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French hashtag 'If black people talked like white people' takes on racial clichés

© © AFP

Text by Bahar MAKOOI

Latest update : 2016-02-18

Started by a French college student, the hashtag "Si les Noirs parlaient comme les Blancs" (“If black people talked like white people”) has taken off as a way to combat everyday racism with humour.

“Is that your real hair? Can I touch it? It’s so smooth, it’s like dog hair!"

The French hashtag #SiLesNoirsParlaientCommeLesBlancs (If black people talked like white people) has been shared over a thousand times since it was posted on February 16 by Jade, a 19-year-old college student from Bourgogne. Jade says she is as surprised as anyone by its sudden popularity on social networks, and just wanted to humorously turn around some of the clichés usually heard by blacks from whites. The remark has struck a chord with Internet users: the hashtag she created has been used over and over again on social media since her tweet was posted.

Jade’s hashtag has been used to expose cultural prejudices and to criticise people who conflate one country with the whole African continent or one individual with everyone from the same origin.

“My white neighbours are nice, but they make the whole building smell like mustard and pasta,” wrote one Twitter user who adopted Jade’s hashtag.

“Hey, Johnny Hallyday’s on the radio. Come dance, Vincent – it’s music from your country!” another wrote sardonically.

“Here’s a picture of me on safari in Europe … I wanted to adopt all of them!” wrote one Twitter user, who posted a picture of herself alongside a group of blond children, underscoring how the attraction for the “exotic” can quickly turn into condescension.

A 'lack of tact'

“It’s not really racism,” Jade explained. She was born in France but her father’s family is from Cameroon and her mother is white.

“I’ve heard the comment about my hair multiple times. Friends like to touch my hair because they think it’s fun. I wouldn’t call that racism but a lack of tact that comes from a lack of culture,” Jade said. And she sees herself in some of the humorous tweets about cultural clumsiness that people have posted following her lead.

“Sometimes at parties my friends say things like, ‘Don’t turn off the lights, we won’t see anything but Jade’s teeth!’ Or even, “Hey Jade, if we put on African music will you dance?’ It would never even occur to me to make a comment like that – it’s absurd,” Jade says.

Some Twitter users are going even further by denouncing the misogyny inherent in certain comments about women of African origin, like a student at Paris VIII-Saint-Denis who calls herself an “Afrofeminist” and “Afropean”.

“Her skin was the colour of ham … and she moved with the grace of a French mule”, tweeted @ThisisKiyemis, in a remark meant to poke fun at phrases like “her ebony skin”. This kind of literary cliché might have been intended as flattering, but has been so overused that it’s now insulting.

Inspired by the US

For Jade, cultural clichés aren’t specifically a French problem, but can be applied to other countries and ethnicities. In fact, she got the idea for her hashtag after watching a YouTube video called, “If Latinos said the stuff white people say.” The video, from Buzzfeed, shows Latino actors turning some of the common clichés applied to people of Hispanic origin upside-down. “But in the US people criticise that type of prejudice more often,” Jade adds.

Also across the Atlantic, a recent Saturday Night Live sketch made fun of the supposed controversy that followed Beyoncé’s latest song, “Formation.” In the song and its video, the pop star celebrates her African-American roots and highlights issues affecting black Americans, from Hurricane Katrina to the Black Lives Matter movement – a newly political stance that irritated some conservative politicians. Saturday Night Live parodied the reaction by creating a trailer for a fake Hollywood disaster movie called, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” in which horrified white people discover that their pop star icon is, in fact, African-American. The sketch was a big hit on social media, even in France.

Date created : 2016-02-18

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