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lord patch
05-03-2007, 02:42 AM
>>REVIEW: book--black skins, french voices

Published by H-Caribbean@h-net.msu.edu (August, 2006)

David Beriss. _Black Skins, French Voices: Caribbean Ethnicity and
Activism in Urban France_. Boulder: Westview Press, 2004. xx + 156 pp.
Illustrations, maps, notes, glossary, bibliography, index. $19.00
(paper), ISBN 978-0-8133-4254-2.

Reviewed for H-Caribbean by Sara Abraham, Department of
Sociology, University of Toronto at Mississauga.


David Beriss's _Black Skins, French Voices_ is a brief but rich book,
and I will certainly use it in my undergraduate teaching this year. It
offers a freeze frame, or case study, of activist and culturally active
Antilleans in Paris, as gleaned from interviews, speeches, and
observation. Beriss focuses on Antillean migrants from Martinique and
Guadeloupe who are caught in a tight web of relations, including French
social-class policy, universalist notions of citizenship, Euro-racism,
diasporic nostalgia and diverse cultural energy. Beriss notes that since
the early 1980s this population, which is scattered across Paris, has
been gathering in clubs, cultural groups, churches, sports clubs, social
work offices, and other venues, with a view to performing their culture
and, simultaneously, challenging dominant and exclusionary practices.
The thrust of these social reformers is to make _le cultural_ as
significant as _le social_ in shaping French social policy. Beriss
believes that their collective efforts and increasing visibility is
significantly _creolizing_ France, albeit very slowly.

Beginning in Martinique and Guadeloupe, _Black Skins, French Voices_
traces the subsumption of the Antilles into the French empire, first as
a colony and then as a department. Beriss outlines the goal of
_assimilation_ as undergirding this development, but highlights the
ambivalent experiences of migrants to France in relation to French
identity and citizenship. Noting that there are multiple local points of
view on the Antilles' political and legal status, he suggests that
Antillean migration to the French colonial center has revealed the fault
lines in the assimilation project. In particular, he notes how social
tensions are being challenged and resolved in the cultural arena with
the idea of Cr�D+1olit�D+1. Its proponents argue that "Antilleans are the
product of a constant interaction of ideas and people from all over the
world, not some hermetically sealed local culture" (p. 70). Beriss
believes the impact of ideas such as Cr�D+1olit�D+1 among the Antilleans in
France could, along with the cultural impact of the much larger African
immigrant populations, transform France towards a more genuinely
multi-cultural state.

This process is, obviously, marked by contention, refusal, denial and
challenge, issues grounded in the French political and cultural
leadership's refusal to acknowledge the existence of racism in France.
Racism in France is usually expressed as the inability of culture groups
to fully mix. In this regard, the examination of Cr�D+1olit�D+1 reveals the
actual dynamism of cultural forces in France. Beriss uses multiple
examples, such as the French national celebrations of Bastille Day; the
bicentennial of the French Revolution; the ban on headscarves in
schools; and the 1998 World Cup soccer victory of France, to highlight
both the conflicts and occasional moments where differences are

Unfortunately, Beriss does not explore the relationships between
Antilleans and other immigrants. It would be interesting to know, for
instance, Antilleans' views on the headscarf debate or African
perspectives on the failure of French Republican sentiment to
acknowledge its debt to former slaves. Does French social policy
guarantee the segregation of immigrants from each other? Do they all
only orient themselves to the hegemonic cultural and political
organizations, to the French conception of itself as a unified national
culture? Beriss observes pointedly that Antilleans tend to see
themselves as a "culture group," not a race, which is in conformity with
French social scientific literature that avoids discussion of race
relations. In this respect, we could see the cultural work of Cr�D+1olit�D+1
as a distinctively "French" practice. Cultural activism, moreover, is
deeply uneven. The large Antillean Seventh Day Adventist populations,
for example, are not particularly interested in social challenge, but
rather in their own universalisms. Martinicians and Guadeloupeans, on
the other hand, have been more concerned with constructing themselves as
"cultural citizens."

The examples provided by Beriss give us glimpses into these debates--on
culture (whose culture, what culture), and on French nationalism.
However, he seems to reject a single argument, with the result that the
text reads more as a set of keen thoughts on the topics raised. There
are many fascinating but too brief discussions that leave the reader
wanting. For instance, the discussion of social workers grappling with
Caribbean spiritualist practices could have been developed into a book
on its own. A greater historical elaboration would have been valuable
for enabling readers to make sense of their own observations, such as
the striking composition of the French soccer team in 2006, its origins
and cultural and political significance. Overall, however, the book's
approach reflects the community's multiple venues and voices--of change
and reflection, some strong and some as yet uncertain.

Copyright 〓 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational
purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web
location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities &
Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews
editorial staff at hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu.

05-03-2007, 07:33 AM
iam starting to think mr patch is a wannabe 'blackman" and that scares me!.........

05-03-2007, 07:54 AM
links not novels