Interview with a Student from Sorbonne Nouvelle

Hi everyone! For this blog, I spoke to my friend Narymane, a student at the French university Sorbonne Nouvelle, about her experiences and views on race and colonial relations in France. I was excited to talk to Narymane because most of what I learned in France about the political and social environment was from my professors, who were all GenXers. I appreciated being able to get the perspective of someone young. 

Sophie and Narymane pose for a selfie

Sophie & Narymane

Sophie: Tell me about yourself! Where are you from? 

Narymane: I don’t live in Paris – I live in a little town next to Paris called Villeparisis. I feel like the mindset is different here than in Paris. What I love about being here is that there is a lot of community, and I feel very close to my neighbors. My grandparents were born in Algeria and immigrated to France after the war. My parents and I were born in France, and we have a big family. I have lots of aunts and uncles. 

Sophie: Does your Algerian heritage have a big influence on your day-to-day life and experiences?

Narymane: Not really. Sometimes I notice differences between myself and my white friends, especially when we talk about traditions our families have. I was born and raised in France, so I just feel primarily French.

Sophie: From what I have gleaned from my professors, it is my understanding that the general attitude in France regarding race is to be colorblind: to not see race. Does that attitude belong mostly to the older generations? What are the feelings of Gen-Z in France toward race and racial relations?

Narymane: I feel like it really depends on the person you are talking to. When you watch TV, for example, the newscasters don’t even try to hide their racism anymore. There is a huge racism problem in the media: I always see old white men debating about religion and how/whether women wear hijabs, when it does not affect them at all. Racism also exists on social media – for example, when the French soccer team wins, French people are very happy, but when they lose people are incredibly mean, racist and hypocritical online. 

Just like in the United States, there is a lot of police brutality. It isn’t reflected as much in the media, but people are still trying to fight against it. There was a case in 2017 of a Black man being killed by the police; the incident provoked protests across France and his sister still fights for him to have justice.

Sometimes I have faith in our generation, sometimes I don’t. For example, on French Tiktok there are a lot of young people who are just plainly racist. I personally have never experienced racism in the streets of Paris, but I probably will at some point. Where I live there are people from lots of different communities living together, so people are generally very accepting of each other and the different cultures. I find it very easy to surround myself with people who are as liberal as I am.

Sophie: Do you think France does a good job acknowledging its colonial history? What should France/Macron do instead?

Narymane: No, they definitely do not do a good job. In 2017, Macron said colonialism was a crime against humanity, and people were so angry with what he said that he had to apologize. Other times Macron speaks without thinking – he said once that it is a shame people in Africa don’t speak French more, and he clearly was not thinking at all when he said this.

France colonized Africa and took everything from them. Now there are countries that are independent but financially dependent on France because France used their power to take away autonomy. I feel like when the government does acknowledge colonial history it is for the sake of saying it, and they don’t really mean what they say. France colonized Algeria for such a long time that it took a while to assess the crimes and even to call the Franco-Algerian war a war. 

Sophie: What do you think about the strikes that happen in Paris all the time?

Narymane: I think they are great : I feel like it is just part of the culture and I love that people fight for their rights. In 2019, there was a movement called the gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests. They striked once a week for economic justice, but stopped in 2020 because of COVID. They are starting up again because the cost of living is so expensive. I agree with the strikes, but I don’t like when people take advantage of striking by being violent and destroying property. It is not the purpose of the strike, and diminishes its validity. 

Over Christmas there was a strike by SNCF (a railway company) workers because they don’t have much vacation time and can barely see their families. Transportation was a mess, and people were angry because the strike interfered with their schedules, but railway workers deserve time with their families too. I supported them and their cause, and loved that they fought for their rights.

Sophie: What are your thoughts on the resurgence of extreme right-wing nationalism in France (for example, Marine le Pen)?

Narymane: I’m sad people don’t hide their racism anymore, and I hate those extremist politicians. Le Pen is basically a nepo baby, her father was in politics and founded the brand of conservatism that she is known for. She grew up in a politically motivated, racist family, and so she knows how to conduct herself politically and has a lot of influence. The political environment in France has changed so much since the 1980s, when presidents were elected at 80% of the vote because the right wing of politics was just blocked. Now, le Pen and Zemour (another right-wing extremist politician) gain popularity every day and receive lots of coverage in the media. They are given platforms to talk and spread their views, and the media is complicit in them spreading extremism. What they say is not opinions, it’s just hate, and I don’t understand how the media lets them talk on TV where everyone can hear. 

Sophie: Are you hopeful for the future of France?

Narymane: That is a difficult question. Sometimes I have faith in our generation, because I feel like they are fighting for our future, but other times they are dumb and just don’t care and I lose hope. It feels like we are fighting and fighting and fighting all the time and nothing changes and you can lose hope when even the best choice in an election is bad. 

I still have a little faith : when I see people like me with the same ideas it feels like we can have power and we can do something. I don’t lose hope. You only need to be 18 to be elected to the National Assembly, and young people are starting to run!


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