A bitter row over the difficulties of debating racism in France has erupted after a high-profile feminist and anti-racism campaigner was forced off a government advisory body, prompting the resignation of the director and scores of members, reports The Guardian.
Journalist Rokhaya Diallo has repeatedly spoken out against what she calls institutional racism in France, notably police stop and search practices against non-white young men.
Diallo, 39, was one of 30 people appointed last week to France’s national digital council, the CNNum, an independent commission of digital experts. The voluntary panel was to advise the centrist president Emmanuel Macron’s government on a new, more inclusive digital policy.
The appointments were approved by the digital minister Mounir Mahjoubi – one of the few faces of ethnic diversity in government – as well as the prime minister. But the government then bowed to complaints about Diallo’s presence.
Far-right commentators on social media attacked Diallo, then the mainstream rightwing party Les Républicains wrote an open letter to the government to complain that Diallo had in the past been outspoken on “institutional racism” in France and had supported feminist movements where black women had attended closed meetings to speak among themselves about racism and sexism. The party also slammed the appointment of the rapper, Axiom, criticising his lyrics. Some in the leftwing Socialist Party – as well as the former prime minister Manuel Valls, who now sits with Macron’s La République En Marche party in parliament — supported evicting Diallo.
The government swiftly appeared to kick out Diallo, promising a reshuffle in order for the body to work more “calmly”.
The French Human Rights League slammed the government’s “worrying” decision, saying: “In a democracy, the state must respect the pluralism of opinions to inform public action and enrich it.”
Marie Ekeland, a French start-up entrepreneur and head of the digital advisory body, stood down on Tuesday, followed by scores of other members. Ekeland said the row showed “in France, we don’t want to hear dissonant voices. It shows to what point we don’t know how to calmly debate different points of view.”
Diallo, whose work includes a recent documentary From Paris to Ferguson about a new generation of anti-racism activists, told The Guardian: “I think it shows there’s a great tension. Marie Ekeland, who appointed this committee, is ahead of the game and very optimistic about the capacity of the French to discuss and talk to each other. What you can see today is there are topics which are very hard to discuss in France, namely race issues.”