Africa is Not Charlie – Definitions of Racism
January 15, 2015 § 1 Comment
Under the guise of being an “equal opportunity offender” Charlie Hebdo‘s intolerance was not only directed towards Muslims, but also diverse groups of marginalized peoples including Africans. Charlie Hebdo mercilessly targeted black people with a selection of racist cartoons including those featured below. This is why I say Africa is not Charlie. Because Charlie was racist and racists do not make martyrs.
Of course, the “Je Suis Charlie” apologists for Charlie‘s racism are now trying to shift the blame onto those offended by asserting that it is in fact we who lack the intelligence to comprehend the complexities of French satire as manifested by Charlie‘s crass, vulgar and tasteless sense of humor. They want us to believe that Charlie was in the same league as the Onion and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. They are trying to tell us that we should instead be grateful to and stand in solidarity with Charlie because Charlie was “anti-racist”.
Yet “fighting racism by being racist” is an old, tired and rather disingenuous excuse for racism that has long been used to systematically silence black people who call out racism. Racism is racism and you do not get to be racist and thereafter insist on defining what is and isn’t racism for those you have offended. The idea that only white voices are allowed to define what is and isn’t racist is an exercise in white privilege that seeks to uphold white supremacy.
The wider implications around black people’s rights not to have their group depicted as a racist stereotype must also not be ignored. While Charlie‘s stereotypical racist depictions may have appeared normal during the French colonization of Africa, today they are at best infantile and at worst derogatory. They exemplify the essential problem with white anti-racism in general, and certainly the problem with anti-racism in France.
The most worrying aspect of the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign, for me, is how easily it ignores the link between dehumanization and mass killings. During the Nuremberg trials on the Jewish Holocaust, the publisher of a German Magazine was tried and executed for publishing anti-Semitic cartoons. In the Arusha tribunal on the Rwandan genocide a radio journalist was among those tried. Another radio journalist is currently on trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity relating to Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007/8. In all three cases, journalists were accused of spreading hate speech.
It is noteworthy that the people voicing the strongest support for Charlie do not belong to racist movements. They are not members of America’s Ku Klux Klan or the Neo-Nazi groups of Europe. These are ordinary white people who ignore the link between dehumanization and killing in cold blood. It is the good white people who resort to emotional antics under the banner #JeSuisCharlie, when their right to define racism is challenged.
If there’s anything the events of the last week have taught us, it is that for all their virtuous proclamations of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, the French people’s sense of morality is highly questionable.