Being in Paris for three weeks seemed like it would be a breeze. It was simply three, short seven-day cycles then I would be home again. This fantasy was shattered as I experienced my first instance of racism abroad. Being a Black man in the United States, I have experienced many instances of racism, however the utter hypocrisy of French racism and their values baffled me and rattled me to my core. The French believe in Universal Republicanism. This means that they believe that everyone is equal, meaning that there is no difference between races or religions in their country. While this view would theoretically protect against things like racism and discrimination, it does not account for the inherent prejudices of some people. This actually results in even less protection for people of color in France as they have now been stripped of their platform to combat prejudice. In fact, they can even be sued if they speak out against a racist act as it is seen as being in violation with their “color blind” society.
This policy is probably what affected me the most during my time abroad. It seemed that just as France suffered an internal conflict between their values of “equality for all” and their reality, I was suffering an internal conflict. You see, I began to enjoy myself in the city, even potentially seeing myself living there at some point. This contradicted my feelings about the country in regard to their complicity in Haiti’s dark past as well as their complicity in allowing racism and discrimination to persist in their country without the platforms to address it. This is one feeling that I never shook and am still..... working to make sense of.
Being part of the Black Paris program however, gave me an opportunity I did not think I would have in a country like France. I was surrounded by people who looked like me, we had class together, attended museums together, and ate together. This sense of community was essential in making my time abroad a memorable and unique experience. I recommend, for any student of color going abroad, that you find a community to help support you when things get tough. It was also great that I had my professor who had navigated these issues after living in Paris as a Black woman for some time. Utilize your faculty and even CGIS advisors for help. Even if they cannot directly help you with what you are going through, they will be able to point you to someone or something that can. Finally, take some time for yourself! Sometimes you just need to disconnect and recharge, that’s okay. Being abroad, surrounded by new people, places, and things can be overwhelming, especially if you are encountering instances of racism. Just know that you CAN make it. Trust and believe in yourself, you got this!
Every country, from the US to France, has their own unique issues. There truly is no perfect place on earth. This is a realization I had to come to when I hypothetically contemplated moving to France and dealing with shrouded racism, or staying in the US where I face often times overt and targeted racism. I still have not made a decision on what would be preferable to me, a Black man. All I know is that I will cope with whatever comes my way, as I’ve done all my life. Using words from Kendrick Lamar, “we gon’ be alright”.