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Jennifer Anne Boittin: BLACK IN FRANCE

octobre 31, 2012


The Language and Politics of Race in the Late Third Republic1

Jennifer Anne Boittin

The Pennsylvania State University

When the metropolitan-based, anti-imperialist organization known as the Comité de défense de la race nègre (Committee for the Defense of the Negro Race, hereafter CDRN) shifted from African to Afro-Caribbean leadership in 1927, it also changed its title to the Comité de défense de la race noire. Replac- ing nègre with noir made an explicit political statement. Although black intel- lectuals did not begin formulating the cultural and political declaration of black pride known as Negritude until 1935, anti-imperialist and nationalist members of the African diaspora—predominantly workers—had previously announced their desire to reclaim the word nègre.2 In a 1927 article in La Voix des nègres, a short-lived organ of the CDRN presided over by a Senegalese anti- imperialist leader and former tirailleur named Lamine Senghor, the CDRN explained that there existed levels of racial categorization.3 These included noir and nègre, classifications created by those in power (Europeans) to divide blacks among themselves, encouraging some groups to believe that they were superior to others. The editors encouraged all those oppressed because of their pigmentation to unite under the banner of the term nègre, stating: “the youth of the CDRN make it their duty to pick this word up out of the mud through which you’re dragging it, in order to make it a symbol.”4

What did it mean to be black in the French working-class circles of the interwar years? French fascination with otherness, resulting in popular cultural phenomena such as negrophilia, allowed black performers to find work during these years, but there were also self-definitions of race that revealed agency amid the black colonial community.5 Race was used in multiple ways by the colonial subjects and citizens who lived and worked in the metropole. Their understanding of race helped them to explain their perceptions of, and rela-

French Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. 27, No. 2, Summer 2009



24 Jennifer Boittin

tions to, other colonial migrants from Africa, Madagascar, and the Caribbean, and shaped their politics and community. 6 How they spoke of race illuminates the extraordinary diversity, subtlety, and complexity of interactions among black colonial migrants in an overwhelmingly white metropole.

In 1988 Gérard Noiriel altered the study of France’s history when he pointed out that immigration studies remained all too consistently on its mar- gins, rather than being considered an intrinsic component of the historical narrative.7 His work crystallized for future scholars the notion that the study of France’s history would benefit from having its boundaries redrawn to include concepts and people who had either been overlooked, or whose place within the French state had not been systematically delineated, because they related to immigration. Since his work first emerged, scholars have expanded upon it to encompass the study of the French Empire as a whole, and not merely that of immigrants within metropolitan France.8 Throughout this transformation of the field of French history, the focal point has tended to be upon the relationship between immigrants and related themes (national iden- tity, integration, assimilation), and the French state.9 Even studies of race and racism tend to explore how immigrants were perceived, rather than how they reacted to xenophobia. With France at the center of the debate, immigrants have often been relegated to the role of objects for analysis. In contrast this article explores how black colonial migrants related to one another, experi- enced their connection to the Republic, and rewrote the narrative that other- wise threatened to be imposed upon them.

Brent Hayes Edwards, Tyler Stovall, and Gary Wilder are among those who have reframed France’s history by thoroughly investigating the history of black migrants in France during the 1920s and 1930s, using sources produced by a surveillance system that Clifford Rosenberg has revealed to be a charac- teristic response on the part of the French state to migrants of widely varying national backgrounds.10 Edwards, Christopher Miller, and Wilder have each in their own way redefined the study of Negritude, by replacing this literary, cul- tural, and political movement in a context that for Edwards stretches across the Atlantic, for Wilder must include an awareness of France as an imperial nation-state, and for Miller has roots in the racial awareness of workers in the 1920s. Their work has made clear that more attention needs to be paid to dis- tinctions within black communities, and in particular to the priorities of work- ers as opposed to those of students and intellectuals. Indeed one aspect of these communities about which we still have something to learn is the sub- tleties of their understanding of race. Getting to the root of what it meant to be black in France requires investigating the publications—including newspa- pers and novels—produced by colonial migrants. These sources can be bal- anced by information compiled by spies for the Ministry of Colonies’ surveillance system, overseen by the Service de Liaison avec les Originaires des Territoires Français d’Outre-Mer, or SLOTFOM.11 Spies documented in great detail the meetings and casual interactions of black communities, and left a

Black in France 25

record even of those who did not have the education, desire or time to pub- lish. Among other details, informants—who can be considered “participant observers” because they were actively involved in colonial communities even while scrutinizing them—left behind an extraordinarily rich selection of both off-hand and deliberate use of racial terminology.12 Here, I propose to investi- gate what these comments reveal about the meaning with which a black man invested the words nègre, noir, métis or mulâtre, when applying them either to himself or to another black man. In turn, this discussion of racial terminology will add to our understanding of the tenuous balance that black communities strived to maintain between strength and autonomy, as they struggled to invent ways to produce cohesive politics acceptable to a disparate group from all over the Empire, which often appeared to be united only by a mailing address somewhere in the metropole.

The Black Presence in France

Black colonial migrants first came to the metropole in large numbers during and immediately after World War I.13 They sometimes arrived during the war as workers, but more commonly came as tirailleurs, the term which designated colonial soldiers who were recruited—often by force—into the French army.14 Approximately 134,000 black soldiers landed in Europe, and although they and colonial workers were either encouraged or forced to leave after the war, some soldiers and workers found a place in the metropole.15 Tirailleurs who were demobilized in France, colonial workers, and men who arrived after the war were joined by students, intellectuals, and educated colonials with white- collar jobs as lawyers, doctors and so forth.16 These colonial migrants congre- gated in Paris and a number of port cities including Le Havre, Bordeaux, Toulon, and Marseille. Indeed, since the colonial workers’ milieus were domi- nated by men, the concept of race investigated in this article will be theirs. With women making up only approximately 2 percent of the African popula- tion in France, interactions among migrants were necessarily tinged with the overwhelming masculinity of the setting.17

A definitive count of black colonial migrants is difficult to determine, in part because the numbers provided by police during the 1920s and 1930s did not often take into account Afro-Caribbeans (who were French citizens); these figures conflicted with the police’s own estimates that several hundred black men regularly attended political rallies; and records probably only took into account Africans whose immigration status was regularized. The SLOTFOM thus calculated the presence in France of 379 French West and Equatorial Africans, and 462 Malagasies in September 1924; of 2,015 Africans and 665 Malagasies in November 1926; and of 894 Africans and 559 Malagasies in June 1932.18 Approximately a third of these men were believed to be living in the Paris region.19 However, still according to the police, in 1926 there were as

26 Jennifer Boittin

many as ten thousand to fifteen thousand black men living in Paris alone.20 The latter numbers seem high, however, and may very well have included North Africans. In either case, of those numbers several hundred were the workers and activists who made up the principal members of three anti-impe- rial organizations that loosely succeeded one another from 1926 to 1939: the CDRN, the Ligue de défense de la race nègre (League for the Defense of the Negro Race, hereafter LDRN), and the Union des travailleurs nègres (Union for Negro Workers, hereafter UTN).21 These groups had branches in each of the major port cities and headquarters in the capital, and generally grouped a thousand members at a time.22

The concentration of colonial migrants in the capital makes it a particu- larly intriguing space to investigate, especially since cleavages of class, race, and language were often accentuated by the exceptional diversity of profes- sions available to the colonial migrants who were drawn to Paris.23 Thus of fifty-two black men being watched by spies in Paris, twenty were in the service industry (working as bouncers, taxi drivers, cooks, barmen, dishwashers and so forth), five were lawyers, eight were in finance (accounting, insurance, and banking), and only seven were students. Other jobs ranged from factory worker to journalist. The majority of those under scrutiny for belonging to organizations such as the CDRN, LDRN and UTN, in other words, were man- ual laborers rather than members of the liberal professions, but were not often workers in the industrial sector.24 The recorded professions reflect on the one hand a division between the leaders and affiliates of these organizations (the leaders were more likely to be persons of interest for police spies), and on the other hand the separation of Paris from the industrial outskirts which were becoming known as the banlieue rouge. Some black colonial workers, over- shadowed numerically in the industrial sector by North Africans, lived in areas such as Saint Denis, Bobigny, and Boulogne-Billancourt, as well as in Paris.25 As for the black colonial leaders of anti-imperial organizations, they were present in almost every arrondissement of Paris, but only occasionally in the banlieues.

Black colonial migrants’ politics were a rather complex jumble of anti- imperialism. This anti-imperialism made itself known alternatively and incon- sistently by requests for independence from France; demands for the rights associated with French citizenship—often expressed in eloquent, republican language—; affiliation with Communism—for monetary as well as doctrinaire reasons—; and requests for the righting of the wrongs implicit in colonialism, whether cultural, social, political, economic or physical. In July of 1919 a Pan- African Congress in Paris first spurred black men to articulate their aspira- tions. A number of organizations including the Fraternité africaine, l’Association panafricaine, l’Amitié franco-dahoméenne and the Ligue pour l’accession aux droits de citoyen des indigènes de Madagascar sprang up dur- ing the early 1920s, but the first two associations to group large numbers of black men were the Union intercoloniale in 1921, and the Ligue universelle de défense de la race noire (not to be confused with the LDRN) in 1924. The lat-

Black in France 27

ter organization was dismantled soon after its newspaper, Les Continents, was charged with libel for publishing the Caribbean novelist René Maran’s caustic indictment of the first African representative in the French parliament, Blaise Diagne.26 Its members quickly reorganized into the CDRN. The Union inter- coloniale, placed under the protection of a young French Communist Party (PCF), grouped members from all the French colonies. In 1921 and 1922 it was controlled by its Indochinese, Malagasy, Reunionese, Guadeloupean, and Mar- tinican membership, but by 1923 North Africans had started to dominate it. Black African questions remained consistently on the periphery of the group’s meetings and its newspaper, Le Paria, which helps to explain why black men created their own organizations. Another deciding factor was the 1925 Rif War pitting Spain and France against Berbers from the Moroccan Rif region.27 The Union intercoloniale and the PCF organized protests that demanded the evac- uation of European forces and supported independence of the Rif, and indeed the North African membership of both organizations was momentarily bol- stered by these requests. Black men, however, were ambivalent about protest- ing the war, in part because they worried that the PCF was losing sight of their demands. Thus to a certain extent the Rif War instilled a cleavage among polit- ically active colonial migrants in Paris, threatening to separate the North African from the Indochinese and black migrants.28

Even after the creation of predominantly black organizations, these were hampered by a slew of internal political divisions. The language of national- ism, or independence, was the most extreme of the litany of requests formu- lated by colonial migrants, and was reported on a regular basis by informants. Calls for independence started with the first black leagues in Paris, in the early 1920s, but became more strident after the CDRN’s creation in 1926.29 Affilia- tion with Communism was seen as one way to ensure liberation from colo- nialism, even after the campaign against the Rif War had seemed to taint the PCF’s commitment to black, colonial questions. Thus, at the first congress of the League Against Imperialism in Brussels, in 1927, Lamine Senghor and the Antillean Max Bloncourt respectively demanded “the complete independence of the African colonies” and “the complete independence of the Antilles.”30 Such views were not restricted to stalwart Communists. After he was expelled from the Communist Party, an anti-imperialist leader by the name of Tiémoko Garan Kouyaté from the French Sudan (today Mali), who had come to France as a student, set up a group called Solidarité coloniale that in 1934 promised to work on the “liberation of peoples colonized by French imperialism.”31 Likewise, the Haitian Ludovic Lacombe, during a 1932 meeting of the LDRN, announced his belief that anti-imperialist, but non-communist nègres were being scared off by Communist members. He confirmed that he himself was a “nationalist, but anticommunist nègre who wanted no master, white or red.”32 Thus while there were a number of anti-imperialists who on a regular basis clamored for national liberation, such ideas came from men with diverse polit- ical and personal backgrounds. This range clarifies in part why liberation was

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never the sole goal of any of these organizations. Instead, hope for pan-African unity across the diaspora, national independence, and even intermittently for a free and united black Africa, alternated with the formulation of more specific short- and long-term measures to better the status or daily lives of blacks both in the metropole and overseas.

Views on the impact that France had upon her colonies, formulated in meetings and newspapers, were constantly contested and shifting in debates among factions that tended to align themselves along the lines of politics (Communist or not); class (worker versus intellectual); and geography (African versus Caribbean). These lines were blurred in any number of ways, and help to explain why there was nothing smooth about transitions from the Union intercoloniale to the CDRN, LDRN or the UTN. With respect to Communism alone, there were a number of turning points that transformed the black, colonial migrants’ interactions with one another.33 The Rif War contributed to isolating them from other colonial migrants, and in particular North Africans, although with the help of various pacifist and antifascist organizations of the 1930s there were subsequent moments of unity, for example during the Colo- nial Exposition of 1931 and the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935. In part as a result of such instances of unity, not all black men turned their backs on Commu- nist politics. Members who remained supporters of the PCF in turn trans- formed black politics by bringing with them its “bolshevization” starting in 1924, and by 1929 the PCF’s implementation of Moscow’s call to pit class against class. The resulting structural changes within the PCF, among them the transfer of previously local organizational cells to the workplace, alienated many dedicated anti-imperialists, both French and colonial. Other ongoing practices added to the anti-imperialists’ estrangement from the PCF, including the increasing intransigence of its political positions as well as the evictions— or at times the resolute departures—of Free Masons, members of the Ligue des droits de l’homme, and revolutionary syndicalists. The fact that the CDRN was founded in 1926, but dismantled and then restructured as two black orga- nizations in 1927, a more moderate one that retained the CDRN’s name, and the more nationalist but also more communist LDRN, appears to have been a reaction in part to Moscow’s policies. As for the split among classes, while con- flicts inspired by perceived differences in status predated this PCF directive, after 1929 workers more unequivocally articulated their mistrust of educated colonial men.

North Africans, Indochinese, and blacks alike moved away from Com- munism after suspecting that their nationalist dreams could only at best be partially fulfilled by an increasingly centralized Communist Party. However, black men had reason to feel particularly isolated. The PCF’s newspaper, L’Hu- manité, published several substantial surveys of immigrant life in France, designed to convince French workers not to give in to xenophobia when faced with foreigners they suspected of stealing jobs and breaking strikes.34 For the most part, each series focused upon European immigrants. The exception was

Black in France 29

a 1926 series that included articles on the Chinese presence in Billancourt, and the North Africans of Gennevilliers.35 Still, none of these articles men- tioned black Africans or Afro-Caribbeans, a logical enough tactical decision on the part of the PCF given their small numbers compared to other migrants, but not a choice likely to elicit wholehearted collaboration from the black migrant population.

As even this brief description of the Communist Party’s influence upon colonial migrants demonstrates, while it is essential to consider the variations among colonial migrants, part of the complexity in telling their story is that many of the categories that defined them overseas were completely blurred in the metropolitan context.36 We must consider for example that the CDRN, LDRN, and UTN’s leaders and members contributed articles to newspapers such as La Race nègre and Le Cri des nègres, a forum that might at first glance appear to be the domain only of students and intellectuals. Yet few of those under police investigation were predominantly intellectuals, and most were saddled with the precarious lifestyle of the working class once they landed in the metropole. Amid this assortment of affiliations and artificial as well as very real divisions, the language of race was a particularly rich device through which members expressed unity, discontent, and their assessment of one another’s commitment to challenging the imperial nation-state.

Nègre, Noir, Mulâtre and Métis: Race and the African Diaspora

Racial terms including noir, nègre, métis and mulâtre (loosely, black, Negro, mixed race, and mulatto) had a rich history predominantly generated by Euro- peans in both colonial and metropolitan settings until by the twentieth cen- tury these racial categories reflected both skin color and a non-European background.37 On the whole, métis was used to describe the children of parents who fell into different racial categories, while mulâtre specifically signaled black and white ancestry. From the start, métis was a status ardently debated by anthropologists and colonial administrators among others, with respect to how it might affect an individual’s biological as well as social situations.38 From the perspective of colonial subjects, the métis had access to all the privileges of the French and hence tended to snub other people of color. At the same time, authorities were extremely ambivalent when faced with métis, seeing in them both the “potential benefits and the potential dangers which their perceived racial and social ‘intermediacy’ was thought to present.”39 While nègre and noir both signified blackness, nègre was perceived as more derogatory in part because it had a history of being associated first with slavery and later with the rights and privileges linked to race, and could even mean a ghost-writer.40 Colonial citizens and subjects also used categories of race generated during slavery and colonialism when speaking about and to one another, but helped to define and redefine them, most visibly during the 1920s and again during

30 Jennifer Boittin

the 1930s, by fiercely repossessing nègre so that it bespoke their political engagement. Thus, the use of nègre versus noir reflected—and in some ways embodied—the divisions within black communities in France.41 When the CDRN’s new Antillean leadership chose noir over nègre in 1927, they indicated where they stood in that division. They were unwilling to adhere to the proto- nationalism of early activists, to appear to support Communism like many of the left-leaning African and Antillean activists, or to openly confront the French government with what would be interpreted as anti-Frenchness. Finally, they did not wish to engage primarily in working-class politics to the detriment of other black groups in the metropole.

The terms mulâtre and métis were also widely used by members of the diaspora. In 1927 Pétrus, a member of the newly-formed LDRN (which was created by ex-members of the CDRN who wished to continue to use nègre as their banner) accused another member, a mulâtre named Toulouse, of being just that: a mulâtre.42 The argument, which reflected an ongoing division within black organizations in Paris, had little to do with the actual color of Toulouse’s skin, and a lot to do with what the word mulâtre represented to these colonial men.43 This marks one of several examples of how racial termi- nology carried political implications within the black communities, reflecting the extent to which one was perceived by other black men as a discontented anti-imperialist, versus a consenting if disgruntled citizen.44 Black communi- ties were not simply subjected to French racialization, but articulated race from within the diasporic communities, granting their own political and social meaning to racial standing in the metropole. Indeed, a tension existed within black communities between the desire for overarching unity, for example via ideologies such as pan-Africanism or Communism, and distinction.

Pétrus’s decision to call Toulouse a mulâtre reflected a pattern. In an Octo- ber report on the colonial communities of France known as Notes sur la pro- pagande révolutionnaire intéressant les pays d’Outre-Mer (Notes on Revolutionary Propaganda Regarding Overseas Lands)—which based itself on informa- tion provided by informants from within those communities—Pétrus was described in brackets as “(a man convinced of the superiority of blacks: dur- ing the discussion, he scornfully criticized Toulouse for being merely a mulâtre).”45 The same Notes of October 1927 remarked that the Martinican PTT (postal) employee Camille Sainte-Rose was accused of being a mulâtre after he indicated that the LDRN was harboring traitors (although when pressed Sainte-Rose was unable or unwilling to explain what he meant). The report then added an analysis, explaining that “like Toulouse, (see above) [Sainte-Rose] was then criticized by the noirs for being a mere mulâtre: a man neither nègre nor white was an individual in whom one could have no confi- dence.”46 Here, the report makes clear that mulâtre denoted dishonesty. By emphasizing that “like Toulouse” Sainte-Rose was criticized for being a mulâtre, the report also confirms that blacks reserved the term for those sus- pected of betraying racial unity.

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A third example confirms this use of the word mulâtre. In 1931, following another split between more and less radical anti-imperialists much like the 1927 one that led to the split of the CDRN and creation of the LDRN, mem- bers of the black community were again forced to choose between two leaders: either an engineer from Saint Louis, Senegal, by the name of Émile Faure, or the anti-imperial leader who replaced Lamine Senghor: Kouyaté. During the new struggle for leadership over the diasporic community, Kouyaté’s faction accused the “mulâtre” Faure of stealing the title of its newspaper, La Race nègre.47 Faure’s origin in one of the Four Communes of Senegal—a status which granted him French citizenship—may well have informed the choice of racial terms. Kouyaté’s affiliation with the PCF, and the hardening of the “class against class” policy, probably also played a role. Certainly, Faure’s refusal to accept the premises of Kouyaté’s struggle with the imperial nation-state did.

Some members of the diaspora felt that mixed-race colonials considered themselves superior to “pure” blacks. The feeling stemmed from differences in status; Antilleans in France, who had endured colonialism longer than most of their African counterparts and hence had a larger mixed-race population, often came from a different social background (white collar workers) than their African counterparts (overwhelmingly manual laborers). Leading intel- lectuals of the 1920s such as those who edited and contributed to the news- paper La Dépêche africaine or the publication that openly brought together Negritude thinkers for the first time, L’Étudiant noir, were often Afro- Caribbeans whose literary work reflected their greater access to education. To other black colonials, Afro-Caribbeans seemed to prefer intellectual to political resistance. Furthermore, within the Caribbean, as Frantz Fanon explained in Black Skin, White Masks, hierarchy based upon race had a rich tradition of its own, with established differences between the “almost-white,” the mulâtre and the nègre, and between Antilleans and Africans. For Fanon the Antillean dis- taste for being misconstrued as Senegalese, and the concomitant sense of supe- riority with which Antillean men had traditionally snubbed other black men from across the Empire was in part a question of language. “The nègre of the Antilles, whoever he is, has always to situate himself with respect to language,” and the French language of race was no exception.48 While Fanon went on to explain that Afro-Caribbeans who imbibed hierarchies of race were generally not men of the working class who always “knew they were black,” the metro- politan black man’s mistrust of Antilleans, for all these reasons, was to be expected.49

In the early 1930s, black members of the French Communist Party actively contributed to already-existing schisms when they were asked to transfer into the black community a multitude of sometimes seemingly incon- gruous policies including: refusing to support national movements because they detracted from bolshevization and in particular centralization in Moscow; trying to separate Antillean and African members of the UTN into different sections; and finally rejecting bourgeois participation in the PCF.50

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Ultimately, most colonial migrants (even Communist ones) rejected such out- side intervention with respect to black nationalism and the forced separation of Antillean and African activists. However, the very fact that the PCF sug- gested such solutions to divisions within the black community underscores not only how deep some lines ran within it but also how much confusion these stances generated among white Communists on the outskirts, in a strange sense thereby underpinning the community’s independence. Workers such as Pétrus were responding to the entire range of these meanings of race within the metropolitan context when they read the combination of educa- tion and skin color of some of their peers as a sign of snobbery and of collab- oration with the imperial Third Republic.

Diasporic communities were quite aware of the division between Afro- Caribbeans and Africans. In 1932, during a talk he gave for members of the UTN (the organization that replaced the LDRN after the struggle for leadership between Faure and Kouyaté), Félix Denis observed that “mixed blood individ- uals were the most staunch supporters of the enslavement of nègres.”51 During the same year Pierre Kodo-Kossoul, a black naturalized French hospital worker who was one of several activists to transfer his allegiance from the LDRN to the UTN, “apologized to the two women present, noting that nègres are asses if they cannot even explain themselves and get along. He criticized the assembly for raising an Antillean question given that all nègres are of the same race and defend the same cause.”52 Kodo-Kossoul’s words not only underscored the widespread awareness of rifts within black circles, they also reflected the extent to which masculinity defined how people related to one another within black, working-class, anti-imperial groups. By calling upon the two women present to bear witness, Kodo-Kossoul placed a burden of shame upon black men. His statement grants added meaning to the emphasis placed on definitions of mulâtre in police reports. Men neither nègre nor white were not to be trusted, but no such shiftiness was attributed to women presumed to be of mixed race.

Workers were not alone in underscoring discord among men. A Sene- galese man who worked with Afro-Caribbean intellectuals for their produc- tion of the newspaper La Dépêche africaine, Pierre Baye-Salzmann, also recognized the division when, during a 1928 meeting, he begged Afro- Caribbeans and Africans to cast off their divisions and unite against oppres- sion.53 Such calls for racial unity, however, did not generally translate into anti-white racism.54 Thus, when Lacombe stated in one meeting that he was ready to defend nègres but not whites, “the entire room rebuked him for this improper attitude.”55 Baye-Salzmann’s language of solidarity and Kodo-Kos- soul’s exasperation stood in stark opposition to racialized name-calling that tended to divide Afro-Caribbeans from Africans. In an article for La Race nègre he wrote shortly before his death, Lamine Senghor maintained “against all these traitors of various shades—including the white-skinned nègre—we have struggled long and hard” to create a universal movement. He then quickly went on to define universalism, in this case, as encompassing only “sons of

Black in France 33

Africa, truly worthy of the nègre race.” In other words, universalism applied only to black men.56

Race offered a subjective and adaptable form of critique, which did not rule out exchange and unity among blacks. There are no traces within the archives or newspapers of Afro-Caribbeans accusing their African counterparts of being too nègre, but Afro-Caribbeans often faced indignant claims, at times even from other métis, that they were not proud enough of their blackness. The self-identified mulâtre Dionson claimed that too many métis forgot their origins: “The Caribbeans, Martinicans and Guadeloupeans who believe them- selves to be of a superior essence consider nègres from Africa and the Indies to be inferior beings and forget their own origins; yet they know well that their own ancestors are African blacks sold as slaves and transported to the Antilles.”57 Within the black communities, calling to attention another’s métis or mulâtre category really meant reflecting upon his lack of commitment to the political cause of anti-imperialism.

These terms, and métis in particular, gain yet another layer of complexity when considered within the framework of the mixed-race marriages or part- nerships in which anti-imperialists and other black men often found them- selves after several years in France.58 Out of approximately sixty-five black men who were deemed politically subversive by Parisian informants, for exam- ple, thirty-one were from the Caribbean and French West Africa, including such anti-imperialists as Lamine Senghor and Kouyaté. No women were listed, but of these men, fifteen were from the old colonies and the others from var- ious African colonies. Eight were specifically designated as being of French nationality and seven were veterans of World War I. Nineteen out of twenty- five men were designated as having partners, eleven with white, French women and three with white women of undefined European origin. In con- trast only two partners were noted as being women of color (no information was given for the other partnerships and marriages). Finally, of seven children noted, five were métis.

Among the Malagasy population, of thirty-four men listed, only five were identified as French although twenty had fought in World War I. A total of twenty men out of the twenty-four for whom we have information regarding their relationships with women were involved with French women (in some cases more than one at a time) and of these relationships ten were marriages and twelve were domestic living arrangements described in French as concu- binage.59 Once again an overwhelming number of the children listed were métis: in this case eleven of the fourteen children were noted as being born of these relationships.

These numbers make the extent to which terms such as métis and mulâtre were used to denigrate, categorize, and organize fellow colonial men all the more convoluted, while reinforcing the extent to which racial terminology was a marker of politics. Lamine Senghor is a perfect example of just how lit- tle racial terminology could have to do with color. Although soon before his

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death he was ranting against “traitors of various shades—including the white- skinned nègre,” he was married to a French woman and had children who would have fallen into the métis category. The dilemma of such a situation was recorded by Claude McKay. In A Long Way From Home, McKay recounts a conversation between Senghor, whom he described as “a tall, lean intelligent Senegalese … [whose] ideas were a mixture of nationalism and international Communism,” and a Senegalese café owner. The café owner argued that Sen- ghor’s marriage to a white woman detracted from his racial politics. Senghor “replied that he felt even more bitterly about the condition of Negroes because he was married to a white woman; and as Communism was interna- tional, it was an international gesture for him to be married to a white woman, especially since white chauvinists objected to intermarriage.” He then reminded the café owner that he was omitting one detail—his partner was also a white woman. In response, the café owner objected that leaders had to be held to higher standards for two reasons. First, black women would not wish to follow black men who had chosen to marry white women. And second, he took the example of Blaise Diagne, the first black man (as opposed to mulâtre) to be elected a deputy to the metropole, where he promptly mar- ried a white woman:

Now his mulatto children despise us black Senegalese. Now if Deputy Diagne had a colored wife for his hostess in Paris, wouldn’t that be propaganda helping our women and our race? But I think the French preferred Diagne to have a white wife, rather than have a colored woman as a political hostess in Paris. Soon as we tried to do something for ourselves as a group, they did something else to make our action ineffective.60

Since “mulatto” was an insult because of its political connotations of pliancy, assimilation, and ultimately betrayal, this café owner’s analysis was particu- larly insightful.61 It adds significance to the slur implicit in the terms mulâtre and métis, since the sons and daughters of many anti-imperialists who deemed themselves to be nègres would later have to choose whether to consider them- selves nègre or mulâtre—and might always be considered mulâtre by those around them. In other words, mulâtre was not only a political insult, but one whose meaning was sculpted by the very specific context of this generation of black anti-imperialists.

Métis, too, acquired depth within black communities, as exemplified by one of the lesser-known figures on the sidelines of the early Negritude move- ment, Ousmane Socé.62 In 1937 Socé, a veterinary student who joined the Negritude thinkers Léopold Sédar Senghor, Léon Damas, and Aimé Césaire in founding the best known interwar publication, L’Étudiant noir, belonged to a different circle of black, French migrants than Kouyaté and other working-class anti-imperialists. He became a representative of Senegal in the French parlia- ment in 1937, just as his second novel, Mirages de Paris, was published. In it he told the story of Fara, a Senegalese man who from a young age has dreamed of

Black in France 35

traveling. Armed with a French education obtained in Senegal, Fara gets a chance to travel during the Colonial Exposition of 1931 in order to work at the Bois de Vincennes, where he meets Jacqueline, a young white bourgeoise who falls in love with him. They eventually move in together, and have a child who is a métis of whom both her family and his black friends disapprove.

While in France Fara becomes deeply attached to a community of colonial men from all over Africa, some of whom resemble the activists who belonged to various black organizations. One in particular, a philosopher named Sidia, engages Fara in a bitter debate over the dangers of métissage. Their definitions diverge. Sidia with his physical interpretation of the term argues firmly against the idea of bearing a métis child who would inevitably return to the white race instead of preserving the strengths of the black one—an argument that shores up that of the Senegalese café owner. Fara in contrast sees in the word a universal hybridity and believes that “if you think about it everything is métis; on this earth there exists no pure race, no civilization which is not métis. You who are so proud of being one hundred percent black, you are métis with your European culture! You had to métis yourself intellectually in order to develop your mind.”63 Not only does Fara define métis as one of the purest forms of interracial contact, he also transforms the term into a verb which gains the active power to alter individuals. Like mulâtre, métis had the poten- tial for multiple interpretations among members of the black community, both purely physical ones and political ones including, in this case, an accep- tance of France’s cultural influences upon black men in the metropole.

As both Senghor and Fara’s stories demonstrate, the meanings attributed to racial terms were part of a process for determining authority, and as such became intricately linked to the perpetuation of masculinity within colonial circles.64 The language of race was in fact an important means for preserving pride and honor. Women were sidelined as witnesses to racially-charged verbal sparring, and were the vessels for producing métis children, but not the pri- mary determinants of what political meaning would be attributed to their off- spring. In Banjo, for example, McKay reflects upon the “race men” who struggled to exist in the popular quarters of Marseille, but these men were rarely concerned with women, except with respect to the bearing of their reproductive roles upon the politics of race. The character Ray, a writer who loses his even keel as he spends more and more time on the waterfront, rants that “woman is woman all over the world, no matter what her color is. She is cast in a passive role.”65

In interwar France the presupposition of passivity (in truth women, although in the minority, were active within black circles), was an expression of the masculinity of colonial circles.66 Colonial men dominated political cir- cles numerically, and although a few black women and more white women made it to the sidelines of all these black organizations, as the use of racial ter- minology suggests they were meant to stay there. Debates on race ultimately translated into deliberations on why mixing occurred and its potential reper-

36 Jennifer Boittin

cussions for racial unity. Anti-imperialists placed responsibility for mixing somewhat on the shoulders of leaders such as Senghor, who were separated from the rest of their class by that very leadership. Accountability fell even more upon those black women worldwide who if they were not “inhibited by race feeling” would prefer white men to black because the former stood for power and property.67 In either case, however, the discussion remained abstract compared to similar deliberations in the Harlem branch of the Amer- ican Communist Party during the 1930s.68 In the United States, the presence of both white and black women in much larger numbers within one organi- zation meant that contemplations of interracial dating and marriages directly translated into resentment, especially once black women rose in the ranks and started to dispute relationships between black men and white women. In France, because there were so few black women racial politics not only remained largely male, they were also a process through which to sustain masculinity, or self-respect, within colonial milieus. And since most men chose not to abstain from encounters while in the metropole, the political shadings of racial terms were demarcated from the tangible involvement of interracial relationships.

Race as a Marker of the Politics of Empire

Within the highly politicized arena of black organizations, race offered a potent, though subjective, signifier of social and political self-identification. Police agents tasked with gathering information about the colonial communi- ties were themselves often active members of the diaspora, and thus were equally careful when dealing with race in their reports, generally specifying not only whether an individual was black or white, but also whether that indi- vidual was métis. When listing the names of those who had attended a meet- ing of an organization called the Fraternelle africaine, Agent Désiré placed the word métis before one of the names.69 Recording those who attended a 1933 meeting of the organization that had replaced the LDRN upon its demise, the UTN, Agent Joé followed certain names by the terms négresse and métisse (woman of mixed race), differentiating between black and mixed-race women.70 When they were uncertain, informants hazarded guesses regarding the precise racial category into which their subjects might fit. Agent Joé wrote a question mark after his mention of African-American musicians in a report describing a well-attended dance organized by the UTN for the workers of Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb: “The five noirs, American performers (métis?) pro- vided the jazz for the dance.”71

Neither the informants’ nor the organizations’ members’ use of racial cat- egories existed in a vacuum. Their use of racial terms represented the frontlines in a widespread and ongoing attempt to negotiate the legal and political ram- ifications of living in an imperial metropole. A 1928 decree on the so-called

Black in France 37

métis question stated that “the presumption that the father or the mother who remain legally unknown are of French origin and race can be established by any means.”72 Texts similar to this one—initially applied to French Indochina—were adopted in French West Africa in 1930, Madagascar in 1931, French Equatorial Africa in 1936, and Togo in 1937. They had in common that they allowed those who could prove that they were racially French, including by appearance, to accede to the status of citizen. The very use of the term race in a republican document indicates that during the interwar years social sci- entists, the police, the government and, we can add, black men all had an understanding of race that was highly charged with social, political, and cul- tural meaning.

Indeed, the fact that métis children were technically gaining more and more access to citizenship during the interwar years, allowing them to swell the ranks of colonial citizens from the Four Communes and the Caribbean, underscores what was missing in debates about the politics of light-skinned black men who were often Afro-Caribbeans. The latter, as well as members of the Four Communes such as Faure, could call themselves citizens while many Africans and Malagasies counted as “mere” subjects. Within the interwar dias- poric community, hence, racial categories became revealingly entwined with distinctions of citizenship, geography, and class.73 There was a shifting rela- tionship between race, citizenship, and subjecthood as signifiers of political orientation within black organizations—for skin hinted at origin, origin indi- cated citizenship, and together these indicated social standing and the nature of one’s political, imperial engagement. As the author of “Know Yourself,” Afro-Antillais, noted in 1927—in terms that echo Dionson’s—the “so-called Caribbean elite, heads full of what had been placed there since 1848,” tended to ignore the realities of their own pasts and how they had achieved a citizen- ship that conveniently distracted black men from challenging race-based injustices.74 In other words, the author was arguing that imperial standing— or rights available to black men in their respective overseas’ homelands—influ- enced racialized, political thinking within the metropolitan black community and shaped the diasporic communities’ understanding of race, politics, civil rights, and independence.

Indeed, while the anti-imperialists’ use of race when it came to the terms noir and nègre was necessarily informed by an imperial context, it was the byproduct of a specifically metropolitan encounter among colonial subjects and citizens. In French West Africa, the descriptive factor upon which reports written to and from the Ministry of Colonies focused was most likely to be eth- nic affiliation, a level of detail not often reached in metropolitan reports focused on Paris.75 In the Antilles, as Frantz Fanon noted in Toward the African Revolution (1955), “the enemy of the Negro is often not the white man but a man of his own color” so that “in 1939 no West Indian in the West Indies pro- claimed himself to be a Negro, claimed to be a Negro. When he did, it was always in his relations with a white man.”76 According to Fanon the rhetorical

38 Jennifer Boittin

gestures of men such as Dionson, who claimed he was nègre although techni- cally a mulâtre, were ahead of their Antillean times. In fact it was the metro- politan setting—with its concentration of black men from all over the Empire—that made Dionson’s racial, linguistic self-awareness possible.

Dionson was not alone in this sense, for by 1935—a fascinating year dur- ing which many divisions were set aside so that the black community could jointly protest the Italian war against Ethiopia—those associated with Negri- tude mimicked the 1920s workers’ racial articulations with their mid-1930s musings. Gilbert Gratiant, for example, concluded his 1935 article in L’Étudi- ant noir, which dealt specifically with the question of mulâtres, by explicitly allying himself with the UTN’s newspaper Le Cri des nègres and with the “polit- ical struggle of the mass of exploited black men, wretched of the earth.”77 With this gesture he showed that like intellectuals such as Léopold Sédar Sen- ghor or Aimé Césaire he felt comfortable interpreting himself as nègre, but in addition he actively positioned himself outside of class—although not gen- der—lines, not as a leader but as a follower of an already existing movement.78 Yet the support of intellectuals such as Gratiant did not stop activists from continuing to waffle about which racial classification enabled the greatest unity in interwar France. In 1937, when the UTN decided to change its title from nègre back to noir just as the Afro-Caribbean leaders of the CDRN had done ten years earlier in an attempt to attract new members, the justification given was that: “changing the title will allow intellectuals, professors, stu- dents, to adhere to the movement which previously seemed to belong only to workers; moreover the word ‘nègre’ offends certain noirs.”79 Since by 1937 a number of students, intellectuals, and professors did not hesitate to call them- selves nègre, this rationalization only makes sense if it is interpreted as a reflec- tion of a change in leadership and growing moderation in the organization’s politics, as well as the ebbing of the PCF’s influence upon the black commu- nity, with noir denoting this transformation.

In other words, anti-imperialist groups of the 1920s and 1930s used race to characterize individuals’ shifting relationships to Empire. During the late Third Republic, black men defined race in political terms that reflected the changing possibilities colonial migrants saw for renegotiating their relation- ship to the metropole. Black, colonial activists who belonged to the CDRN, LDRN, and UTN during their most radical phases, like colonial migrants from other parts of the Empire, appropriated European organizing tactics when cre- ating political resistance to France’s colonial project. Leaders such as Senghor and Kouyaté, and lesser-known activists such as Dionson and Kodo-Kossoul, were just as involved in racial categorizing and organizing as intellectuals such as Socé and Gratiant. They infused pre-existing, racial stereotypes with positive connotations that enabled these men to proclaim pride in the perceived dif- ferences between the French civilization and their own, and allowed them to justify a unity among disparate groups that did not necessarily have much in common other than the superficial characteristic of skin color. They also chas-

Black in France 39

tised one another for not being receptive enough to the struggle with imperi- alism, by infusing some racial terms with negative undertones.

The metropolitan setting forced Africans and Afro-Caribbeans to come to terms with their seeming inability to escape their status as racialized, colonial citizens, and not only because they were a racial minority, or because cultural trends such as the vogue nègre confronted them with the cultural celebration, and implications, of their skin color. The metropole was the place where black men from very different parts of the Empire first came into sustained contact with each other. Whether or not they claimed affiliation with trans-Atlantic movements of black solidarity such as pan-Africanism, Garveyism, or Com- munism, members of the African diaspora could not avoid developing an awareness of the links between race and empire. They responded to an entire history of colonial interactions and its corollary of racialized language by claiming race-based unity and infusing terms developed under colonialism, such as nègre or mulâtre, with political meaning that was very much their own. When considering their position within the imperial nation-state, black migrants used race as an indictment reflecting the subtleties of interwar poli- tics in colonial circles, or as a cry of revolt. As Gratiant put it in recognition of the arduous task of being black, a colonial migrant, and an active organizer in the metropole: “I bellow: I am nègre!”80

JENNIFER ANNE BOITTIN is assistant professor of French, Francophone Studies, and History at the Pennsylvania State University. She has just completed a book titled Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Fem- inism in Interwar Paris, forthcoming with the University of Nebraska Press (2010).


  1. For their encouragement, helpful suggestions, and penetrating questions in response to different versions of this article, including conference papers, I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers as well as Sarah Paulu Boittin, Alice Con- klin, Elizabeth Foster, Jens-Uwe Güttel, Adriane Lentz-Smith, John Merriman, Christopher Miller, Kevin Repp, and Tyler Edward Stovall.
  2. This use of the word nègre has been discussed at length in Brent Hayes Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003) and Christopher L. Miller, Nation- alists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998).
  3. La Voix des nègres first appeared just as the CDRN began to crumble (and apparently to counter the rival newspaper of the divided organization, La Dépêche africaine).


Jennifer Boittin

4. 5.

Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer (hereafter CAOM), 2MiA/242, Le Comité, “Le Mot ‘nègre,’” La Voix des nègres 1, 1 (January 1927), 1. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

For studies of the French fascination with the black race, both on the part of the avant-garde and popular culture see, for example, Petrine Archer-Straw, Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000); Brett A. Berliner, Ambivalent Desire: The Exotic Black Other in Jazz-Age France (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002); Jody Blake, Le Tumulte Noir: Modernist Art and Popular Entertainment in Jazz-Age Paris, 1900-1930 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999); James Clifford, “1933 Febru- ary—Negrophilia,” in A New History of French Literature, ed. Denis Hollier (Cam- bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989); and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).

Writing about Algerians in the post-WWII period, Neil MacMaster uses the term “colonial migrants” (Neil MacMaster, Colonial Migrants and Racism: Algerians in France, 1900-62 [London: MacMillan Press LTD, 1997]).
Gérard Noiriel, Le Creuset français: Histoire de l’immigration, XIXe-XXe siècle (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1988).

See in particular Frederick Cooper, “Decolonizing Situations: The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Colonial Studies, 1951-2001,” French Politics, Culture & Society 20, 2 (2002); Gre- gory Mann, “Locating Colonial Histories: Between France and West Africa,” Ameri- can Historical Review 110, 2 (2005); and Gary Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude and Colonial Humanism between the Two World Wars (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Others have contributed to this vision of French history, including: Herman Lebovics, Bringing the Empire Back Home: France in the Global Age (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004); Sue Peabody and Tyler Edward Stovall, eds., The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003); and Tyler Edward Stovall and Georges Van Den Abbeele, eds., French Civilization and Its Discontents: Nationalism, Colonialism, Race (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003).

On modern immigration control in France see Mary Dewhurst Lewis, “The Company of Strangers: Policing Migration and Nation in Marseille,” French Politics, Culture & Society 20, 3 (2002); Janine Ponty, Polonais méconnus: Histoire des travailleurs immigrés en France dans l’entre-deux-guerres (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1990); and Alexis Spire, Étrangers à la carte: L’Administration de l’immigration en France, 1945-1975 (Paris: Grasset, 2005). On Algerians, often the focal point for studies of colonial migration, see Todd Shepard, The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France (Ithaca: Cornell Univer- sity Press, 2006); Maxim Silverman, Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism, and Citizenship in Modern France (London: Routledge, 1992); Paul A. Silverstein, Algeria in France: Transpolitics, Race, and Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); and Clifford Rosenberg, Policing Paris: The Origins of Modern Immigra- tion Control Between the Wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).


7. 8.


10. On the intricacies of interwar black movements see Philippe Dewitte, Les Mouvements nègres en France 1919-1939 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985); Philippe Dewitte, “Le Paris noir de l’entre-deux-guerres,” in Le Paris des étrangers depuis un siècle, ed. André Kaspi and Antoine Marès (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1989); Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora; Abiola Irele, “Pan-Africanism and African Nation- alism,” Odu 6 (1971); J. Ayo Langley, “Pan-Africanism in Paris, 1924-36,” The Jour- nal of Modern African Studies 7, 1 (1969); Miller, Nationalists and Nomads; James Spiegler, “Aspects of Nationalist Thought among French-Speaking West Africans, 1921-1939” (D. Phil. Thesis, Oxford University, 1968); Martin Steins, “Les antécé-

Black in France 41

dents et la génèse de la Négritude senghorienne” (thèse d’État, Université de Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1980); Tyler Edward Stovall, Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996); and Wilder, The French Impe- rial Nation-State.

  1. The CAI, later SLOTFOM, was affiliated first with the Ministry of Colonies’ Military Affairs division, and then its Political Affairs. The CAI/SLOTFOM had connections with the Préfecture de Police where a section of the Service des Renseignements Généraux was already devoted to watching over migrants and revolutionary, colo- nial propaganda; as well as to the Ministry of the Interior; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Direction de Sûreté Générale for the recruitment of spies, translators and so forth; and locally with the Governor Generals of various French colonies (CAOM, SLOTFOM I/4). For more on the police and surveillance of colonial migrants, see Patrice Morlat, La Répression coloniale au Vietnam, 1908-1940 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1990); Erica J. Peters, “Resistance, Rivalries, and Restaurants: Viet- namese Workers in Interwar France,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 2, 3 (2007); and Rosenberg, Policing Paris.
  2. Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State, 158.
  3. By the interwar years, MacMaster states Algerians already made up 3.5 percent of for-eigners in France, largely dominating their francophone, black African counterparts. The INSEE has lower numbers based upon the censuses of 1921 and 1931 (only 2.4 and 3.2 for all North Africans), which probably do not accurately reflect those who preferred anonymity. No numbers are given by the INSEE for francophone blacks (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, Les Étrangers en France [Paris: INSEE, 1994], 17; MacMaster, Colonial Migrants and Racism, 5). On immigrants in French history see Louis Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses à Paris pendant la première moitié du XIXe siècle (Paris: rééd. Le Livre de poche Pluriel, 1984); Alain Corbin, “Les paysans de Paris: Histoire des Limousins du bâtiment au XIXe siècle,” Ethnologie française 10 (1980); Pierre Milza, ed., Les Italiens en France de 1914 à 1940 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1986); Pierre Milza, “Le fascisme italien à Paris,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 30 (July-September 1983); Gérard Noiriel and Dominique Borne, Population, immigration et identité nationale en France: XIXe-XXe siècle (Paris: Hachette, 1992); Michelle Perrot, “Les rapports entre ouvriers français et étrangers, 1871-1893,” Bulletin de la Société d’histoire moderne 12, 1 (1960); and Patrick Weil, Qu’est-ce qu’un Français? Histoire de la nationalité française depuis la Révolution (Paris: Gallimard, 2005).
  4. The breakdown for the use of soldiers versus workers from various colonies reveals that Africans were more likely to be used as soldiers (Edwards, The Practice of Dias- pora). For more on France’s use of colonial soldiers see Charles John Balesi, From Adversaries to Comrades-in-Arms: West Africans and the French Military, 1885-1918 (Waltham, MA: Crossroads Press, 1979); Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Sénégalais in French West Africa, 1857-1960 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991); Mar Fall, Les Africains noirs en France: Des tirailleurs sénégalais aux … blacks (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1986); Joe Lunn, Memoirs of the Maelstrom: A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War (Oxford: James Currey Publisher, 1999); Gregory Mann, Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the Twentieth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); Marc Michel, Les Africains et la Grande Guerre: L’Appel à l’Afrique (1914-1918) (Paris: Karthala, 2003); and Tyler Edward Sto- vall, “The Color Line Behind the Lines: Racial Violence in France during the Great War,” The American Historical Review 103, 3 (1998).
  5. Marc Michel notes that approximately 200,000 French West Africans participated in the war effort. Overall North Africans were the most mobilized population over- seas as a percentage of total population in one region. With respect to over- whelmingly black populations, considering percentage of total population, only

42 Jennifer Boittin

the “old” colonies surpassed recruitment in French West Africa followed by Mada- gascar and finally French Equatorial Africa (Michel, Les Africains et la Grande Guerre, 191-97). Stovall explains that the number of workers from French West Africa was quite small, but that 4,546 Malagasies were mobilized as colonial workers (Stovall, “The Color Line Behind the Lines,” 741). See also Mann, “Locating Colonial Histo- ries,” 414.

  1. On immigrant workers during WWI, see John Horne, “Immigrant Workers in France During World War I,” French Historical Studies 14, 1 (Spring 1985) and Jean Vidalenc, “La main d’oeuvre étrangère en France et la Première Guerre Mondiale (1901-1926),” Francia 2 (1974).
  2. Georges Mauco, Les Étrangers en France: Leur rôle dans l’activité économique (Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1932), 175. Much work remains to be done on black mas- culinity and manhood in the pre-WWII metropolitan context. There are some intriguing analyses of such phenomena as “la sape” for the post-WWII period: Justin-Daniel Gandoulou, Au coeur de la Sape: Moeurs et aventures des Congolais à Paris (Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 1989) and Dominic Thomas, Black France: Colo- nialism, Immigration, and Transnationalism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007). On masculinity in French and European history, see Robert A. Nye, Mas- culinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); George L. Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); and Christopher E. Forth and Bertrand Taithe, eds., French Masculinities: History, Culture and Politics (Bas- ingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Useful analytical frameworks exist in the interwar and postwar Anglophone context. Consider for example Tim Edwards, Cultures of Masculinity (New York: Routledge, 2006); Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Mas- culinity: The “Manly Englishman” and the “Effeminate Bengali” in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995); Richard Smith, Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War: Race, Masculinity and the Develop- ment of National Consciousness (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2004); Michelle Ann Stephens, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); Hazel V. Carby, Race Men (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); and Martin Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Trans- formation of Masculinity, 1900-1930 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
  3. See the introductory notes to the CAOM’s SLOTFOM archives and CAOM, SLOT- FOM I/4.
  4. Dewitte, Les Mouvements nègres, 25-26.
  5. Numbers are also difficult to determine because the French did not include race asa category on their censuses (Ibid., 25, 26 and 40; Dewitte, “Le Paris noir de l’entre- deux-guerres,” 159). On numbers see also Gregory Mann, “Immigrants and Argu- ments in France and West Africa,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, 2 (2003), 368.
  6. The CDRN was founded in March 1926 and split into two organizations in 1927. The LDRN was founded in 1927 out of the more radical of the two splinter groups, but later became contested by two factions. The UTN was founded in June 1932 shortly after the LDRN was dismantled, and with much the same membership.
  7. In 1926, membership for CDRN sections was estimated as: Marseille: 250 members; Bordeaux: 150 members; le Havre: 300 members; and Paris: 200 members. Note that the estimated metropolitan membership in 1926 is greater than the total esti-

Black in France 43

mated number of French West and Equatorial Africans and Malagasies in France in

that same year (CAOM, SLOTFOM III/37, Agent Désiré, 16 October 1926).

  1. Mauco, Les Étrangers en France.
  2. This data was collected through an extensive perusal of documents preserved in theSLOTFOM series of the CAOM archives. The data extends only to black activists who lived in the Paris region, and gives an important, although not exhaustive, sense of trends within black communities.
  3. For a breakdown of colonial migrants by profession see CAOM, SLOTFOM I/4. On the banlieue rouge see also Jean-Paul Brunet, Saint-Denis la ville rouge: Socialisme et communisme en banlieue ouvrière, 1890-1939 (Paris: Hachette, 1980); Annie Fourcaut, Bobigny, banlieue rouge (Paris: Les Éditions Ouvrières et Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1986); Tyler Edward Stovall, “From Red Belt to Black Belt: Race, Class, and Urban Marginality in Twentieth-Century Paris,” in The Color of Liberty, ed. Peabody and Stovall.
  4. Alice Conklin, “Who Speaks for Africa? The René Maran-Blaise Diagne Trial in 1920s Paris,” in The Color of Liberty, ed. Peabody and Stovall.
  5. David H. Slavin, “The French Left and the Rif War, 1924-25: Racism and the Limits of Internationalism,” Journal of Contemporary History 26, 1 (1991).
  6. Dewitte, Les Mouvements nègres, 109; Claude Liauzu, Aux origines des tiers-mondismes: Colonisés et anticolonialistes en France 1919-1939 (Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 1982), 129-30.
  7. J. Ayo Langley demonstrates in detail how Africans and Antilleans formulated increasingly radicalized demands for liberation (Langley, “Pan-Africanism in Paris, 1924-36”).
  8. AN, F/7/13170, “Propagande communiste aux colonies,” Brussels, “rapport pour Son Excellence sur l’attitude au Congrès anticolonial des Français ou sujets français qui y ont participé,” 15 February 1927.
  9. CAOM, SLOTFOM III/34, sous-dossier Entr’aide Coloniale Féminine, 25 May 1934. For more on Kouyaté see Dewitte, Les Mouvements nègres, 34-35 and Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora, 250.
  10. CAOM, SLOTFOM III/111, Ligue de Défense de la Race Nègre, Rapport de Victor, 11 January 1932.
  11. For more on black colonial migrants and Communism see Liauzu, Aux origines des tiers-mondismes and Jakob Moneta, La Politique du Parti communiste français dans la question coloniale, 1920-1963 (Paris: F. Maspero, 1971).
  12. Pierre Lacan, “Aux côtés des travailleurs immigrés,” dix-sept articles in L’Humanité from 12 December 1934 to 16 January 1935 and Maurice Lebrun, “La vie misérable des travailleurs étrangers,” quatre articles in L’Humanité from 25 November to 3 December 1931.
  13. Georges Altman, “Prolétaires de tous les pays,” 17 articles in L’Humanité from 15 August to 26 September 1926.
  14. Erica J. Peters, for example, does so in her work on Vietnamese workers in interwar France (Peters, “Resistance, Rivalries, and Restaurants”).
  15. Stovall, “The Color Line Behind the Lines,” 743. Such terms do not exactly trans- late into English, and hence will be kept in French throughout the text. For more on the problem of translation, see Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora. For a history of the linking of race with biological distinction, see William B. Cohen, The French Encounter with Africans: White Response to Blacks, 1530-1880 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980).
  16. Note that all these words first appeared after Europeans started colonizing other parts of the world. They made their way into the French language sometime between the middle of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth cen- turies. For an investigation of the respective linguistic origins and evolutions of

44 Jennifer Boittin

métis and mulâtre see Robert Chaudenson, “Mulâtres, métis, créoles…” in Métissages Tome II: Linguistique et anthropologie, ed. Claudine Bavoux, Michel Watin, and Jean- Luc Alber (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1992). For an excellent description of the nine- teenth-century history of the term métis, including its biological and social implications, see Owen White, Children of the French Empire: Miscegenation and Colo- nial Society in French West Africa, 1895-1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Also see Jean Benoist, “Le métissage: Biologie d’un fait social, sociologie d’un fait biologique,” in Métissages Tome II, ed. Bavoux, Watin, and Alber.

  1. White, Children of the French Empire, 93. Métis were sometimes believed to have inherited the worst “characteristics” of several races (Emmanuelle Saada, “Race and Sociological Reason in the Republic: Inquiries on the Métis in the French Empire, 1908-1937,” International Sociology 17, 3 [2002]).
  2. Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora; Jack D. Forbes, Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples (Urbana and Chicago: Uni- versity of Illinois Press, 1993); Christopher L. Miller, Blank Darkness: Africanist Dis- course in French (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).
  3. These debates have sometimes been considered debates over cultural métissage, i.e., the degree to which African and European cultures did or should be allowed to mix. Workers felt that such a debate was largely a political, not a cultural one. For more on cultural métissage see Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, “Métissage culturel et société coloniale: émergence et enjeux d’un débat, de la presse coloniale aux premiers écrivains africains (1935-1947),” in Métissages Tome I: Littérature-histoire, ed. Jean- Claude Carpanin Marimoutou and Jean-Michel Racault (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1992).
  4. There appears to be no further information on Pétrus and Toulouse beyond the men- tion of this incident and their membership in the LDRN (Archives Nationales du Sénégal [Dakar], hereafter ANS, 11D1/151, sous-dossier affaires politiques 1932-36).
  5. Archives Nationales (hereafter AN), Notes sur la propagande révolutionnaire intéressant les pays d’Outre-Mer (hereafter PROM), October 1927, 7.
  6. For more on the impact WWI’s use of imperial soldiers had upon racial categories, see Tyler Edward Stovall, “National Identity and Shifting Imperial Frontiers: Whiteness and the Exclusion of Colonial Labor after World War I,” Representations 84 (2003).
  7. AN, PROM, October 1927, 7.
  8. Ibid., 10.
  9. AN, PROM, September 1931, 15.
  10. Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1952), 14.
  11. Ibid., 182.
  12. Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State, 183-84.
  13. AN, PROM, December 1932.
  14. CAOM, SLOTFOM III/73, Agent Paul, 11 November 1932.
  15. AN, PROM, March 1928, 9.
  16. On racism and anti-racism see Pierre-André Taguieff, La Force du préjugé: Essai sur leracisme et ses doubles (Saint-Amand: Éditions La Découverte, 1992).
  17. CAOM SLOTFOM II/16, Agent Joé, 27 February 1933.
  18. Lamine Senghor, “Debout les nègres,” La Race nègre 1, 1 (June 1927).
  19. CAOM, SLOTFOM II/5, Notes de l’Agent Désiré: LDRN et milieux nègres de Paris, 1February 1927.
  20. Interracial relationships were tolerable in the metropole but had the potential toreverse the colonial order of things overseas (Tyler Edward Stovall, “Love, Labor, and Race: Colonial Men and White Women in France during the Great War,” in French Civilization and Its Discontents, ed. Stovall and Van Den Abbeele).
  21. The number of twenty-four for whom we have a marital status includes those who are specifically designated as single. We have no information for the others.
  22. Claude McKay, A Long Way From Home (London: Pluto Press, 1985), 278-81.

Black in France 45

  1. Yaël Simpson Fletcher argues that “this gendering of racial oppression made women as a group, whether black or white, a central force for (or against) the anticolonial nationalist project” (Yaël Simpson Fletcher, “Unsettling Settlers: Colonial Migrants and Racialised Sexuality in Interwar Marseilles,” in Gender, Sexuality and Colonial Modernities, ed. Antoinette Burton [New York: Routledge, 1999], 89).
  2. On Negritude see Edward O. Ako, “L’Étudiant Noir and the Myth of the Genesis of the Negritude Movement,” Research in African Literatures 15, 3 (1984); James Clif- ford, “On Ethnographic Surrealism,” in The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Cen- tury Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988); Jacques Louis Hymans, Léopold Sédar Senghor: An Intellectual Bibliography (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971); Irene Dobbs Jackson, “La Négri- tude: marche d’un phénomène,” in Littératures ultramarines de langue française: genèse et jeunesse, ed. Thomas H. Geno and Roy Julow (Sherbrooke: Editions Naaman, 1974); Lilyan Kesteloot, “Les Écrivains noirs de langue française: Naissance d’une littérature” (Doctoral thesis, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Institut de Sociologie, 1963); Adriana Moro, Négritude e Cultura Francese, Surrealismo chiave della Négritude? (Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso, 1992); Ernst Wilhelm Müller, “L’Étudiant Noir, négritude et racisme: Critique d’une critique,” Anthropos: International Review of Anthropology and Linguistics 91, 1-3 (1996); and Jean Pandolfi, “De Légitime Défense à Tropiques: Invitation à la Découverte,” Europe: Revue Littéraire Mensuelle 58, 612 (1980).
  3. Ousmane Socé, Mirages de Paris (Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1937), 183.
  4. Bederman, Manliness & Civilization, 7.
  5. Claude McKay, Banjo (London: The X Press, 2000), 178.
  6. For information on how black women handled race, including within working-class milieus, see Jennifer Anne Boittin, “In Black and White: Gender, Race Rela- tions and the Nardal Sisters in Interwar Paris,” French Colonial History 6 (2005); Fletcher, “Unsettling Settlers”; and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Negritude Women (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
  7. McKay, Banjo, 178.
  8. Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression (Urbana, Chicago, Lon-don: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 136-37.
  9. CAOM, SLOTFOM III/34, Agent Désiré, 9 December 1924.
  10. CAOM, SLOTFOM II/16, Agent Joé, 6 March 1933.
  11. CAOM, SLOTFOM II/16, Agent Joé, 5 December 1932.
  12. Emmanuelle Saada, Les Enfants de la colonie: Les Métis de l’Empire français entresujétion et citoyenneté (Paris: Éditions de la Découverte, 2007), 13.
  13. Class as a representation of danger was not a new phenomenon in France, nor was the sense that even among those who shared the class struggle, intellectuals often tended to speak for, not with, the working class. Étienne Balibar reminds us that “les formes radicales de l’ouvriérisme … sont plutôt le fait d’intellectuels et d’appareils politiques qui entendent ‘représenter’ la classe ouvrière.” (Étienne Balibar, “Le Racisme de classe,” in Race, nation, classe: Les Identités ambiguës, ed. Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein [Paris: Éditions La Découverte & Syros,1997], 286 ; Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses).
  14. Afro-Antillais, “Connais-toi toi-même,” La Race nègre 1, 3 (September 1927).
  15. For example, when tracking requests for French citizenship, authorities noted:“DIONE de race Ouoloff [requested French citizenship]” (ANS, 11D1/641, Saint-

    Louis, Procès verbal d’enquête, 20 June 1940).

  16. Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution (Political Essays), trans. HaakonChevalier (New York: Grove Press, 1969), 17 and 21.
  17. Gilbert Gratiant, “Mulâtres… pour le bien et le mal,” L’Étudiant noir 1, 1 (March

1935), 5.

46 Jennifer Boittin

  1. Léopold Sédar Senghor met Kouyaté, but later gave differing accounts of whether or not he knew of anti-imperial organizations (CAOM, SLOTFOM II/19, Agent Paul, 23 June 1933). See Léopold Sédar Senghor, “Thèse de Martin Steins” (typescript, 1981), 17-18 and Janet G. Vaillant, Black, French, and African: A Life of Léopold Sédar Seng- hor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 359 n. 41.
  2. CAOM, SLOTFOM II/2, Agent Coco, 7 November 1937.
  3. Gratiant, “Mulâtres… pour le bien et le mal.”
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