Black France, Black America: Engaging Historical Narratives

Main Article Content

John Anthony Berteaux


Abstract During the first quarter of the 20th Century a small group of black intellectuals, artists, and musicians abandoned the United States for Paris. The rumor was that the French did not believe in racist theories – that France offered blacks social and economic opportunities not available in the States. This paper critically examines that narrative as well as North America’s melting pot legend – an expression of the promise of America made popular in 1909 by playwright Israel Zangwill. The stories that we tell about ourselves as a nation are important because our moral sentiments are frequently a product of these narratives. They influence our vision of populations and their circumstances. They serve as starting points for philosophical investigation and critical self-reflection. My intent is not to prove these stories or narratives false but rather, to illustrate how their widespread acceptance has affected people’s abilities to recognize, understand, and responsibly address compelling and complex racial problems. What I recommend is the need for an on-going, comprehensive, and critical examination of socially dominant historical narratives.

Article Details

Articles (refereed)
Author Biography

John Anthony Berteaux, California State University Monterey Bay

Humanities and Communication

Professor of Philosophy


Archibold, R., 2010, ‘San Diego Campus awakens to uneasy race relations’, New York Times, 26 Feb. 2010,
Baldwin, J. & Jones, E.P. 2012, Notes of A Native Son, Rev. ed. Beacon Press, Boston. Beriss, D. 2004, Black Skins, French Voices: Caribbean Ethnicity and Activism in Urban
France, Westview Press, Boulder, Colo.
Blackmon, D.A. 2009. Slavery by Another Name: the Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Anchor Books, New York.
Bloom, P. 2015, ‘Imagining the lives of others’, Opinionator, New York Times, 6 June 2015,
Burns, J.F. 2011 ‘Prime Minister criticizes British multiculturalism as allowing extremism’, New York Times, 5 Feb. 2011,
Chabon, M. 2012, ‘O.J. Simpson, racial utopia and the moment that inspired my novel’, New York Times Magazine, 27 Sept. 2012.
Cohen, W.B. 2003, The French Encounter with Africans: White Response to Blacks, 1530- 1880, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
DeWitt, L. 2010, ‘The decision to exclude agricultural and domestic workers from the 1935 Social Security Act’, Social Security Bulletin, vol. 70, no. 4).
Engster, D. 2007, The Heart of Justice: Care Ethics and Political Theory, Oxford University Press, New York.
Erlanger, S. 2009, ‘Study says Blacks and Arabs face bias from Paris Police’, New York Times, 29 June 2009,
Faulkner, W. 2011, Requiem for a Nun, Vintage Books, New York.
Fleming, C.M. 2017, Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.
Foner, E. 1990, A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877, Harper & Row, New York. Furrow, D. 2009, Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America,
Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y.
Hine, D.C., Keaton, T.D., Small, S. (eds.), 2009, Black Europe and the African Diaspora; Blackness in Europe, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL.
Hobsbawm, E.J. 1992, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Judt, T. 2008, ‘What have we learned, if anything? The New York Review of Books, 1 May 2008,

Julian, E. 2009, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t: Josephine Baker’s films of the 1930’s and the problem of color’, in Hine, D.C., Keaton, T.D. & Small, S. (eds.), Black Europe and the African American Diaspora. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, pp. 48-62.
Kern, S. 2011, ‘The Netherlands to abandon multiculturalism’, Gatestone Institute International Policy Council, 23 June 2011,
Khettab, D.O. 2015. ‘Q&A: What really happened to Algeria’s Harkis?’, Aljazeera News, 22 August 2015, 150531082955192.html
Kukathas, C. 1992, ‘Are there any cultural rights?’, Political Theory, vol. 20, no. 1, pp.105- 139.
Kymlicka, W. 1995, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford Political Theory. Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press, New York.
Kymlicka, W. 1990, Contemporary Political Philosophy; An Introduction, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Lilla, M. 2016, ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’, New York Times, 18 November 2016, liberalism.html
Mann, G. 2006, Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the Twentieth Century, Duke University Press, Durham.
Martinot, S. 2003, The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.
Mills, C.W. 1997, The Racial Contract, Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
Muller, H.J. 1952, The Uses of the Past: Profiles of Former Societies, Oxford University Press, New York.
Nadeau, J.-B. & Barlow, J. 2003, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: why we love France, but not the French, Sourcebooks, Naperville, Ill.
Noddings, N. 2003, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
Packer, G. 2015, ‘The Other France: Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism?’ The New Yorker, 31 August 2015, other-france
Saadia, M. 2015, ‘The 1961 massacre that could help us understand the Paris attacks’, the-par-1793852874
Saltmarsh, M. 2009, ‘Colonial soldiers want more from France’, New York Times, 12 August 2009,
Schlesinger, A.M. 1993, The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society,
W.W. Norton, New York.
Simpson, J. 2012, ‘Focus on First Nations Dialogue on Self-Sufficiency, Globe and Mail, 25 Jan. 2012, sufficiency/article1359686/
Smith, W.G. 1963, The Stone Face, Farrar, New York.
Stovall, T. 2009, ‘No green pastures: The African Americanization of France’, in Hine, D.C., Keaton, T.D. & Small, S. (eds.), Black Europe and the African American Diaspora, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, pp.180-197.
Werman, M. & Hadden, G. 2012, ‘50 Years After the Algerian War, Harkis Still Wait for French Apology’, 19 July 2012. 19/50-years-after-algerian-war-harkis-still-wait-french-apology