Keynote speech VN-gezant; Mireille Fanon-Mendes France

Afgelopen jaar hebben wij samen met de GSSS en NUC een symposium georganiseerd omtrent de Zwarte pieten-discussie, Moving traditions: ‘The story of Zwarte Piet’. Daarbij heeft Mireille Fanon-Mendes France (dochter van de enige echte Frantz Fanon) als key-note speaker een toespraak gehouden over het fenomeen ‘Zwarte Piet’. Zij is lid van de Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent van de Vereningde Naties Mensenrechten. Aankomende week dinsdag 24 november is de tweede editie van het symposium. Schrijf je in via movingtraditions.nl. Hieronder de volledige speech van afgelopen jaar.

Moving traditions: ‘The Story of Zwarte Piet’

Roeterseiland Campus, University of Amsterdam, 5th November, 2014

First of all, I would like thank the organizers for this symposium, with special attention to Mitchell Esajas.

I was requested to present a paper on traditions and Black Pete’s case.  I have to confess, I’m not a specialist on that point; Verene Sheperd, with her determination, supporting the concerns of Dutch organizations whose members are of African origin, has allowed that the debate is anchored in society and advances. She must be thanked.

If I accepted to come this is because this subject beyond the questions posed specifically to the Dutch society interrogates the relationship between some states -as former colonizers- and the descendants or originating populations from States, formerly colonized. This relationship has been built from the coloniality of power or at least from the elements that allowed and justified slave trade, enslavement and colonialism.

The coloniality of power is present at several levels; and if one looks international relations and without minimizing the importance of analysis based on geostrategic forces, we have to note the willingness of Western countries to impose an endless war to States that are not on the right side of the ultra-liberal doxa and to peoples for the sole purpose of destroying the social and economic policies under state control in favor of these populations. Endless war conducted for the sole purpose to appropriate for their own interest resources that do not belong to them but they, shamelessly, steal to other peoples; just as they did during the period of enslavement and colonialism.

Thus, the first common good that is the right of peoples to self-determination-essential pillar of the normative framework of UN conquered by the colonized peoples, through which the balance of power in international relations can and should be regulated. Without its effectiveness and its applicability to all nations, whether small or large and even for people without state, the world is running directly to the law of jungle.

Consider what we call the endless war – it means there is a superpower seeking to prevent and especially to prevent the emergence of other major competitors as China, Russia, Brazil, India, so called BRIC countries, while based an sustainable alliance “between the U.S. and the EU-  requires a detour through by what the dominated peoples, during their struggle for their right to self-determination and to dispose of their natural resources, as their right to freely choose their political system, had to undergo and the nature of their resistance and what it had been possible to think by themselves in terms of alternatives to the capitalist model. This newness of endless war is based on the fact it still lacks one important aspect, which concerns the opened war against all kind of rights, and specifically the non-discrimination with its corollary equality, the right to human dignity, to protection of life and of course self-determination…

The effects of coloniality are felt particularly in what globalization expresses that throws his dominating and suffocating tentacles throughout the world. It hugged peoples by keeping them in increasingly great precariousness and when its objectives encounter resistance, its fervent supporters carry the war in the name of democratic values, which, in their own country, are flouted or downgraded. It increases inequality between dominant and dominated, reduces private and public freedoms to better satisfy its goals. It controls the minds summing them to refer to a single stultifying thought distilled by most media.

It reduces the role of the state as the guardian of private interests. Political power, embedded in a deep crisis of credibility and legitimacy, is the factor that vehicle “values” of capitalism and the accompanying slogans, competitiveness, reward merit, individual responsibility, equality of opportunity and good governance have become the main policy direction. The aim is grabbing richness for a minority. The result is final: women and men are treated both as an exploitable resource that can be selected, evaluated, and eliminated as merchandise that can be discarded or replaced as it was done in times of slave trade, enslavement and colonialism. It had first been enough to convince, by force of arms, razzias and pillage, the populations affected by these crimes against humanity that they were not worth more than a piece of furniture and enslavement and colonization brought progress and was an opportunity for all people “ignorant” of Enlightenment Philosophy.

In both contexts, coloniality is expressed in a particularly violent way and concerned racialized subjects. The slave trade, enslavement have stripped women and men of their membership in humankind; colonization was intended to deprive human beings of their dignity and thus obliged to accept the idea of their inferiority, this led them to embrace white values. Even free, former slaves and former colonized were forced to endorse the white assimilation. But neither one side or the other nothing has been overcome or erased.

Today, the coloniality is expressed in the context of ontological hierarchies that aim to irreversibly differentiate for better exploit but in a climate of rising xenophobia and social fragmentation. Thus, racism, lived in daily, weighs heavily on the construction of identity of individuals; without forgetting the temptation of many people to return to some “national identity” to ensure a “biological purity, religious and cultural” which alone would cement social cohesion and to protect themselves from supposed enemies, whether inside or outside. It is clear that the ideological superstructures of State nourish the exclusion through essentialist stigmatizations. For Etienne Balibar, the permanence of coloniality is expressed within organized groups between masters and slaves, or simply between civilizations declared “incompatible”, which allowed the installation of colonialism and now allows neocolonialism by requiring some of the world widespread poverty and the pillage of natural resources at the expense of cooperation, solidarity and a just peace based on the fundamental rules of international law, the right to self-determination.

The right to self-determination, rule of international law widely recognized, allows people to opt for the political structure of their choice and for their independence. Right recognized by the Charter of the United Nations and proclaimed by the UN as the right of all people to avoid colonial domination, this right  is primarily a guarantee of democratic and pluralistic society, according to the wording contained in the claim for a new international economic order of 1974 (UNGA Declaration).

This is not the first time that the capitalist system is, frontally, attacking the sovereignty and self-determination of peoples. One of the most interesting examples is how were treated many African peoples who were used to feed slavery between the 17th and 19th centuries. Regardless of the advocates of this new predatory ideology, since the XIV century Mandé’s Charter[1] -even if some doubt its authenticity – accurate one hand, that “(…) slavery is not a good thing “and secondly, that” life is not older or more respectable than another life, and another life is not superior to another life “. But there were many other texts containing the same rights and well before the Declaration of Human and Citizen[2].

Some civilizations with expansionary and imperialistic aspirations have always been inclined to enslave children, women and men on the pretext that their color, their hair, their skull, their way of food or clothing was different from that of Europeans. Not to mention the negative meaning of the color black.  The Code that managed in France, forced slavery populations has not been named “Black Code”?

The coloniality of power, in the context of globalization, requires, firstly, to not forget its roots are to be found on board slave ships, plantations, in the colonies, in the privacy of home, within the state, in the relations between empires and colonies and between center and periphery, and secondly, that the coloniality of power is expressed at different levels: gender, the being, knowledge in all its forms, and of course the use of traditions…
Since 1974, globalization has imposed an authoritarian capitalism based on full freedom for the capital, with for the international contemporary society  a functionning based on logic largely determined by the “private powers”, themselves based on a logic of market and “merchandisation” of human beings.

Along that, the freedom of movement of people is restricted in the name of the fight against terrorism which  becomes a pretext for draconian measures. So,  from one side is developing fear, fatalism, the folding of each other, while the other side is developing a delusion of power for the proponents of unbridled liberalism, all against a backdrop of war is justified for reasons of captation of natural resources as during 4 centuries it was done for reasons of captation of human beings as slaves, or told to bring a model called democratic thought in its time by “cette vieille Europe qui n’en finit pas de mourir[3]” or even for claim the right to impose racist and dominant ideology so that continued for over sixty five years after end of colonialism.
This phenomenon of globalization is therefore a way to make a world based on a unique model that does not reflect the distinctiveness of the majority of countries and peoples; it is exactly what it was done during the enslavement and colonialism.

Everything that had allowed establish an international law framing the international relations “peacefulled” is undermined, questioned in terms of other values –domination and alienation, inter allia- and principles which have been prevailed before the times of liberation movements. By example, in France, at the same time, when emerged the Declaration of Human and Citizen rights, in countries where the enslavement was flourishing, lot of women, children and men were maintened, by violence, in enslavement.
Ultimately, 50 years after independence, we can say that if colonialism no longer exists, in its direct and brutal forms, coloniality never disappeared of minds and particularly of those who dominate and organize the world in terms of their interests. In the context of globalization, we are in a context of dynamics of a “global coloniality” within which continue to build patterns of exclusion and alienation but also attempts to rehumanization.

Those “beliefs” have never ceased to influence the organization of the world.

Their consequences are numerous and are expressed, among others, by rewriting and mystification of history and an expression of racism from be hit harder still those who are victims. Race, “as a result of fashion and modern colonial rule[4]“, has never stopped investing in all fields of capitalist power and racism, as well as Frantz Fanon stresses has become “the single most visible, most daily, to be honest, at times, the coarsest of a given structure[5].

It is characterized by a lack of respect for people identified by their “race”, which works in a close relationship as well at the individual and institutional level, through the establishment of redistribution of material and symbolic resources according racial lines.

Humanity has not yet reached a mutual recognition but rather an intensification of intolerance and isolationism.

Representations and socio-political structures were built by the historical processes in which racial categorizations have played a fundamental role in the construction of a discourse of justification of social inequalities which have had structured many societies. The only way to achieve an ideal society is not to close eyes on these constructions but to seize them for deconstruct, expose their arbitrariness, their discriminating effects, sometimes masked, in a view to their transformation.

How to reduce, or even destroy, the gap between the proclamation of universal normative principles on non-discrimination with its corollary equality and particularistic, racialized and discriminatory application in most contemporary societies?

How to get out of racial assignment that in contemporary societies, is always real, that this categorization neither leads stigma nor domination or perpetuation of social, economic and political inequality?

These questions are urgent as the number of racist discriminatory, xenophobic acts -we must not forget the islamophobic acts- are increasing in Europe and particularly in France[6]. We have to alarm and be awarded against the normalization of racist ideologies, inter alia afrophobic linked now for certain persons with Islamophobia that make consensual stereotypes and prejudices and take in consideration the intersectionality of multiple forms of racism understanding that the discriminant and abusers do not dissociate these markers of belonging, as it was during enslavement and colonialism.

Europe, which saw an influx of colonial subjects, from regions which were developed in the essentials of coloniality continues to implement its method of concealing the problems it has itself created and which other suffer, pathologizes communities and movements who protest or try to change their situation.

In this sense “explore the coloniality” requires to focus on the principle of recognition as a matter of social and political status to not apprehend members by their origine, ethnicity but by recognize their status as equal partners in the social interactions. It also forces to question the conditions of work because “ si elles ne sont pas modifiées, il faudra des siècles pour humaniser ce monde rendu animal par les forces impérialistes[7] » –Frantz Fanon.

The political and intellectual elites, in addition to their role played in the perpetuation of a deadly system, have a responsibility in the permanence of coloniality, including by refusing to change the paradigm of racialisation and allowing the release of the racist unthought and the return of biological racism.

The challenge to stop fostering the permanence of coloniality as well in social relations and national and international institutions than in international relations, in order to promote policies that make exist “acting in common, equal and different[8]“, lies both in the fight against the formal colonial relations in elaboration of strategies of opposition and changes against the colonial, racist and dehumanizing dimensions of nation-states and in the development of a matrix World power that cannot be reduced to its capitalist dimension.

For conclude, I would like mention the decade for People of African descent with its 3 themes, Justice, Recognition and development, will be launched on the 12/10/2014 in New York.

It would be the time for work on this issue because there is no sense to think “l’autre” in terms of racial categories and for get an international, national and regional campaigns for the introduction in different constitutions “slave trade, enslavement and colonialism as crimes against humanity”.  It could be the proof, at least, States are ready to assume this tragic history for all humanity, affecting those who have dominated and continue to dominate and those were dominated and continue to be dominated.

It could be also the way to tackle the structures of domination which are still present in most of the societies, even in former colonized States

This would be the way to assume and share responsibility, open up and share with all citizens history that is too often hidden, minimized, truncated, or even fantasized and mystified without speaking its rewriting.

Is it not the moment that the initial violence, carried in the slave trade, enslavement and colonialism and playing a key role in the mutation process of the global economic order, has to be transformed, so that people submitted to legal rules, where the big changes in international law have been determined both by the substantial change in the actual relationship between the main players in the history and the nature of the actors, enjoy and fully participate in application of all their rights enshrined in the preamble of the Charter and the universal Declaration of Human Rights, both based on non-discrimination with its corollarly equality  and on selfdetermination?

[1]La Charte du Mandé et autres traditions du Mali, calligraphies d’Aboubacar Fofana, traduction Youssouf Tata Cissé et Jean-Louis Sagot-Duvauroux, Albin Michel, 2003

[2] 1789, reviewed in 1793

[3] Les damnés de la terre, Frantz Fanon, Editions Maspero, 1961

[4] Anibal Quijano, Race et colonialité du pouvoir, Mouvements 3/207, n° 51, pages 111-118

[5] Frantz Fanon, Racisme et culture in Pour la révolution africaine, Editions Maspero, 1964

[6] See CNCDH report,  http://www.cncdh.fr/fr/publications/rapport-dactivite-2012 and map of islamophob acts in France, http://www.islamophobie.net/la-carte-de-france-des-actes-islamophobes

[7] Les damnés de la terre, Frantz Fanon, Editions Maspero, 1961

[8]  Condition de l’homme moderne, Hannah Arendt, Paris ; Calmann-Lévy, Coll. Agora les classiques, 1983

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.