Why the French Election Matters to Black America, With Rokhaya Diallo of BET France

I get it; Americans are busy. We have a crumbling infrastructure, a president who wants to take us to war with Canada (Canada!) and a Justice Department that clearly changed its slogan to “Just-Us.”

However, if that’s not enough on your plate, there are other places—worldly, important places—that also have political situations that matter to America and, yes, even to African Americans.

This weekend, on May 7, the French people will decide who the next president of France will be. The choice is between Marine Le Pen—Nazi sympathizer, Donald Trump lover and Holocaust denier—and Emmanuel Macron, who started his own political party last year, has little or no political experience, and married his high school drama teacher. Just imagine the 2020 presidential election if it were Mark Cuban vs. Trump.

Why does that matter to black people in America? First, France is the No. 1 tourist destination in the world and the top European destination for African Americans. There are James Baldwin and Josephine Baker tours throughout Paris, not to mention the amount of international commerce that French companies have in the United States—thousands of jobs at Renault, Cablevision, L’Oreal retailers and the like.

Further, the more allies Trump has across the globe, especially in Europe, the more bold he’ll become in his domestic policy here in America because there will be no one left to condemn him. To get an idea about what’s at stake in the French election as well as the perspective of the Afro-French, The Root spoke with Rokhaya Diallo, who is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and television presenter on BET France (yes, there is a BET France!).

The Root: What was the vote breakdown in [the first round of] the French election? Were black French people galvanized by any of the candidates?

Rokhaya Diallo: We don’t have such data; it’s not allowed to count people based on their race. We don’t have the breakdown based on estimation. We can have an idea from Martinique, outside of France. Maybe 4 million [black voters out of about 47 million registered voters] in France; it’s very difficult to know that.

France, like Germany, has strict policies about keeping demographic data, which means data about race and religious makeup of the country is not obtained by the state. On the one hand, this is meant to prevent using that data to oppress and target; on the other hand, it allows racist anecdotes about crime and immigration to exist without being debunked.

TR: Do the political parties in France, either Macron’s En Marche! or even Le Pen’s National Front, actually target black voters, even in messaging?

RD: I have a feeling that people of color, especially Muslims, are usually used by the parties, are used to explain what they stand for. Le Pen, from FN, ran under the idea of rejection of Muslims. Nobody speaks to them, but everyone speaks about them. Except the Socialists—they talk about discrimination.

If history has shown us anything, white nationalist governments love to swap recipes and secrets on how best to oppress the hell out of people of color. The South African apartheid regime studied Jim Crow practices in the American South to put their system together. The Nazi Party borrowed practices from oppressive racial regimes all over the world. White nationalists in America have formed strong ties with Russia’s government under [President Vladimir] Putin.

The Trump administration seeks to create an American Brexit through implementing the same racist policies pushed through by the British National Party. If France falls, Trump will have an ideological ally in Europe, with the German elections just around the corner.

TR: How are current race relations in France?

RD: We’re [France] in a state of emergency since 2015. They can search homes, search your computer, and most of those people were of color, and nobody seems to care. It’s not something that was tackled during the campaign; it’s something that has become normal.

The results of this sort of national “stop and frisk” in France has been severe and brutal. Several black French men have been killed in recent years during routine “identity checks.” Including the recent case of 22-year-old Theo Luhaka this past February. Theo attempted to protect a friend from a brutal identity check by police and he was beaten and sodomized with a police baton. He woke up in the hospital with a 10-centimeter-long wound in his rectum. His justice? Sixty days off work and the cops walked free.

TR: Is Macron really that better for race relations in France than Le Pen? It seems like anything would be better than a white nationalist.

RD: Macron, his program is too vague—I have no idea. He didn’t have any precise programs about police treatment; he was very pro law-and-order policing. With him, I don’t know what to expect. It would depend on who is more influential to him.

If Le Pen wins, my main concern is the state of emergency and police brutality. You have a candidate who supports police in whatever they do, even if they are raping or killing someone. I would be very careful going out. Because of the terror attack, we have many police officers in the streets, and the new law says they are defending themselves if they end up killing someone.

This article originally appeared online at The Root.

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