In France many consider segregation by race a thing of the past, yet the debate surrounding a cultural festival taking place in Paris this weekend has threatened to raise the issue once again.
The inaugural Nyansapo Festival, a ‘militant afrofeminist’ festival organised by the Mwasi Collective taking place in Paris from 28th-30th July, will set aside 80% of its space as a ‘non-mixed‘ area exclusively for black women according to its French language website. The English language version of the site differs in tone, saying instead that the majority of the space will be ‘reserved’ for black women.
The language used has sparked controversy among Parisians and French anti-racism groups. Anne Hidalgo, the city’s socialist Mayor, has condemned the event and called for it to be banned completely, tweeting that the language effectively banned white people from attending the event. She also raised the possibility of prosecuting the event organisers for discrimination.
French anti-racism organisations have also reacted angrily. Alain Jakubowicz, President of the International League against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA), told LCI that civil-rights activist Rosa Parks would be ‘turning in her grave’, while SOS Racisme called the event an ‘abomination’ and criticised the organisers for wallowing in ‘ethnic separation’.
The subject first attracted controversy when it was seized upon by far right groups and news sites, including FdeSouche and the popular National Front Party (FN), led by Marine Le Pen. The FN’s Treasurer and Paris Regional Head Wallerand de Saint Just was one of the first to raise concerns, calling on Hidalgo to explain why such an overtly ‘racialised’ and ‘antirepublican’ event was being allowed to take place in publicly owned spaces.
Paris Police Prefect Michel Delpuech told French newspaper Libération that as of Sunday evening, police had not been advised of the event, but insisted that they would ensure ‘rigorous compliance’ with the values, laws and principles of the French Republic.
The Mwasi Collective responded strongly to criticism, organising a solidarity fund and Twitter campaign in support of the festival using the hashtag #JeSoutiensMwasi (I support Mwasi). The La Generale Cultural Centre where the event is being held also added their support, commenting that the event had been the ‘target of a disinformation campaign and of ‘fake news’ orchestrated by the foulest far right’.
If you can't distinguish separatism as resistance from segregation as oppression, your language is corrupt. #JeSoutiensMwasi
— John Lawless (@johnclawless) May 28, 2017
#JeSoutiensMwasi safe spaces are so so important especially if your talking about sensitive issues such as race and gender. Support this!
— Saina (@Callmesaina1) May 28, 2017
The event’s website further explains that there will be four different areas of admission to the festival. While events only open to black women are intended to debate and devise a political strategy and reflect on afro-feminist theories, events open to the wider black community will reflect on the struggles of Black and African peoples. Perhaps less clear-cut, the events open to ‘racialised’ women will allow for discussions on feminism and decolonisation, while the events open to all will be exhibitions, showcases and round table discussions.
The Nyansapo Festival is not the first such event to cause controversy in France. An event on decolonisation organised in the northern city of Reims last year attracted similar criticism for advertising itself as a ‘training seminar’ on anti-racism for victims of institutional racism or ‘racialised’ minorities.