From West Indian poverty to the French Cabinet – and a barrage of racist abuse

Even children have been deployed in orchestrated protests against justice minister

Paris

A campaign of crude abuse against the black justice minister Christiane Taubira has exposed a resurgence of unashamed racism in parts of the hard and conservative right in France.

Ms Taubira, 61, a tiny woman who has risen from poverty in the West Indies to one of the most sought-after posts in French government, visited Angers on the river Loire last weekend. She was greeted by a demonstration against gay marriage, which included a group of well-dressed, middle-class children as young as 10.

The children were holding banana skins and shouting: “Who is the banana for? It is for the monkey.”

A few days earlier a demonstration by fundamentalist Catholics in Paris sang a celebrated refrain from an old advertisement for bananas on French television. The demonstrators – led by a priest – chanted the equivalent of “Banana it is so good. Taubira it is not so good.”

Last month France 2 Television interviewed a local election candidate for the far-right National Front in the Ardennes in northern France.

Anne-Sophie Leclere was asked why, since her party was officially non-racist, she had posted a picture of Ms Taubira on Facebook beside an image of a monkey.

The NF candidate replied that this was only a joke and not really racist. She added: “At the end of the day, I would prefer to see (Taubira) hanging off a tree rather than see her in the government. Quite honestly, she is a savage, coming on the TV with her devil’s smile.”

It was Ms Leclere who ended up being suspended – from the NF. The National Front president, Marine le Pen, was furious at such a public breach in her determination to give her party a “nationalist-not-racist” image. Ms Leclere was suspended from the party and removed from the list of candidates for municipal elections in March.

Ms Taubira was not satisfied. She said that the ex-candidate’s comments exposed the true nature of the NF. “For them it is blacks in the branches of trees, homosexuals in the Seine, Arabs in the sea and Jews in the gas ovens,” she said.

Ms Le Pen is suing the justice minister for libel.

The more recent racist attacks, by middle-class, conservative protesters, suggest that Ms Taubira spoke too soon. The campaign is wider and more insidious that a bubbling-up of raw racism within the National Front.

 Ms Taubira is hated partly because she pushed through the law which legalised gay marriage in June. She has also become a focal point for an increasingly polarised political mood in France.

The unpopular left-wing government of François Hollande is regarded by parts of the right as not just a failure, but an illegitimate usurper of power. As a black woman minister of the left, Ms Taubira is seen as triply illegitimate – despite the fact that she comes originally from French Guyana, which is not a colony or a foreign country but constitutionally part of France.

She has become a target for the racism which has long seethed under the surface of parts of conservative and bourgeois, as well as blue-collar, France. Such attitudes are being kept under the surface no longer, says Pascal Blanchard, a historian and author of the book La France noire (Black France). 

In recent years, he says there has been a backlash against the allegedly “politically correct” and a new willingness to think, and speak, in racial terms. “What was invisible has become visible,” he said. “Words that were once scandalous have become commonplace. What you used to hear at football matches, such as monkey sounds, are now used against a minister.”

Le Monde, in an editorial, said that the country had reached a new low when well-heeled, adolescent and pre-adolescent demonstrators could be primed by their parents to abuse a politician racially.

“Abjectness has become a children’s game,” the newspaper said.

RACISM AT THE TOP

Since becoming a minister in Italy’s latest government, Cécile Kyenge has repeatedly been subjected to racist slurs.

The vice-president of Italy’s Senate, Roberto Calderoli, a prominent member of the anti-immigration Northern League party, recently compared  Ms Kyenge to an orang-utan.

Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama, has suffered similar treatment.

The President has been the subject of a number of caricatures with racial overtones, and the “birther” movement, which questions whether Mr Obama is really American, has galvanised many Republicans and was supported by  high-profile figures such as Donald  Trump.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / Analyst (CIMA finalist/newly qualified)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / F...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor