Racist Or Just French? How To Be An Ally

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I had an inkling Racist Or Just French? might stir the hornet’s nest and mainly, it’s been good, friendly hornets who are open to reflection and dialogue. You guys are awesome! Of course, there’s a small minority (ha, see what I did there) of Frenchmen and women who took great umbrage that I dared point out the racism I see and experience here in France.

Some of their objections…

How dare you call all French people racist!

I didn’t.

How dare you call out racism in France when there’s so much racism in the US!

It’s not an either/or proposition. Anyone who knows me, has read my articles or follows my social media, knows I call out the USA often when it comes to racism, sexism and general egregiousness. Doesn’t mean I can’t call out France, too.

How dare you call this racism! It’s cultural difference/laziness/stupidity, not racism.

I actually point out how it’s laziness and stupidity on the part of Monoprix. However, they are propagating the idea of a monolithic Asia among their millions of clients because they couldn’t be bothered to learn nor make the distinction. That carelessness is the subtle, endemic racism—the microaggressions—that we POC are constantly subject to. Yes, Carole, Dax, Gerard and Christian, this most certainly is a form of racism. Now ask yourselves, as white people, are you really the experts at recognizing racism in the world?

How dare you call your series, “Racist Or Just French!” You’re calling all French people racist.

Again, nope. If you can’t understand the nuance, improve your English then hit me back. And how dare you, Carole, have the audacity to tell me what I can and can’t write and what I can and can’t call my own series on my own website? You also wrote this comment in French on an anglophone site and said I shouldn’t treat the serious subject of racism so “unseriously.” Again, audacity. Because as a white woman, are you the one who gets to decide how a woman of color defines and describes her experiences with racism? Check your privilege, lady. (Btw, the answer is no, you don’t get to decide.)

We’re not racist. You’re racist! Because the French also suffer racism, especially in the US. Remember “French bashing” and “freedom fries?”

Haha. Hahahahaha. You know how much ignorance you display when you conflate “French bashing” with racism? Calling French fries “freedom fries” was stupid and xenophobic but not racist. If you’re trying to come from a position of reason and righteousness, at least learn what the term racism means. (Hint: There’s “race” in the word.) A dominant white culture CAN NOT AND DOES NOT suffer from racism. So French bashing, freedom fries and “Racist or Just French” is not RACISM.

How dare you call me racist! I have black friends! I don’t see race!

Duuuudes. If you don’t know how absolutely ridiculous and, frankly, racist this sort of argument is, you can not be helped. Again, I never called you racist. You do a fine job all by yourselves of perpetuating racism by pretending it doesn’t exist in France—and by disregarding and disrespecting a real-life woman of color’s experiences with racism. Good for you that you don’t see color. If only the rest of us non-whites had the same luxury. Word to the wise: You shouldn’t speak for your one black friend and the experiences he/she has had as a black person because you have neither the knowledge nor the right.

You’re neurotic, insecure and obsessed with race. How dare you call your site “LES LOLOS!” Don’t you know it means tits? You’re as culturally stupid as Monoprix by choosing a word just because it sounds cool and without knowing its meaning. Also, I love Korea and Asian Culture! And I’m not Japanese!

Cue the ’90s high school insults! Neurotic and insecure? When was the last time anyone’s heard barbs of this caliber? (For future reference, “irrelevant and fat” would have stung more.) Once again, a barely mediocre white man named Christian makes all people of intelligence and due diligence cringe. If you’d only gone to our About page, Christian, you’d know exactly why I called this site LES LOLOS aka The Tits. But Christian seems incapable of understanding the words he’s presented with, much less the subtext. No worries, everyone, he loves Asian culture! And Korea. He’s also not Japanese! (As if any Japanese man would ever disgrace himself the way Christian does here—speaking of understanding cultural norms.)

There is a way to be an ally to people of color and it should be pretty obvious that lashing out with insults and rebuttals isn’t it. To show how it’s done, I leave you with the brilliant commenter, K.B., who demonstrates exactly what an intelligent and compassionate ally is in the face of distraught Frenchman Gerard, who thinks because racism and white supremacists exist in the US, I have no right to talk about the racism in France.

This is the last time I allow idiotic, offensive and blustering comments on my site. You assholes already have enough of a voice in the Dump administration and I don’t have the patience to try to explain how racism works to people who obviously don’t want to hear it. Your feelings are hurt that ONE Korean-American woman in Paris has called you out on your shit? Too bad. Take it elsewhere because you’re not welcome here.


How To Be An Ally

Salut Gerard! Thanks for your thoroughly researched comment. I can only imagine the shock you must have experienced upon realizing this kind of [hate] speech is indeed not outlawed in the US, which is not the same as “uncritically and widely accepted,” but I digress. European countries, by and large, take a very different approach to issues of free speech/hate speech than the US for myriad historical, cultural, legal and other reasons, and I think the line between the two is a debate we need to keep having. However, if anything, Maggie’s article is proof that European-style laws against obviously racist or otherwise inflammatory speech are not enough.

Your comment chaps my a** because it contributes to lazy thinking about racism and power that are actively harmful to our society. To wit, you are using a straw man to attempt to undermine Maggie’s credibility on a topic I daresay she is FAR MORE qualified to discuss than yourself: the experience of a woman of color living in France.

Specifically, you attack her via a tu quoque argument (“Americans also have serious issues with racism, so Maggie’s critique of racist attitudes in France can’t possibly be legitimate”) over a claim she never makes (“All French are racist,” a sentiment found literally nowhere in this article or even in the comments section). Furthermore, the article absolutely never claims that Americans are above, beyond or outside racism. Indeed, if you had read anything else of Maggie’s, you’d know she (and her readers) are THOROUGHLY aware of the revolting state of affairs in US society. Consider us informed!

You are interpreting as a general attack on the integrity of every member of the French populace, what is simply a clearly stated, amply documented observation: That POC in France are consistently subjected to outrageous stereotypes and insensitive behavior from *certain* French people (sometimes people with a vast audience, like Monoprix’s marketing team). This includes, maybe especially, “elite” members of society who, by dint of their education and their purported values, ought to know and act better. That you choose to read this as a vicious broadside against all individual Frenchmen, all of French culture and history, or whatever you’re upset about, says far more about your own insecurities and ingrained cultural chauvinism than the author’s.

The reason this makes me angry enough to respond with a novel-length comment, is that your “argument” is a tactic commonly used by people in positions of power and privilege (white people, cisgender people, particularly cis men, heterosexuals) to silence legitimate criticisms by groups whom our ignorance and careless behavior seriously harm (POC, women, transgender people, LGBTQ people). This tactic is usually deployed because the former are too fragile even to question our own attitudes and actions and the effects of those actions on others. It sets up our hurt feelings as somehow morally equivalent to the violence and oppression visited on less-privileged groups, which 1) is utterly illogical 2) is embarrassingly childish and 3) ACTIVELY PERPETUATES PREJUDICE, INEQUALITY AND VIOLENCE.

TL;DR: Your response is rife with fallacies that contribute to privileged people’s comfortable fantasy that racism is somehow over, and/or that we can’t possibly be contributing to systemic racism because we’re “decent” people. That this is the overall tenor of French comments on this article, and in French society more generally, is a discouraging indicator that the highly necessary discussion of this issue in France and in Europe will be a long time coming, whilst people continue to suffer.

PS: “French-bashing,” insofar as it even exists as a cultural phenomenon—outside a fantasy invented by French publications to drum up attention by playing on their readers’ insecurities vis à vis two groups to whom many French consider themselves inherently superior, i.e. British and Americans—is NOT RACISM. It is an obnoxious example of cultural prejudice, but as Maggie amply explains in her comment, racism is NOT simply “saying mean things about other groups of people.” The fact you seem to insist otherwise proves once again that you are entirely unqualified to hold forth on the subject.

And BOOM. Mic drop. Thank you, K.B.


If you have any Racist or Just French stories to share, email me at maggie@leslolos.com. As always, join the conversation in the comments here or over on  FacebookInstagram and Twitter. And please sign up for our newsletter for the most provocative stories from Paris and beyond.

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About Author

Maggie Kim

Maggie Kim is a writer, musician and the founder of LES LOLOS.

5 Comments

  1. But… but… but?!? I looooooooved your article about Monoprix. A little “tiré par les cheveux” but isnt that the purpuse of les Lolos? Are we doomed to be always serious and acurate about every word we say or write?
    Are you telling me, your Frenchwoman that like americans, french people dont have a sense of humour and auto-derision? My world is crushing, really.
    Come on french readers, stand up fir your sens of humour! ✊

  2. FYI… “A dominant white culture CAN NOT AND DOES NOT suffer from racism” is plain FALSE. This statement is only true when you live and evolve and in white dominated environment.. Some areas in France are NOT white dominated and we, also, suffer from racism. I grew up in such an area and I’ve been insulted solely based on my skin color before so please do not pretend racism is only one way. Racism is a problem that we all need to talk about but putting us in separate buckets just like we are playing against each other does not help anything. The way sexism is a everybody’s problem and males and females should not be against each other, white vs. non-white should NOT be a thing.

    • Maggie Kim

      Hi Julie, I’m sorry you’ve suffered racial prejudice and discrimination. No one should have to go through that. However, there’s a difference between racial prejudice and racism. Of course anyone can discriminate against anyone else based on skin color, but racism is a system of oppression—one that moves through our educational system, the criminal justice system, hiring practices and so on. Have you ever been passed up for a job because your name is just too white? Have you been stopped and frisked by police simply because of your skin color? And no, it’s definitely not about pitting whites vs. non-whites and that’s not what Racist or Just French? is about. This is a series to start reflection and dialogue. The more we are open about racism and sexism, the more we can talk about it without getting offended or defensive, the better. The question is, Why does it feel like an attack on whites when a person of color points out the ways she sees and suffers racism? And if you’d ever like to write something for this series, perhaps about your experiences with discrimination and what your thoughts are on racism, I would love that.

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