Tag Archives: orientalism

Decolonisation in school books

In relation to my post about Paris’ Museum for Immigration, I would like to mention a young comedian I discovered last weekend on a French comedy show. “Rire Contre le Racisme” (Laughing Against Racism) is a stand-up show with various comedians supposed to make people aware of racism and fight against it. Most of the comedians were boring – if not racist themselves – but fourteen year-old Stephane Bak stuck out and made some smart points about contemporary problems that young people from migrant backgrounds are sometimes faced with; for example he pointed out that the teenage black boy he is could not relate to his school history books as he could not find his own history inside them. I quote him: “the only time I see a black person he is wearing underpants and is being whipped!”. History books would therefore only depict the indigenous populations of the former colonies as “Exotic” figures subjected to the Frenchman.

This reminded me of how French school books are very backwards in how they explain colonisation and decolonisation. I myself remember studying decolonisation as a list: 1956 independence of Tunisia and Morocco, 1958 independence of Guinea etc. Algeria got a little more attention but only because the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale, the Algerian independence movement) was deemed violent enough to be mentioned as it led a series of attacks in France. No mention was made of what France did to Algerians and of its illegitimate presence in Algeria. This approach to France’s recent history goes back to 2005 (43 years after the independence of Algeria!) and I doubt the contents of school books have changed much today…

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