Is memory enough? Remembering the racial legacies of slavery in France today

First published in openDemocracy (24 June 2015) By Nicola Frith and Kate Hodgson France is the only European slave-trading nation to legally recognise slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, but questions of racial discrimination and colonial exploitation remain unresolved. Europe’s role in slavery and the slave trade has long been a highly contentious subject, raising all kinds of issues that many in Europe would rather forget or ignore. However, this longstanding reluctance to talk about slavery and its legacies has been challenged in recent years by a frenzy of memorial activity that, on the surface at least, suggests a shared desire to confront the crimes of history. Despite these recent and ongoing efforts, there remains a widespread failure to engage with the ways in which past abuses are reflected in present problems, most notably racial discrimination and all of its attendant socio-economic and political implications. The past seems to echo in the present on a daily basis, bringing with it reminders of unresolved social tensions that are rooted in the history of slavery and colonial rule. Even though France is the only European slave-trading nation to legally recognise slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity (2001),…