What we can learn from the French about race

race in france

Let’s be honest about something here. America is a deeply racist country. Not only is it racist, it’s segregated. And white Americans largely believe that the country belongs to them. That African Americans or Hispanic Americans are African and Hispanic first and American second. So they’re treated like second-class citizens.

Americans don’t understand that nationality is different from race and religion. That’s why large swaths of the population support banning Muslims from the country. Because they don’t realize that Mohammed from Pittsburgh is just as American as Tiffany from Scottsdale. We’re not a melting pot, we’re a powder keg. That’s why a disproportionate amount of black males get shot by police for completely harmless behavior. And that’s why there’s millions of people who don’t think this is a problem.

Being in France, and in Paris in particular, is starkly different, and it is a sad reminder of the racial tension that exists in the US. It’s amazing how harmoniously people of all different colors get along in Paris. Everyone drinks the same coffee and takes the same train, and no one has to bat an eyelash about it. Black people in France are not made to feel like they have to be soft-spoken and non-threatening so as to not make white people uncomfortable. And in return, white people don’t tiptoe around their race. They don’t have to pretend to be accepting. Everyone shares the same space in peace without patting themselves on the back about it.

There is no color or creed associated with being French. Black people aren’t considered African French, because that’s an absurd fucking term. If you’re from Kenya, you’re African. And if you’re from Paris, you’re French and you’re just as entitled to your country as the people who are lighter shades of French. Because dichotomies like that just create subtle divisions under the guise of political correctness. Americans are taught to be “tolerant” of minorities like they’re something awful that other people have to put up with. Fuck tolerance. Diversity is beautiful and interesting. And you shouldn’t have to tolerate my existence any more than I need to be tolerating your xenophobia and ignorance and racism.

In France, they don’t need to learn tolerance (or pretend to) because they’ve been living around millions of people who look different their whole lives. They can just be. And more importantly, when something is wrong with their country, they come together to fight it, instead of blaming the darkest guy in the room. And they do fight it, because no one mobilizes to protest like the French.

Midnight in a Paris hip-hop club

france club

As three girls from Miami getting ready to go out on the town, we were in search of a good club. Yeah, wine bars and pubs are fun. But sometimes you just want to dance. And sorry, but I don’t dance to EDM. So we found ourselves at 21 Sound Bar. It was definitely a predominantly black club, not because that’s where the black people of Paris are relegated to hanging out, but because of musical preference. And we, though fair-skinned, can also rap along to Childish Gambino and dance to Ty Dolla Sign.

As a side bar, how sad that we live in a world where your significant other back home reminds you to be aware of the exits when you’re trying to have a girls’ night out in Paris.

Anyway… when we walked into the relatively small place bouncing with bass that was predominantly filled with black people, I actually didn’t flinch. And I say that because I would have expected to. Because I’m going to be honest, if I was back home and I walked into a similar joint, I would have been spooked. It’s embarrassing to admit that, but we’re raised that way. To clutch our purses and lock our car doors and avoid places exactly like that. If you’re white and you wouldn’t say the same thing, you’re a fucking liar.

I also expected to be treated like an outsider. To be looked at by the guys in the room like we were either lost or a novelty and to be glared at by the girls. Because black Americans hate the idea of white people intruding on and appropriating their culture and their space. And I get it! Because those things are all they fucking have. They’re made to feel like outsiders literally everywhere else except their own neighborhoods and predominantly black schools and hip hop clubs that white people are scared to go into. And when black people do something awesome, we can’t even let them have that. We take it and parade it around as a sign of our own tolerance and progressiveness. Cause we’re all super excited about Moonlight winning Best Picture, but your ass wouldn’t be caught dead in Liberty City. So I get it.

But the black people of Paris don’t feel inferior and uncomfortable in their own city. They don’t have to be possessive over their culture and their scene because they’re actually accepted as regular ass people in general society. They don’t go to 21 Sound for a comfortable place to go where they can be themselves. They go to 21 Sound for the same reason we did, because the music is fire!

And you know what? It might have been the most respectful clubbing experience I’ve ever had. The people who danced with us did so appropriately, keeping an eye on our level of interest. So if you move just an inch to the side, they understood that you didn’t want to dance and moved away. One guy even asked me if he could dance with me, after first making sure I knew how people dance to dancehall music. No one tried to feel me up, stick their tongue in my mouth, or rub their semi-erection on me. Because the French also understand respect. And they have sex with other consenting adults instead of unsuspecting strangers at the club. And God bless them, they complemented my awful broken French.

Perhaps it’s because I live in the very homogeneous Czech Republic, but being around this diversity has been really refreshing. More so than my previous trips to Paris, this visit has made me see how integrated minority groups are into all aspects of society. And this is despite major terrorist attacks in France that have created a lot of tension and mistrust of Muslim minorities. But they still coexist peacefully in bars and restaurants and in the same neighborhoods.

The French are everything Americans pretend to stand for. They might as well take that Statue of Liberty back.