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France

'Miss Black France' pageant raises eyebrows

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2012-04-28

A French beauty pageant exclusively for black women will take place for the first time in Paris on Saturday. The event has been endorsed by black associations and the organiser of the traditional Miss France contest, but others are crying foul.

France will hold its first “Miss Black” beauty contest in Paris on Saturday, an event that has been widely supported despite criticisms that the racial angle could be detrimental to the values of French society.

Not so, according to promoter Frederic Royer, whose contest enjoys the full approval of the French Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN).

By honouring “Black beauty”, Royer said, the contest would give visibility to a largely ignored section of French society.

“The purpose of this beauty contest is to shine a light on the many black women in this country who are rarely given any media attention,” he said. “The Miss France competition is not nearly representative enough of modern France.”

Despite this criticism of the established national beauty contest, longtime “Miss France” celebrity organiser Geneviève de Fontenay praised the initiative as progressive, saying “France has a big racial mix and it must be emphasised as much as possible.

“Especially during this difficult election time,” she added, referring to the high turnout of voters supporting Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Front party in the first round of the presidential election on April 22.

In 2000, Sonia Rolland, who is biracial and of Rwandan origin, won the “Miss France” title.

“It was a first step, but not nearly big enough,” said Fontenay.

‘Detrimental’ to French values?

Not everyone shares Fontenay’s point of view. Patrick Lozès, founder and former president of CRAN, acknowledged the “good will” of the initiative, but doubted an event held exclusively for France’s black population could be called “progressive”.

“This logic is detrimental to the values of French society,” he said. “If I think that there are not enough black people in the most prestigious schools and companies, am I going to go create establishments exclusively reserved for blacks?”

Historian Pascal Blanchard, a specialist in immigration at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, agrees with Lozès, saying he was “shocked” by an initiative he views as “stupid” and “dangerous”. “I know that in the US, there are ethnic beauty contests. The fact that they’re tolerated doesn’t change my mind,” he said. “Anytime that anyone, no matter where in the world, talks to me about a contest reserved for a specific racial category, I hit the roof!”

In recent months, Blanchard has not been the only one to express displeasure at what has been perceived by some as a trend of singling out blacks in France. Last January, an article in women’s magazine Elle about the fashion sense of black women stirred controversy on both sides of the Atlantic, with the widely-read newspaper New York Daily News calling the piece “racist”.

‘Provocation’

The Elle flap has not led to any evolution in French people’s thinking, according to Lozès, who says he is very “worried” in the wake of the first-round results of the French presidential election. He says with the inflammatory discourse about foreigners and immigrants that has made its way into the presidential campaign, the election of a Miss Black France could be seen as a provocation.

“I’m afraid that all of that will make French people even more defensive at a time when the National Front is more popular than ever,” he said. “It’s a contest that stipulates that white women are not welcome, which is very disturbing. This initiative could be perceived as a hostile event that will further erode national unity.”

Still, neither Lozès nor Blanchard deny the reality that many of France’s minorities face disadvantages and discrimination. They argue, though, that integration is a complex process that should never involve any distinction based on race. “Everything possible must be done so that these people recognise themselves as French, and not as black people living in France,” offered Lozès. “We can’t start having ethnically exclusive contests if our ultimate goal is to have all-inclusive national contests. It’s a serious strategic error.”

 

Date created : 2012-04-26

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