Remembering Slavery…In the Francophone World

France’s President Jacques Chirac has called for the “indelible stain” of slavery to be remembered in a national day of commemoration on May 10, the first of its kind in Europe.

I found this interesting as it is a state-acknowledged remembrance in a nation that has not historically endorsed the idea of “race” in official documentation and legislation. I am further intrigued as I recall heated discussions between myself and my colleagues that work in the francophone world who claimed that French racism and slavery were historically not the crippling institutions that they were in the English and Spanish colonies.

The article also reports on the backlash to Chirac’s “Slavery Day” proclamation. Some historians are upset about the government’s attempts to dictate how history should be taught in schools.

A petition, entitled “freedom for history” and signed by 600 historians, was published this month calling for the repeal of laws imposing a certain view of history, including a 1990 law on racism, a 2001 law recognizing the Armenian genocide and the 2001 law on slavery.

I wonder how anthropology will fit into this debate….Especially given the recent Savage Minds post about anthropological funding from the French CNRS (National Center For Scientific Research) being cut as a result of the conceptualization of anthropology as being only “contemporary history.”

The complete Chirac “Slave Day” story can be found here:

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3 Comments on “Remembering Slavery…In the Francophone World”

  1. Anonymous
    February 1, 2006 at 9:02 pm #

    Sorry….this correction from Gert Oostindie []:

    “One correction to the report on France taken from the Financial Times. The Netherlands has instituted a similar national day, in rememambrance of Dutch Caribbean slavery, already in 2001. The day is July 1, Emancipation day.”

  2. From: jkerrritchie@JUNO.COM
    February 3, 2006 at 7:39 am #

    President Chirac’s call for a ‘slavery day’ suggests how safe history can be in the hands of politicians. Some scholars would argue that emancipation in the French colonies during the 1790s and 1840s was the product of revolutionary conditions facilitating slave rebellion rather than simply progressive acts of the benevolent state.

    Moreover, what will a national day of slave memory do in real terms?Perhaps the President should focus his efforts on encouraging former slave ports like Nantes and Bordeaux to recognise their sordid past in marketing human flesh. Alternatively, he might want to respond more vigorously to the recent urban rebellions in French towns and cities, many of which involved West African and Afro-Caribbean youth, with funding social programs concerning improved healthcare, higher education, and employment opportunities.–>

  3. Thierry Wlodarczak
    May 21, 2006 at 8:43 am #

    jkerrritchie is right about recognizing our role in slavery trade. Actually, even if we don’t know what a national day of slave memory can do, that is already done. Nantes already recognized its role in the slavery trade. Since 1991, an association, Les Anneaux de la Mémoire (Chains of Memory), commemorates each year the abolition of slavery. It carries out historical research around this topic and publishes an annual review as well as an web site, unfortunately only in french. In Bordeaux, another association I don‘t know, DiversCités, take a similar action since 1998.

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