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From George Floy­d’s assas­si­na­tion by Amer­i­can police­man to the image of a stat­ue thrown in the water in Bris­tol, just as “dead ebony wood” was thrown into the sea on mer­chant ships, there runs an accel­er­at­ed tra­jec­to­ry of con­scious­ness over what the Nation-States have pious­ly kept locked away in their ship holds.

Their sto­ries of con­quests, exter­mi­na­tions, geno­cides, col­o­niza­tion and slav­ery, called “past bril­liance and pow­er” and hid­den under the cov­er­ing of “the ben­e­fits of devel­op­ment”, are still told in the streets and parks, on the squares, on the front walls of buildings…These nation­al nov­els are taught in school and glo­ri­fied in pub­lic places.

For exam­ple, when asked: “Who was Gen­er­al Bugeaud?”, the well-instruct­ed pupil will do well to reply “the one who paci­fied Algeria.”

If the pupil digs a bit, here is what he or she will find or see:

In August 1852, a mon­u­ment was erect­ed to him in Algiers and anoth­er in his home­town. The Algiers stat­ue was repa­tri­at­ed in 1962 and installed in the vil­lage of Excideuil in 1999. His name was giv­en to a vil­lage in the province of Con­stan­tine (to the south-west of Bône). Dur­ing the Aler­ian war, a pro­mo­tion of the Spe­cial Mil­i­tary School at Saint-Cyr adopt­ed the name of “Maréchal-Bugeaud”. A Parisian avenue bears his name, as well as the main square in the town of Périgueux where his mon­u­men­tal stat­ue was erect­ed, done by Augustin Dumont in 1853, as well as a street in Lyon. A street in Mar­seille and a school also bear his bear in the 3rd arrondisse­ment, in the Belle de Mai neigh­bor­hood. A posthu­mous medal in Bugeaud’s like­ness was done by engraver Louis Mer­ley short­ly after the Maréchal’s death.

Thus informed, the pupil will receive a good grade. And if he wants to know more, he can always call on his grand­fa­ther who will glad­ly sing for him “Father Bugeau’s cap”.

Only much lat­er, at the Lycée lev­el per­haps, will he or she learn of the role this fig­ure played in the bloody repres­sion of the upris­ings in 1834, then in 1848 in France, in order to main­tain the pow­er of the exist­ing regime. Vic­tor Hugo will also quote him as say­ing “had I fifty thou­sand women and chil­dren before me, I would mow them down.”

Anoth­er event, known as “smoke-outs” is linked to this “his­tor­i­cal” fig­ure. In his days, he mere­ly replied “respect­ing human­i­tar­i­an rules will only pro­long the war in Alge­ria indef­i­nite­ly.” Much lat­er, oth­er famous French gen­er­als will say the same thing, thus jus­ti­fy­ing tor­ture in keep­ing with his tradition.

Shut­ting men, women and chil­dren into cav­erns and burn­ing them alive, to serve as an exam­ple, was thus a nation­al imper­a­tive for France’s radi­ance and the con­quest of its colonies.

The same rea­son­ing was applied to slav­ery, the tri­an­gu­lar com­merce great­ly prof­it­ing a bour­geoisie and its mer­chants whose stat­u­ary every­where stood in good stead as proof of pre­cious ser­vices ren­dered to the edi­fi­ca­tion of com­mer­cial Empires.

I will be told: “Those were other times, no historical misinterpretations, please”

Well and good… In those times then, if I under­stand cor­rect­ly, wars in Alge­ria and else­where were con­duct­ed against peo­ple who resist­ed for the fun of war, no doubt, and who, in their inner minds were already tak­en, I am told, by the notion of ben­e­fi­cial col­o­niza­tion. No one, except for sav­ages, would have had the notion of refus­ing this “ben­e­fi­cial civ­i­liza­tion”. The times required it, I tell you. For the “negro trade”, of course, the argu­ment will be made about “blacks sell­ing blacks” and uni­ver­sal agree­ment over that. Mus­lims also had for cen­turies estab­lished their trade in eunuchs and left cer­tain zones un-Islamized for this pur­pose… A sign of the times.

A total­ly dif­fer­ent peri­od, that would have found­ed our glo­ry, who we are, and that is what we must look at…Without it, our Nation-States would not be what they became. Hon­or­ing the pio­neers, erect­ing a stat­ue in their name, is thus pay­ing homage to our glo­ri­ous his­to­ry, and leav­ing mat­ters of “details”…for the future.

The nation­al nar­ra­tive, a nov­el filled with “com­plex” per­son­al­i­ties would thus unite the Peo­ple around the enrich­ment of its bour­geoisie and guar­an­tee social peace in this way. In this con­text, search­ing through the garbage dumps of his­to­ry is almost a form of insur­rec­tion­al terrorism.

And eras­ing those who, in “those for­mer times”, con­tra­dict­ed the rule of una­nim­i­ty con­cern­ing the ben­e­fits of colo­nial­ism and the imple­men­ta­tion of a free trade econ­o­my, con­ducive to growth and devel­op­ment, took var­i­ous forms “accept­ed back then”… Accept­ed, that is, except by those who were sub­ject­ed to them in their flesh. So, treat­ing women and men as sub-human sav­ages when they can­not be erad­i­cat­ed from the lands where they were born, negat­ing their human exis­tence in order to enslave them, turn­ing them into mer­chan­dise, would be “a notion admit­ted in those days”.

This mask­ing card has a name, it is called insti­tu­tion­al racism. And it was trans­lat­ed into “black codes”, account­ing records, nov­els and icons. More recent­ly, into a “Jew­ish file”, a “Jew­ish statute” and a star.

Who will man­age to con­vince me that this state of being, his­tor­i­cal­ly dat­ed, does not belong to our col­lec­tive uncon­scious, con­stant­ly re-for­mat­ted of course, but hav­ing its “nation­al” trans­mis­sion pat­terns, its stat­u­ary, its books, its movies.

In France, a muse­um on Quai Bran­ly in Paris con­serves and exhibits human cul­tur­al her­itage from a num­ber of regions in the world. It so hap­pens that the pos­ses­sion of these pat­ri­mo­ni­al arte­facts is not, for the most part, a gift from the heav­ens. This pos­ses­sion is linked to colo­nial pil­lag­ing on the one part, or to a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of peo­ples con­sid­ered “unable to pre­serve their his­to­ry”. In short, from human zoos to a‑historical “bana­nias”, we arrived at the “Muse­um of Prim­i­tive Arts”. But it has become a “real muse­um” nonethe­less. In itself, its pres­ence could sum­ma­rize all ques­tions and open a debate. And even its cura­tors are ask­ing ques­tions, as we know, con­cern­ing “resti­tu­tions”, for example…

I can­not deal with the abom­i­na­tion that the “human zoos” rep­re­sent­ed. The con­tro­ver­sial his­to­ri­an Pas­cal Blan­chard who defends the idea of a nec­es­sary “Muse­um of Col­o­niza­tion” has devot­ed a lot of time to the topic…But who was it, no fur­ther back than in 1994, who brought chil­dren into an ani­mal park near Nantes to dis­cov­er a “negro vil­lage” pro­mot­ing a brand of cookes called “Bam­boula” sold across France since 1987. Anot­er time so close to us, and ten years after the “March for Equal­i­ty and against Racism” since dis­tort­ed by ” good buddies“from an elec­toral shop.

In 2019 (pre­his­tor­i­cal times!) a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the French police union said on TV “using the term ‘bam­boula’ is accept­able”. First its evoca­tive val­ue, like a madeleine in Proust, no doubt.

Racism as an ide­ol­o­gy is close­ly linked to His­to­ry, to the preda­to­ry prac­tices of Nation-States and their very edi­fi­ca­tion. For those who wish to under­stand, Turkey’s case for exam­ple is a text­book illus­tra­tion with no ref­er­ence to an ancient past. Kedis­tan has spo­ken and tra­duced about it often enough in its colums and I refer once again to this blog where there is also men­tion of stat­u­ary, but not only, if you choose to read more ful­ly.

George Floyd has led to an upsurge of sed­i­ments from His­to­ry, those that nation­al­is­tic nar­ra­tives hide under notions such as “a com­mon past” required in order to live togeth­er. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, the vic­tims, whose exis­tence was negat­ed, are part and par­cel of it and their descen­dants are invit­ed to assim­i­late with­out any qualms, or to “go back where they belong”.

When these same young gen­er­a­tions, faced with yet anoth­er racist mur­der in the Unit­ed States find them­selves con­front­ed with lies, know­ing full well they are the vic­tims of these ongo­ing racist “tra­di­tions” through social dis­crim­i­na­tion, police vio­lence through the State appa­ra­tus and when final­ly, they rise up to say no, they find them­selves face to face with Bugeaus’s descen­dants and a “cer­tain idea of France”, of a “nation­al iden­ti­ty”, its feet solid­ly set on their pedestal.

So top­pling a stat­ue is a good beginning…

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…