It isn’t often that liberal and far-right leaders end up on the same side of a racial spat. But that’s what happened when a black feminist festival in France drew ire from both the mayor of Paris and the extreme right.
The Nyansapo Festival, which is set to take place in July in Paris, reserved a large section of the venue to black women. Another section was reserved for black people of any gender, while another was open to all, regardless of race or gender.
On May 28, Paris’s Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, called for the festival to be banned. She took to Twitter to condemn the organizers, claiming that the festival was “forbidden to white people”, and threatening to turn to the authorities.
“I firmly condemn the organization in Paris of this event that’s “forbidden to white people.””
French organizations that oppose racism and anti-Semitism (and are typically liberal) joined her in condemning the organizers. SOS Racisme described the event (link in French) as “a mistake, even an abomination, because it wallows in ethnic separation, whereas anti-racism is a movement which seeks to go beyond race.” The International League against Racism and anti-Semitism tweeted that “Rosa Parks would be turning in her grave.”
In a statement (link in French), the organizers of the festival insisted they had been “the target of a campaign of disinformation and fake news orchestrated by the extreme right.” One of the most vocal critics was the Front National (FN). The far right party called on Hidalgo to “explain herself immediately” on how an event “highlighting an openly radicalized and anti-Republican conception of society” was allowed to go ahead in a public space.
While events centered on shared identity are common in the UK and the US, they tend to be viewed as problematic in France, where national identity is a major source of both pride and controversy. The FN rallied against what the French call communautarisme, a derogatory term to describe communities that withdraw from mainstream society.
For their part, the organizers said they were “saddened to see some anti-racist associations let themselves be manipulated”, and emphasized the importance of black women having the space to feel safe and comfortable to talk about racism and sexism. They argued a women-only festival that didn’t address race wouldn’t have sparked so much controversy.
Within a few days of her Twitter tirade, Hidalgo had back-peddled (paywall) on her critique. She tweeted that the event would be allowed to go on, because she had reached a compromise with the organizers to hold the black and black-women-only events in a private setting, while keeping the events in public venues open to all. According to the organizers, nothing has changed; that’s what they’d planned to do all along.