The Caribbean-born French national footballer Lilian Thuram has a longstanding interest in the history of slavery and, as a member of France's Council on Social Integration, is a vocal critic of racial discrimination. He talks to Esprit about teaching the history of slavery, about the positive function of French identity, and why it is too soon to write off the French model of integration.
(...) We shouldn't allow ourselves to be dragged into a cultural confrontation. France has a fundamental role to play here. The population of France is very mixed and if we don't react intelligently in order to create national cohesion based on well-established principles then we will allow ourselves too to be dragged into a clash of cultures. If we feel obliged to pass on this history it is so that we may learn to live together better.
Esprit: Is it against that background then that we should understand what you meant when you said: "I'm not black, I'm French"?
LT: I was replying to a politician who was criticizing the number of "blacks" in the national football team. I was just reminding him that the selection criterion is not whether you are "white" or "black" but whether you are "French" and that we are French, even if he seemed to have some doubts about that. A painter that I'm fond of, Chéri Samba, painted a picture with a caption that says: "I am a painter. I have never seen a white man; I have never seen a black man."
(...) Esprit: But don't you think that your claim might have upset some of your West Indian "fellow-countrymen" a bit, in that they would rather have heard you say "I'm Guadeloupian"? Might not some of them have seen your claim as a way of distancing yourself from your Guadeloupian identity in favour of your French identity?
LT: I don't worry about these matters of identity. Being enclosed in an identity is restricting. Identity is only a good thing if it is a force that opens you up to others.
(...) What is happening in France is fundamental for Europe. After the riots in 2005, many people in Europe said: "The French model of integration has had it; we mustn't do what they have been doing." Even though we're more advanced. I'm lucky enough to be able to travel and I can see that France is light-years ahead of some countries. It's incredible. That's what I felt in Italy and today in Spain, for example.
Esprit: So you're standing up for the French model of integration?
LT: Yes. My friends are first and foremost French and, what's more, they don't even understand the kind of thing that people say about this. For example, why speak about "first, second, or third generation"? They're French. Why speak about minorities? Do the others see themselves in terms of a majority?
(...) Esprit: When you think about your future after sport, do you see yourself still playing a part in the social field as you do as a sports star?
LT: What I would like would be, after football, to be able to talk to people about all these matters and to work at getting them to understand each other better. If it is necessary to talk about this long history throughout which "blacks" have been thought of as inferiors, it is not in order to provoke confrontation but to defend equality. That's why I think it is fundamental – and I've been able to find this out through my own experience – that a young black person or a young North African should not assume the role of a victim. What matters is to learn to look at yourself in a different way.
When we're discussing racism, friends often say to me: "Yes, but even so, things are a lot better than they used to be!" What does that mean? What does that "even so" mean?
Entrevista completa en: http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-12-07-thuram-en.html
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