What the Yellow Vest Movement tells about racism in France


France the auto proclaimed country of the Human Rights is also, since the ousting of King Louis XVI from the French throne, the country of violent revolutions. It is in 1789 that that the French monarch will come down from the delusion that made them believe that the power they detained was a gift from the almighty. Louis XVI is said to have been beheaded following the capture of the Bastille Saint-Antoine fortress, symbol of the King’s state prison and arbitrary ruling. More than 200 years later, it seems that the violent and tumultuous episode of our French history has become an integrating part of our DNA.
Over taxation and declining purchasing power is once again taking the French commoners to the street in an attempt to challenge the system and hopefully get rid of those benefiting from it at the expense of the vast majority. Today’s revolutionaries are genuine working-class people, unlike some fifty years ago, when students, most of whom belonged to the aspiring bourgeoisie social class revolted against the establishment.

For more than four months the French Yellow Vest movement has been demonstrating every Saturday to express their grievances against the government. What was first a protest against the rise of fuel tax and the decline of French working class’s purchasing power has transformed itself into a revolution movement surpassing the May 1968 social movements that shaped the modern French society two decades after the end of the Second World War. Except for the 1789 Revolution, the current Yellow vest movement has clearly no match in French history. The success of the movement certainly results from the fact that it has no real leader and that it is composed of all components of the French society – from the far right to the far left, including, of course, the abstentionists. The different attempts from the establishment and its funders to control and discredit the movement through the mass media have so far proved inefficient and incredible. The French media controlled by some few French oligarchs have presented the movement, in turn, as racist, islamo-gauchiste, and even antisemitic, omitting that social media and the rise independent journalism have definitely changed the deal in the communication of news and information, in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

No, the Yellow Vest Movement cannot be defined as, or, solely, reduced to a racist, or antisemitic movement. It represents the whole French society in its diversity and complexity. The movement has obviously no spokesman or spokeswomen; but it cannot be denied that one of its initiators was Ms Priscilia Ludosky, a thrirty-four years old self-employed Black woman. It was on social media, in May 2018, that Ms Priscilia Ludosky initiated an online petition. It expressed the discontent of French people over the high cost of fuel taxes, the lack political representativeness and the discrepancies that exist in the pensions received by senior officials with that of the rest of the population. The activist is now trying to bring French Prime Minister Christophe Castaner in front of the international Justice Court (ICC) for the violence committed by his police forces over the last four months.

As a matter of the fact, many are the things that the Yellow Vest Movement has revealed about the auto-proclaimed country of Universal Human Rights, since the beginning of the protests. France has never been a country that could understand right on time the changes that had to be operated, when necessary; hence, the violent Revolution of 1789, the painful war of Independence with Algeria, and the May 1968 Revolution which violently brought down the fourth Republic and Replaced it by the fifth one.
Past is the time, also, when French police forces could, without impunity, unfairly attack and molest civilians, as they had so much been used to do it with French Ethnic minorities in the French working-class suburbs and other areas. The more than three hundred estimated complaints denouncing the violence from the French police, during the Yellow Vest demonstrations, and the absence of judicial response to it, have shown to the whole world, and more specifically to international watchdogs, how arbitrary the French conception of justice and equality are.
Thanks to the Yellow Vest Movement and the violence of which the French police was mostly responsible for, the whole society can now better understand what ethnic minorities suffered for many decades under the hands of those who are supposed to protect and reassure all citizens.
The argument that some bodies of the police forces are not really trained for maintaining order, but rather to play a cowboy role in the deprived areas of the big agglomerations could be heard, on many occasions, in some TV shows, where experts tried to explain the unprecedented aspect of the demonstrations and the violence they generated.

After the fourteenth week of demonstration, the European Union, followed by the United Nations, have asked French authorities for investigations regarding the many complaints they received from French citizens and organisations denouncing the violence of their police. A message was also sent to the French government asking it to restrain from using excessive violence against the protesters legitimate right to express their grievances.

All this sounds good. But the question one can ask is the following: “Does it take white people to suffer what Blacks and Browns go through, on a daily basis, whenever facing with the police, for the whole world to understand what injustice and fear of law forces mean?
In other words, does black lives really matter in Western Societies?
In the same register, it is interesting to see that the whole world, through the United Nations, finally understood what slavery and racial injustice implied after some other white had suffered under the hands Nazi Germany.
What would have been the fate of millions of Africans, Blacks and Browns, me included, had the Nazi Regime never existed? Here is an interesting question that deserves being pondered in order to understand the complexity of racism in France and many other Western countries.

Dr Moustafa Traore

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