April/May 2014

782fdc09f9From a minority to another

Two weeks ago, I was triflingly listening to some of my students’ conversation in high school. Because it was at the end of the last class before the spring break, I allowed myself to drift away into one of those lengthy and amusing talks that are so dear to teenagers. As I was listening to their chatters, one of them suddenly spoke about “that queer brand.

It must be known that I teach in one of the disadvantaged suburbs of Paris, and that a great majority of my pupils are of North African descent. Their disadvantages are monetary, cultural, and above all, social. In addition to working hard to help them graduate, I also strive to make them think and get away from their stereotypes, representations and other platitudes — which is not so simple a task.

Because many of these students are part of the North African community and since most of them are Muslims, they generally suffer both from Islamophobia and a certain hostility from a part of the French population that is growing larger and larger: they are those who are unknown, those who “take our jobs” or those who “only take advantage of our welfare system.” Thus they feel concerned about their integration in the French society, and generally speaking, they respond to such attacks with a stronger communitarianism and a well-felt and understandable pride as for their origins.

It was not the first time that I had heard this kind of slur among these pupils. On account of the emulation that exists among them, homophobia is part of their favorite conversations, along with misogyny. They even sometimes rely on their social, religious and cultural background to explain those stances, which is another matter. But what all of this makes me think about, and what I try to make them think about, is that very relationship between members of and from different minorities. Indeed, as a member of said minority, it is evident that one has inevitably suffered from discrimination in a way or another. It is therefore of paramount importance to transpose oneself in the other’s shoes. Only in this way have things evolved. And this is where for instance I do not agree with certain thoughts that other scholars have had. This empathy seems to be necessary for, in my sense, if as a member of a smaller group you hate the members of another minority you are using the same arguments as those you hate your own group in return.

Of course, it is easy to understand that by loathing another group, there is also this unspoken intention of fitting in the dominant group by acting like them concerning another community. But that is what I made my student understand about her assertion. When I transposed her argument and replaced “gay” with “Arab” so that she could understand my point, she thought about the meaning of her previous sentence. She became aware that she could not discriminate against another minority group since what she said could be turned against her. She also realized that by diminishing the value of people from the homosexual community, she recognized that they were not human and by doing so, she accepted that the people who saw her as a non-human were right.

In this year when we are celebrating what would have been James Baldwin’s ninetieth birthday, we must remember and continue to spread his ideas about the acceptance of people from the minorities. The writer of Giovanni’s Room himself knew how a group could dislike another one. Being at once gay and Black, he was not fully accepted by the regular African American who particularly viewed and still views homosexuality as a vice (even if to be fair, they have particularly seen it as a white vice). This shows a singular relationship between two minorities, and how they can demean each other. Yet, despite their individual struggles, I am quite sure that by uniting together, they can achieve great things.

Yannick Blec

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