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),…

Hollande’s ‘moral’ approach to reparations is nothing but symbolism

(Republished from The Conversation) France has long grappled with the problem of reparations for slavery in its colonies, an issue that successive presidents have failed to address head-on. Now, President François Hollande has returned from a five-day tour of the Caribbean, set around May 10, France’s national day for commemorating slavery and its abolition. Hollande visited France’s former slave colonies and current overseas departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe along with Haiti, celebrated for having freed itself from French slavery in 1804 to become the first black republic. While his visit was viewed by some as marking the beginning of his re-election campaign, others considered it was not a success. Derided as gaffe-ridden by the French media following his speech in Guadeloupe and greeted with scepticism by groups lobbying for reparations, it showed just how deep the controversy over slavery’s legacy runs – and how poor the French government’s attempts to engage with the question of reparations have been. Long shadow Self-emancipation and abolition did not bring economic freedom and social equality to these islands. Reparations paid after the abolition of slavery in the French colonies in 1848 went not to the former slaves of Martinique and Guadeloupe, but rather to their ex-masters.…