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Black minister compared to a monkey - again

4 min

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira was subjected to racist slurs for the third time in barely a month on Wednesday when a far-right magazine published a cover comparing France's most prominent black politician to a monkey.


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Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, France’s most prominent black politician, is not the sort of woman who needs defending. But when she was publicly subjected to a racist slur for the third time in barely a month on Wednesday, it sparked howls of outrage and renewed soul-searching across the country.

The latest racist attack on Taubira appeared on the cover of the far right weekly magazine, Minute, which featured a photograph of the 61-year-old black politician with the title, “Crafty as a monkey, Taubira gets her banana back”.

In French, the phrase, “to get your banana back” also means putting a smile back on your face.

The word-play was not appreciated across large swathes of French society – particularly because it was the third time the French politician has been compared to a monkey in recent weeks.

In an interview with the left-leaning French daily Libération earlier this month, Taubira recounted how she was taunted with a banana by a twelve-year-old at a street protest against same-sex marriage.

Born in the French overseas territory of French Guyana, Taubira has been a vocal defender of legislation allowing gay marriage, which was passed earlier this year.

Taubira’s position on gay marriage has endeared her to the Left, but has turned her into a lightning rod for opponents of the law on the Far Right.

In an interview with a French TV station last month, a far-right candidate for next year’s municipal elections said she would prefer to see Taubira "in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government”.

Anne-Sophie Leclere, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, also owned up to a photo-montage showing Taubira alongside a baby monkey which was posted on her Facebook page.

The caption beneath the baby monkey said, "At 18 months," while the one under Taubira's photograph read "Now".

Leclere was subsequently dropped from the municipal race by her party, which is desperately seeking a makeover to broaden its voter appeal and dispel its xenophobic image.

Condemnation across the political divide

The publication of the latest taunt has sparked protests across the political spectrum in France.

In a statement released Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the Paris prosecutor’s office had opened a racism investigation against the magazine citing French law that forbids racist abuse.

The incendiary cover has been taken off the Minute website since Tuesday afternoon and Twitter has been flooded with outraged messages.

In a Twitter posting on Tuesday, Harlem Désir, leader of the ruling Socialist Party, denounced the “despicable” cover.

Veteran politician Alain Juppé – who served as foreign minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government before the 2012 election – condemned the magazine cover in a Twitter post on Wednesday and demanded “legal repercussions”.

Even the National Front , which supported Minute in the 1970s, condemned the magazine’s cover with the party’s vice-president, Florian Philippot , describing it as "unacceptable and shocking" in an interview on a French TV station.

The public outrage comes as activists warn of a rise in racist incidents in France.

A report by the Paris-based National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (CNCDH) released in March 2013 found that racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and threats in France saw an increase of 23 percent in 2012.

The figures have failed to daunt Le Pen, who described France as “the least racist country in the world” in an interview with FRANCE 24 over the weekend.

Reacting to a question about her party’s former mayoral candidate who compared the country’s justice minister to a monkey, Le Pen shot back, “France is the least racist country in the world. Is that clear?" During her interview with FRANCE 24, France Inter radio and Le Parisien newspaper, Le Pen added that, “French people do not judge people by their skin colour or their origin. As long as people are well behaved and respectful of French people, they have welcomed them. Welcomed too many, in fact.”

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