s daughter from St Louis in the middle of America.