‘Among them complicit’? Life and politics in France's black communities, 1919–1939

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Migrant Stories In 1937, the French Guianan Léon-Gontran Damas, an originator of the poetic and political movement of black francophone pride known as negritude, published a volume of poetry titled Pigments He dedicated one poem, ‘Solde’, to a fellow negritude writer, the Martinican Aimé Césaire. The opening stanza reads: ‘I feel ridiculous / in their shoes / in their dinner jacket / in their shirt front / in their detachable collar / in their monocle / in their bowler hat’, and the last stanza concludes: ‘I feel ridiculous / among them complicit / among them pimp / among them cut-throat / my hands horrendously reddened / by the blood of their ci-vi-li-sa-tion.’ The pronouns ‘their’ and ‘them’ refer every time to white Europeans, and to the French in particular. The dedication is fitting since in 1935 Césaire had written an article that referenced the psychological burden of living in France by drawing upon the theme of European clothes. In the first issue of the iconic newspaper L'Etudiant noir, Aimé Césaire published ‘Black Youth and Assimilation’. He wrote: ‘one day, the Nègre grabbed hold of the White [man]'s tie, seized a bowler hat, donned it, and left while laughing …’. Césaire's article used the theme of fashion to advise against assimilation, stating that the black youth wanted to be themselves and resurrect their blackness rather than succumb to European standards. He warned those who accepted assimilation that the colonisers would soon tire of mere copies of white men: ‘assimilation, born of fear and timidity, always ends in scorn and hatred’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAfrica in Europe
Subtitle of host publicationStudies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781846317842
ISBN (Print)9781846318474
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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