Hervé Tchumkam discussed the civil unrest in the French banlieues in his lecture ”Rioters for Justice” during the inaugural session of the Tower Center Monthly Seminar. Tchumkan graduated from the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and the University of Pennsylvania. His research has concentrated on Postcolonial Studies and Literary Theory, and Political Philosophy.
Tchumkam talked about the similarities that today’s exclusion and racism in France, share with the harshness of colonization. During French colonization, the pursuit of assimilation was brutal; immigrants were exploited for labor and resources to further French economic interests. African immigrants have been oscillating between necessary and expendable to France for more than 70 years. Even black French citizens that have been in the nation for three or four generations are not considered French, but are instead considered African. The question remains: what does it mean to be French?
Naturally, this issue seems all too familiar to Americans. Here in the U.S., Africans were slaves, and even when they were granted their freedom, segregation and racism were cruel. As a nation, America has made progress on issues of race and politics, and continues to strive for equality in civil rights. France has an ongoing crisis of national identity and struggles with segregated housing and neighborhoods. The rise of Xenophobia that invaded France during the 1930s when the African soldiers returned to France could still be at the roots. Some fear a crisis of the French citizenship. However, with the recent outbreaks of riots in the cities as evidence, the French citizens living in the banlieues are ready for a change. If the situation continues to escalate, as Tchumkam concluded his lecture, there could be more civil unrest.
– Karly Hanson, SMU student and Tower Center Intern