Le Feu dans le Ghetto

by Vince Vanguard Vainglorious

Most of the great powers of Europe at one time held colonial possessions in darkest and lighter Africa. France was more successful than most at conquering the greatest and most desirable parcels of Negreterre. From Algeria to Togo, moreso than the rest of their conquistador cousins, the French scooped more quality booty than any other nation. When the party was over, they of course left without cleaning up the mess they made and their unwilling hosts were left to suffer the consequences. Over the years they have dealt with this problem with foreign aid and other controversial schemes. Among the most unpopular initiatives, the resettlement program in Algeria in the 1960’s has been one of France's most enduring, problematic and complicated legacies. This program's impact has been the source of much social strife over the years and has a direct impact on the riots that have plagued the country in the Fall of 2005. It has been falsely reported that the problem stems from the provocations of illegal foreign immigrants. However it has been well documented that only about eight percent of those arrested have been illegal immigrants. Most of those arrested have been French born, French bred citizens.

The riots are rooted in the inability of thousands of “disaffected” youth to find jobs, purpose and dignity within French society. Some refer to these youths as second and third generation foreigners not French citizens despite their fathers and forefathers contributions to sweeping the streets, cleaning their homes and cooking their food, for the last several decades. It seems the promise of liberte, egalite and fraternite is much easier to secure if you are willing to stay in your place and your name is not Faruk – sound familiar. No not really, because despite the similarity to the struggles of Black Americans, we were never promised citizenship from the start of our introduction into American society, we have had to fight for it. Despite the fruits of liberty never having been properly served, most of us have decided to cling to our notions of Americanism no matter how we are treated. Earlier this year Bill Bennet tried to give us a head start.

The French who fought a revolution against tyranny and oppression two centuries ago have stood as the model by which revolution, civil society and liberty have been measured by history ever since. It could be argued that their betrayal of those principles is even more egregious than their Yankee cousins, being that they are the original sons of liberty. The French have always been an extremely jingoistic people, whose sense of Nationalism is heavily rooted in Frenchness as a birthright not an acquired taste. Yet despite their history they promised to accept all as Frenchmen who would live as Frenchmen. However, the reality of the situation is quite different.

I witnessed these phenomena firsthand over a decade ago while living in Aubervilliers a suburb of Paris. I was there trying to carve out a niche as a hip hop impresario away from the competition on the other side of the pond. To be honest I didn’t get the sense that Jacques Chirac don't like Black people when I traversed the boulevards of Paris itself. However, when in the boondocks of Aubervilliers, Neuilly and other places I frequented, you definitely got the sense that there were tensions under the surface that might give a better explanation of why Meursault killed the Arab.

Upon entering a café early one morning I was asked politely by the barista behind the counter “Did I know this was an Arab café” – don’t get it twisted the Black man has made an impression all over the world. Conversely, I was followed one night while scenery set trippin’ in the wrong hood. and was followed by some young Arab lads who were looking to stick me for my paper. I was told by my roommates that this was a big problem and many people had been stabbed by poor little Aladdinic jobless youth in pursuit of their purses. Despite these warnings, I continued to encounter various French youth of the entire plebiscite of all genotype and phenotype. As ominous as the youth and the ghettoes were depicted to me, when you can see the Eiffel Tower peaking over the high rise buildings the situation doesn’t seem as menacing.

Most of the young men I met didn’t have a job and were on the dole, although some owned skateboard shops and clothing stores. Most of my friends back home were involved in some kind of dodgy business involving slippy money anyway so niggas hustling didn’t concern me in the least. As far as the music goes, I did not ultimately find the next Run DMC I could market to Francophone Africa, but I was exposed to the urgent cries of Supreme NTM, Assasin, I Am, MC Solaar and my favorite Timide et Sans Complexe. They rapped with the ferocity of NWA and the urgency of Public Enemy while still remaining essentially French. I must admit though, that despite the earnest cries of desperation, at the time I thought they were merely mimicking what they’d heard coming from their cousins in Compton and Brooklyn. Although it was hard to tell, my new friends insisted things were not what they seemed.

A couple of years later upon returning to school here in the states, I stumbled across a film playing at the university theatre called La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz. The film depicted the friendship between a trio composed of Arab, Jewish and African teenagers qui habite dans le banlieu. Then it all made sense to me. On the surface the French advertise that if you speak French, keep your nose clean and live like a Frenchman you will be treated like a Frenchman. This is cool when there are enough menial jobs to go around and the Auslanders are satisfied with doing better than they had in their former countries. However these 2nd and 3rd generation foreigners as they are now being referred to (not French citizens) are no longer satisfied with the eating only the crust off the French bread they were accustomed to in the past.

Just as was exposed here in the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the riots en Francais raise not just the question first posed by that great twentieth century philosopher Nastradamus but also by Kassowitz in La Haine – Whose world is this???? Can those who have been the master ever really share the wealth with those who they have formerly held in chattel???? More importantly, can they ever truly respect those people who they have formerly espoused superiority over by virtue of skin color, national heritage, birthright and language???? Can a people ever truly be free anywhere other than their homeland, embracing their own culture, speaking their own language and practicing their own indigenous spirituality???? It has been said that we must learn to live together as brothers or perish as fools. However as with most families, as well as in the human family, it appears that things always run smoother when every member of the family is pulling their own weight. Comprends.

Le Feu dans le Ghetto by Vince Vanguard Vainglorious

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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