Featured, Race & Politics

Still A Nigger In Paris

paris“I don’t want to raise my children in this country.”

I’ve seen many iterations of that sentiment on social media, and I get it. As should anyone who pays any attention to the news and/or has personally experienced the permanent and occasionally paralyzing anxiety present when raising a little Black or Brown boy or girl in the United States of America of today. I understand wanting to escape to a utopia where all people are actually judged by the content of the character. I just don’t know where that place is. I’ve even been guilty of thinking about living the expat life and chunking up the deuce to my home country. Then I remember that the first negative interaction that I had with police happened in the land of liberté, egalité, et fraternité: France.

I was on the way from one small town to another, a trip I had taken many times to see old friends. There was a train stopover for about an hour, so I decided to get eat something instead of staying in the small station. I had been in that town before; visited friends, shopped in its little shops, gone to its bars all without incident. After I ate, I left the little restaurant, walking briskly to make sure I had enough time to get my preferred seat on the train. That’s when I saw two police officers. I smiled at them, as I do most humans, and continued on my way. A few steps later they said “Mademoiselle!” and asked me to stop. I was confused and assumed I had dropped something, but then they asked for my papers.

Confused by why I was being asked, I racked my brain to see if I had made any transgressions in the past few minutes. I hadn’t jaywalked, but I was walking fiercely. For anyone who has never been asked for proof that they belong where they are in the universe, it’s an incredibly insulting, dehumanizing experience. I asked them if I had done something wrong, in French, while my shaking hand grabbed my passport. The pair seemed nice enough, but it was too late. Tears had started welling in my eyes and I asked again, if I had done anything wrong. After seeing the dark blue of my American passport and seeing my visa and that I wasn’t “illegal”, they tried to comfort me, but the damage was done. “Mademoiselle, are you okay?” one of the officers said in accented English. “I’m fine. Can I go now?

It took that incident for me to realize that my idealized vision of a better life, a better country for Black Americans in France, didn’t exist. I felt the same othering then and there that could have been felt when being followed in an American store by a profiling salesclerk or asked by an American cop if the car I was driving had been stolen. In this sense, France was no different than Ferguson.

Had I not been American, I have little doubt that I would have been questioned longer and possibly detained. Definitely would have missed my train. My brown skin and origins made me the victim of unwanted attention and humiliation, but at least my blue passport saved me from further action.

I called my parents sobbing and they feared the worst. I told them I was physically fine, but emotionally messed up. My dad’s heavy sigh let me know he remembered being a kid in Pasadena, Texas and being stopped by police once for being suspected of stealing a bike.

4,000 miles and an entire ocean wasn’t enough to distance me from the type of racial-based harassment and fear many of us deal with here. Sure, I wasn’t detained or arrested, and my experience pales in comparison to those who’ve had their rights violated (or worse), but that stench of racism — of assuming that a Black person doesn’t belong just because they’re Black — extends past our shores, and we’d be foolish to assume otherwise.

And, about that whole “leaving the country permanently” thing.

Wither shall they or I go?

Je sais pas. I’m not sure.

Kayle Barnes

Kaylé Barnes reps Texas (Houston) by way of seven different states. She dabbles in writing, and makes a living and a life working at a nonprofit. She is not a hipster, she's just hip a lot.

  • Jay Howard Gatsby

    “that stench of racism — of assuming that a Black person doesn’t belong just because they’re Black — extends past (American) shores, and we’d be foolish to assume otherwise.”

    Tough to realize that you may not be welcome elsewhere even when you aren’t at home.

    A great debut on site for Ms. Barnes, though. Sobering to read.

  • Erica

    Je ne sais pas ou Je ne suis pas sure *

    I spent a long while in France researching this very topic for my Master’s thesis. We can’t escape being the “other”. It stinks too.

    • dara

      Can we say “Je sais pas” as a colloquialism, kind of like “chais pas?” I understood it as a parallel to the American “I dunno.”

      • Guest

        So usually, when spoken, the “ne” is kinda melted into the “Je”. It’s so hard to explain with out verbally saying it lol. But the “ne” is heard, it’s just kinda blended in. When written in short hand, you’ll usually see just an “n” and not the “ne”. Either way, some version of the sound of “n” or “ne” is included to show it’s negative. If you listen to them say it quickly it can be easy to miss the “ne” because they don’t individually pronounce it when saying “i dunno”. I wish I could like do a sound clip or something lol.

        • h.h.h.

          so it’s kinda sounds like ‘jenne sais pas’?

          • More like je n’sais pas…it’s basic french that the ne and pas go together, especially in the written form of the language.

            • God Shammgod

              Right.

              Spoken french tends to drop a lot of vowels, like how “petit” ends up sounding like “pti”, depending on your dialect.

      • kayleb

        You can say “sais pas” or “chais pas”. Informally a lot of words get dropped off and depending on the region.

  • Rasheeda

    How many times must this be discussed. It’s certainly no surprise that racism is universal.

    • Antiblackness is the world’s greatest export for the last four centuries.

  • I know there are a few decent 2520’s in the world but, for the most part, they’re not really worth their weight in salt. I keep it extra light when I deal with them. Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am. Have a nice day. Anything more, is me being far too generous.

  • Meridian

    Very few black people have entitlement to their own safety and security. Very few of us exist in a state of knowing we’re always okay and going to be protected. Most of us have a *general* sense of being okay and that no one is going to bother us. Even if we’re “okay” we’re always on edge because racism can and will happen to us at any moment some idiot decides to subject us to it. We spend a lot of time reacting to sh*t. Even in the instances where such people and such actions are dealt with accordingly, the fact of the matter is the violation already happened. It’s already affected you and that to me is just disgusting. You could be minding your own business and someone will accost your emotional state, your sense of safety and security, your freedom, your personal space, your human rights, your civil rights and will be protected in doing so. One of these days the black community will collectively get tired of that sh*t and decide to rearrange how this country functions. It will catch on all over the world and THAT? That is a climate I can live in no matter what country. The world that results from that is one I can raise my kids in. We aren’t powerless.

    • Val

      “We spend a lot of time reacting to sh*t.”

      That is the problem. We need to be more proactive. We need to create our own spaces. And, we need not be shy about keeping anyone out who would try to make us uncomfortable in our own spaces. Sometimes I think we are way too desirous of diversity. Especially when you consider that others don’t really give a darn about diversity. At least not ethnic diversity. Being a bit xenophobic might be a good thing for us.

      • Meridian

        I think any community of black people could build themselves up. We may not be able to make a national list of things we wanna accomplish but every community knows what it needs and can build itself within itself. You help the person next to you, uplift the person beside you, and it gets done. Whatever the struggle is we get through it on our own and I do think it’s best to exclude people from that. Some things are a pure black experience. While it’s necessary to have allies they don’t have to be invasive to help the cause. They don’t have to step on toes to have a place in it. Be on the outside and do what needs to be done but I really do think sometimes it’s just better for us to do what we feel is best for us and what we want for our communities.

      • Wild Cougar

        xenophobia for us would be rational.

      • jolly

        “Sometimes I think we are way too desirous of diversity. Especially when you consider that others don’t really give a darn about diversity. At least not ethnic diversity. Being a bit xenophobic might be a good thing for us.”

        If you believe, and some do, that Ancient Egypt and Greece were actually run by melanin rich darker folks [see Hidden Colors documentary & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_race_controversy ], then you might find this article interesting… http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/07/science/when-the-greeks-ruled-egypt-highlights-the-diversity-of-cultures-in-ptolemaic-egypt.html?emc=edit_th_20141007&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=28689186&_r=1

        “Though these classical Greeks knew a thing or two about grandeur, they were bedazzled by the pyramids at Giza, temples up the Nile, and varied cultures speaking different languages and living side by side. Instead of imposing Greek culture, the new rulers oversaw an early and generally successful experiment in multiculturalism. Their new city Alexandria grew to be the cosmopolitan center of a hybrid culture.”

        We as a people (that is those of our ancestral roots in Africa) have always embraced diversity in a sense that it has contributed to more enriched societies etc. In today’s present economy however and perhaps even in the past I can see how this “inviting” characteristic might have and is actually hurting us as a people…

        • Meridian

          Diversity is a great thing when speaking in terms of augmenting a culture or people. The exposure to different traditions and beliefs can all enrich a way of life so it’s a great thing when that is the purpose of inclusion. There IS however a such thing as benevolence with ulterior motives. Diversity for us now means so-called friendly people coming into these happenings in our community to take from us and enrich themselves. It means there’s a wide array of races and cultures coming in and doing things at our expense for their own gain. That isn’t what we want and it for sure isn’t what we need. The spirit of a person’s presence is really what matters because whether their intentions are good or bad, they will speak for themselves. The thing about keeping things purely black and brown is that it doesn’t even force us to have that double consciousness where we find it necessary to screen our space. That sense of security and peace of mind is a basic human right.

        • Epsilonicus

          Don’t forget about the Persian Empire

      • Mayborn7

        “Being a bit xenophobic might be a good thing for us.”

        *Praise dance*

  • Neptunes presents The Clones

    Racism is like the air we breathe. Just in some places its more overt than others and currently Europe is experiencing a wave of right wing politics where if you are not white you are not right. And the Bengals should have won that game

  • dm

    You gotta you gotta be kidding me. Boo freaking hoo. Fair is a place where they judge pigs. Why blacks always wanting other to accept them, like we a bunch of insecure mfs. You know what? If a white guy was in an African country, he probably get asked for papers, since he looked like he didn’t belong. Jeez. So what. We killin each other in the streets everyday, and this makes you cry? SMDH

    • Val

      “If a white guy was in an African country, he probably get asked for papers, since he looked like he didn’t belong.”

      I don’t agree. Whites are treated/ accepted pretty well in most of Africa.

      “We killin each other in the streets everyday, and this makes you cry? SMD”

      We are capable of being bothered by more than one thing at a time.

  • nillalatte

    …..

  • Val

    So, what’s the answer? Segregation? I’m all for creating our own communities. What I’m not for, begging others to treat us fairly. We’ve been asking for a very, very long time. If they were going to do it they would have done it long ago.

    So, yeah, I’m okay with intentional Black communities. I’m sure it wouldn’t be perfect but being in a place were you never felt out of place simply because of the color of your skin would be like being on vacation every single day.

    I have more revolutionary ideas but I’ll just keep those to myself, for now.

    • My revolutionary ideas would get me snatched up with the quickness lol

      • Val

        Thanks. This looks very interesting. I’m adding it to my fall reading list.

    • Neptunes presents The Clones

      Share with the class,we are listening

      • Val

        You’ll share our plans with ‘the man’, Mr. Spy.

        • Neptunes presents The Clones

          You should know i am the good guy on these boards. And why the heck are you people upvoting her

    • Wild Cougar

      You are not the only one who is in favor of re-segregation.

    • SuperStrings

      Integration was never the initial intent of Civil Rights to begin with. Black people had no desire to eat with or go to school with the people who were lynching them. Black people wanted equal access to resources. Loans, to buy land, actual buildings for their schools, etc. Whites were never going to yield on that because it required equitable redistribution of wealth to the most skilled labor force in the country. Blacks would have had a competitive advantage that would have changed the socioeconomic landscape forever. So, they begrudginly yielded to the integrationist approach put forth by “educated” blacks and liberal whites.

      • Val

        “Integration was never the initial intent of Civil Rights to begin with.”

        I never said it was. But, for many Black people who came of age in the late 60’s/ 70s integration seems to have become a lifelong effort. Which is something that I hope generations to follow will not seek to emulate.

        • SuperStrings

          The point of my response is that the idea of segregation may seem “revolutionary” Now, but in the early stages it wasn’t .

    • TherealDU

      Women shouldn’t lead in things like revolution.

  • European racism is often backed by strong ties to nationalism that were supposed to be tamed or watered downed by global institutions like the United Nations, and more Eurocentric organizations like the E.U, by tying nations into economic bondage, so that the threat of economic collapse would keep them from seeking to go to war with each other. The global economic crisis, the movement of manufacturing labor and high paying jobs to the BRICS and the pressure of an ever growing middle class in 3rd world countries and their presence on the global economy is rekindling the flames of nationalism that hasn’t been seen since World War 2.

    This was actually predicted by a couple of billionaires in the 90’s (Ross Perot and James Goldsmith) as well as a couple other people as well, in terms of their criticism of economic trade policies that were being developed, under the belief that since the Soviet Union had declined, America’s presence as numero uno was unchallenged and it did not need to protect itself from any nearing economic competition…as is increasingly frightening, once you look into such things much deeper, you end up coming to the frightening conclusion that most of our smartest and brightest, who have been entrusted with the protection of our liberties and the planning of our economies and foreign policy, are greatly incompetent, short-sighted and flat out dumb.

    It’s not ironic that right now the big book that all the policy makers are reading over at Washington is Kissinger’s “World Order”, while the book that has still not completely stopped shaking the minds of academics all over America and Europe is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. It also is no surprise that the increased show of muscle of the government on all levels are consolidating to keep people in line because the Zeitgeist is obvious if you’re paying attention… major sheeet is getting ready to go down! All the trends in the world, ranging from the inability of the United States to deal with the threat of ISIS, the Russian’s desire to go to war with NATO and the U.S. over Ukraine staying in the E.U. or not, the increasing rivalry between China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea for Asian dominance, as well as the fight over resources between the West and the East in Africa (whose leaders have decided that resources are on sale to the highest bidder) is leading us towards a great war in our life time.

    Oh well, I guess there’s a reason why Hitler’s stuff is selling so well: http://www.salon.com/2014/01/09/the_years_unlikeliest_bestselling_author_hitler/.

    “May you live in interesting times.” – Chinese proverb.

    • The upshot is that Europe is having to deal with immigrations on a level it hasn’t seen in its history, and its progressive mindset has been proven to be as much a product of social isolation compared to open minded attitudes. It’s pretty easy to share when everyone is like you. When you have diverse populations, you have to check yourself.

      • It’s very similar to what happens here as well. The fact is that cheap labor always leads to increased tribalism in the native population, and increased tribalism, leads to racism and/or nationalism. The set up of the global economy provides no incentive to nations that cannot guarantee cheap labor. If you can’t provide cheap labor, your nation loses capital. You can pass legislation or increase taxes, but then again, you just make your own corporations less competitive, since their competition is definitely dedicated to getting cheap labor.

        The influx of immigrants, whether it be here or in Europe, is mostly for the sake of survival and the upkeep of the illusion of normalcy.

        • Good point. People seem to elide the drama White immigrants caused, but there were riots, harassment and general chaos thrown at them as well. People like to hold on to their money. Still, all things considered, I’d rather fight an immigrant for a job than fight them in a war.

        • Wild Cougar

          And they can’t replace their population. Their birth rate is abysmal. They need immigrants to pay taxes so their aging population can have their pensions.

    • Neptunes presents The Clones

      ISIS is a threat to arab nations at the most. This sabre ratling by American politicians is going to lead to problems in my opinion. And Russia is reasserting itself calmy because it knows NATO won’t do dick

      • “ISIS is a threat to arab nations at the most.” Which is odd because none of them seem to want to do anything about it.

        • nillalatte

          Not true. Saudi, U.A.E. & Jordan are the countries that have made air strikes against ISIS or allowed their countries to host military there. The Arab nations that have any ‘might’ are involved in some way.

          • I know but they always seem to either follow our lead or back door their way into acting as if not to offend anyone.

            • Neptunes presents The Clones

              IS is trying to return the pre world war two borders. This is very bad for the emirates and co. This whole IS thing is a puzzler,muslims all want the caliphate but not with the strict interpretation of the Koran and the royals will lose control of the oil

            • nillalatte

              It’s the culture, my friend. Arab countries are much more conservative than Western nations, and like many nations in Africa, are tribal in nature. It’s like trying to herd cats and bunnies. But, I understand what you mean. :)

      • Yes and no.

        The middle east is accustomed to dealing with threats like ISIL. And the fact is they’re not screwing with the power houses in the middle east, which are Iran and Saudi Arabia, who have their own rivalry going on. The growth of ISIL has come about due to the decline of what used to be a power house in the Middle East, which was Iraq, which ruthlessly checked fringe groups like ISIL from ever attaining power. Saddam Hussein’s death left a vacuum and we’re now seeing the results.

        When radical groups see an opportunity to seize power, they often take it, and they take it with ruthlessness. And ruthlessness has always been unprecedented in the middle east, which is what every empire in history had concluded after intervening in it, preceded their own decline.

      • SuperStrings

        Do you think Russia and China are financing and training ISIS?

        • It’s more likely that the United States is funding ISIS as a way of taking down Assad, and using ISIS as the rationale to increase their presence in the middle east, since it wasn’t until ISIS started chopping those boys heads, that public opinion changed and approval for military intervention did a 180. It’s more likely, I don’t really have enough evidence to say that’s what it is though.

          The fact is that Russia, China, Iran and Syria are all allies and have treaties with one another. Iran has a treaty that is supposed to force them to intervene in Syria if they are under attack, but they also know that their intervention in Syria could lead to war with the U.S.A and they are not prepared to go into direct conflict with the United States, neither is China or Russia…everyone is just biding time, or hoping someone slips.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M84l19H68mk

        • Val

          ISIS is funding itself with oil revenue.

          • Neptunes presents The Clones

            Nope,IS is funded by Qatar

            • Val
              • Neptunes presents The Clones

                UAE and Baharain are busy stating it every day. Use google

              • Neptunes presents The Clones

                If you think you can open up nearly four different battle fronts on oil revenue and kidnapping you have alot to learn

          • SuperStrings

            I don’t think ISIS is funding itself completely.

        • Neptunes presents The Clones

          Russia and China do not give a hoot about fighting terrorism because they are dealing with their own islamic rebels. They silently support the west because chinese and chechnian fighters have been seen fighting for IS and nobody wants them to come back home.

          • #facts Fir all the BS ISIS pulls, they aren’t racists. If you’re down with the jihad as they define it, they’ll take you. They just need to make sure their fighters have a copy of Islam for Dummies. LOL

        • HR Paperstacks

          IS is funding itself with sales of Pink Lotion and Sportin Wave in urban centers in the US.

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