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Black Feminist Festival in France Deemed Racist by Anti-Racist Orgs

"This stance suggests that liberal anti-racism organizations have a very facile and elementary analysis of how racism works."

by Kimberly Lawson
May 30 2017, 7:02pm

Photo of protestor from Black Lives Matter protest in France by NurPhoto via Getty Images

According to an antiracism organization in France, American civil rights leader Rosa Parks would be "turning over in her grave" if she knew there was going to be a black feminist festival in Paris this summer.

Last Friday, the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) tweeted screenshots of the website for the upcoming NYANSAPO Festival, noting that the event was "forbidden to whites." According to the website, the festival aims to be "an Afro-feminist festival that is militant on a European scale"—there's no mention of any anti-white rhetoric. Slated for July 28-30, the event will offer space (80 percent of the festival) for black women to discuss political strategy and agenda as well as to reflect on Afro-feminist theories. There will also be "mixed space for racialized women" as well as for both black men and women.

News of the festival continued to spread over social media—despite the fact that the event was announced in April. On Saturday, the Interministerial Delegation to the Fight against Anti-LGBT Racism, Anti-Semitism and Hatred chimed in, "denounc[ing] the organization of a festival featuring 'non-mixed' spaces based on race." A day later, the mayor of Paris added her two cents. "I ask that the festival be banned. I will refer the matter to the Prefect of Police," Anne Hidalgo tweeted. "I also reserve the right to pursue the initiators of this festival for discrimination."

Read more: Revisiting Michele Wallace's Essential Black Feminist Text 'Black Macho'

According to the BBC, Hidalgo took issue with the assumption that festival organizers would ban people who weren't black from public spaces. She's since tweeted that because of her "firm intervention," she and organizers came to a "clear solution" to the alleged problem at hand: "The festival organized in a public place will be open to all. Non-mixed workshops will be held elsewhere, in a strictly private setting. This clarification should enable the # Nyansapo festival to fulfill its role: helping to strengthen the fight against racism and sexism."

She added: "Paris is a mixed city and I will continue to ensure that this remains the case in public places."

But the Mwasi Collective, who's helming the contested festival, said online that, actually, none of their plans have changed. They had always intended to utilize private space for the workshops. The event venue, La Generale, released a statement saying it and Mwasi had been "the target of a campaign of disinformation and fake news orchestrated" by the far right. As Buzzfeed News reports, the first mention of the NYANSAPO Festival allegedly forbidding the attendance of white people came from the extreme right media outlet Fdesouche Friday afternoon, and snowballed from there.

"Black women should not have to justify wanting to have open space to come together to strategize their own concerns, without having to assuage the feelings and concerns of others"

Brittney Cooper is an assistant professor of women's and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University. She calls the whole ordeal a "deeply troubling attempt at intimidation."

"Black women should not have to justify wanting to have open space to come together to strategize their own concerns, without having to assuage the feelings and concerns of others," she tells Broadly. "The broader feminist movement and the broader struggle for ethnic equality often struggles to significantly focus on the unique concerns that shape black women's lives. In France, those concerns have to do with everything from issues of poverty to anti-immigrant sentiment."

"Usually, black women's needs, voices, and concerns are crowded out of public conversation," she continues. "Moreover, governments have a responsibility to all citizens, and this actually means that sometimes, that means making accommodations for citizens who are the most marginalized and having a real robust social analysis of privilege. The Paris mayor seems particularly tone deaf to such analysis and it is both unfortunate and infuriating that she chose to try to intimidate these women, rather than to use their festival as an opportunity to do the public work of justice and reckoning with France's long and complicated history of racism."

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Cooper also critiqued the responses from French anti-racist organizations. "This stance suggests that liberal anti-racism organizations have a very facile and elementary analysis of how racism works. Black feminists are not coming together because the struggles of others don't matter, but rather because black women's issues and concerns do matter. They matter in unique ways that are again often not addressed by big tent organizations."

"The other thing is that those seriously committed to the work of justice have to stop telling the lie that all our issues matter equally, or that they grant equal time and resources to everyone's struggles," she adds. "They do not. And sometimes, to be even more blunt, white people and black men, who are usually well-meaning, take up too much space, refuse to listen, and think they know what is best for Black women."