The African Diaspora in France: Immigration, Citizenship and Demographic Anxiety

The recent victory of the Soccer World Cup by France brought back the debate on national identity in France, especially with regards to the letter of the French ambassador to the US, addressed to Trevor Noah, the South African political commentator and host of the Daily Show, a satirical news program aired in the United States. This debate on the Frenchness of France’s football players is both suggestive and revealing of a profound unease in France with regards to its citizens of African descent. As a matter of fact, in 2005, France was struck by violence in the cités, the projects on the outskirts of French cities that are populated mainly by African migrants and their offspring. The purpose of this article is, first, to trace back the tale of African presence in France to show that while immigration is characterized by the paradox of invitation and rejection, there is an amalgamation between immigration and citizenship in contemporary France. I contend that what lies at the heart of the crisis of citizenship in France is “demographic anxiety”, that is the fear of the African other, Black or Arab, and sometimes non-Christian but Muslim, that constitute the ultimate challenge or threat to Frenchness. Ultimately, this study of the invisibility of visible minorities in a space relegated to the periphery of major French cities seeks to offer a critical reading of national identity in contemporary France, one that rests, albeit only partially, on what I call the curse of origins, which subsequently haunts the heirs of African immigration to France.

Read more on SMU Tower Center Fellow Herve Tchumkam‘s research here.