NPR’s Leila Fadel interviews French journalist, commentator and filmmaker Rokhaya Diallo about the fight against American-style “woke-ism” in France.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
French President Emmanuel Macron is set to face far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff later this month. This is the result of a vote this weekend. The presidential campaign has been dominated in part by a battle against the woke culture that is seen as an import from the United States. Candidates from all sides shared a rare consensus in denouncing wokism. And I asked French journalist, commentator and filmmaker Rokhaya Diallo what this says about race, identity and extremism in France.
ROKHAYA DIALLO: You can have an open discussion about race in the United States, about gender in the academy, which is still very, very difficult in France. I remember last year the Minister of Higher Education launched a war on academics who were working on race and gender and branded them as Islamo-leftists.
FADEL: As we speak, the one thing these politicians seem to agree on across the political spectrum is their rejection of, in quotes, “woke culture,” describing it as an American import, a foreign concept. Why such an outrage to wokism?
DIALLO: I think France presented itself as a color-blind country, which of course is not true. Politicians in France like to oppose the so-called American idea of race. And you have a new generation of people in France who argue that it’s important to address race, to address gender equality in the French context. And the fight against awakening, which is called wokism in France, simply aims to exclude people involved and committed to social justice. And to me, that’s outrageous because they’re importing, like, the same debate that Republicans have in the United States against critical race theory.
FADEL: Yeah. I mean, you also mention the backlash here in the United States. I mean, a similar thing – right? – ultimately it’s about waking up and canceling the culture, and, you know, racism is in the past – a post-racial world. And you were attacked for talking about these specific issues in the French context. Can you talk about being attacked and what it takes to talk about those issues and center them?
DIALLO: Yes, of course. The thing is, France, I think, still considers itself a white Christian country. And that’s not true because it’s one of the most diverse countries in Europe. But when you watch TV, when you watch French films, you don’t see this diversity. So, as a journalist, I’m one of the few people of color and Muslims to come out publicly and tackle race and gender. And for this reason, I receive threats from people online, but also criticism even from the government.
FADEL: French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer even launched a publicly funded think tank focused on how French values conflict with Wokism. It’s called the Republic Laboratory.
DIALLO: I’m really troubled because I think they’re using their money and the government’s attention on something that’s not worth supporting instead of really focusing on the far right which is really at our doors.
FADEL: So you feel threatened by the extreme right and the possible outcome of this election.
DIALLO: I really feel threatened. And the government’s focus on awakening rather than fighting racism or sexism means the far right has won; they generalized their idea. And regardless of the outcome of the election, these ideas will remain in the public space and we will have to deal with them for the next five years.
FADEL: Diallo says that, in part, an event prompted her to fight racism and bigotry in France, a 2004 law banning the wearing of clearly visible religious symbols or clothing in French public schools that many considered to be a law targeting Muslim women and girls.
DIALLO: For me it was a shock because as a feminist I thought it was important for all women to go to school and get an education. So that was one of my first shocks because it was on TV every day debating Muslim women without any of them being part of the debate. And that really pushed me to try to fight racism in the media and make sure that our voices as Muslims, as people of color, don’t get erased and people don’t speak for us instead of trying to make space for us to talk about ourselves.
FADEL: These questions of representation are also at the heart of Diallo’s latest documentary, “La Parisienne Découverte”, which breaks down stereotypes about the appearance of the Parisienne.
DIALLO: If you type Parisienne into Google – you know, to search for it – you will always find the same type of women, which would mean a white, bourgeois, thin and young woman who does not really look like all the women you can find. in Paris. And the reason I made the documentary is that I was born and raised in Paris in a Senegalese and Gambian family, which means I’m black. And I’ve never seen someone who looks like me imitate the idea of the Parisian woman. So the effect it had on me was that I understood that I couldn’t be seen naturally as a Frenchman.
FADEL: French journalist, writer and filmmaker Rokhaya Diallo, thank you very much.
DIALLO: Thank you very much, Leïla.
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