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<nettime> Paris Burning but Not Queer
Cooper Melinda Dr (NAM) x521 on Sat, 19 Nov 2005 10:31:14 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Paris Burning but Not Queer


Been thinking about the posts on the French riots, public space and race
in France - and what inevitably goes unsaid and censored in so much
leftwing thinking on resistance, the multitude, whatever. I feel there
needs to be some serious thinking on intersections of race, sex,
sexuality and class but all this makes it so difficult to feel any
straightforward solidarity and makes political alliances so tricky - and
who wants life to be complicated?? 
 
Public space in Paris is, across the board, overwhelmingly male,
overwhelmingly straight. French political, institutional, professional,
scientific, academic whatever space is white, male, mostly upperclass
and closed to racial minorities (not specifically to Muslims as some
media reports like to claim, but to anyone of Magrebine, African and
differently, Afro-Carribean descent). On the other hand, much of urban
public space (by which I mean street space and transport space) in North
and North-East Paris and the banlieues is also overwhelmingly male but
belongs to men of racial minorities. Take a train from la Chapelle (this
is intra-muros Paris) after 7pm and take a trip into male space, where
as an unattached woman you feel dangerously identified with
unappropriated property. Its ten times worse in the banlieue. This is
not to deny the constant, incessant, incredibly violent police presence
and harassment that exists here - but to remind people that this applies
to everyone, not just the young 2nd or 3rd generation son of immigrants,
as the media and unfortunately the rioters themselves would like to
suggest, but to the daughters of immigrants too, to female prostitutes,
the sans-papier transexual Algerian sexworkers on the periph (the ring
road that separates intra-muros from the banlieue), the check-out
chicks, cleaners, menial service workers....   Unfortunately, the latter
category not only have to put up with the CRS but also with the constant
harassment of the very same disaffected "youth" who are supposed to
represent the general state of oppression in the banlieue. The riotors
are in fact overwhelmingly male & straight - not suprising, since even
in non-riotous times, it is the same young straight men who effectively
control and police the minutiae of public space and movement in the
suburbs, particularly if you're female, old or queer or some potent
mixture of the above.
 
I lived in Paris for 8 years, for two years on a council estate, with my
partner who is of Afro-Carribean background. As a queer, mixed-race
couple we endured constant harassment from young Magreb, African and
Carribean guys - I'm not talking verbal abuse and getting spat on here,
I'm talking bashings and death threats. Most of my queer female friends
(of white French and Magrehbine and Kabbyle descent) have been seriously
bashed, often more than once, two of them have been hospitalized. One
Algerian friend was forced to move from her Algerian foyer because she
was a woman living alone - other single women in the building were
beaten by their Algerian compatriots for daring to live without a man.
And spare a thought for the sans-papiers transexual prostitutes who were
regularly pelted with rubbish and doused with buckets of water (by their
dissaffected brothers) as they went off to work outside my flat. So
where do I place fascism? Or neo-fascism? To give you an idea of the
complexity of the situation in France, my partner would be constantly
harassed by the white LePen sympathisers in almost every apartment block
she moved into - but this didnt make her any more of a friend to her
"brothers" on the street. Actually, as a "sister" who had betrayed her
"brothers" by not belonging to them she was in serious danger and
curiously, accused of being the ultimate cause of their oppression, much
more so it seemed than any fuckwitted LePen voter or even left-leaning
white French man (who by the way somehow manages to maintain an
incredible freedom of movement in all parts of the city and therefore
doesn't have all that much to lose in hero-worshiping the young male
from the suburbs). On one issue, there is a serious and unanalyzed
collusion between the generic LePen voter and the generic male
banlieusard, no matter how genuinely oppressed the latter is - and that
is that women, queers and other stray deviants should stay in their
place. Unfortunately, this is not an incidental aspect of their politics
but the very core of it - which is why I consider the current phenomenon
in the banlieue to be a reactionary, fundamentalist response to
oppression rather than a spontaneous manifestation of the multitude.
(Here I don't mean fundamentalist in the religious sense - it doesn't
even need to be). A recent French media report, commenting on the
oppression of 2nd and 3rd generation children of migrants, suggested
that the problems of youth in the banlieue were compounded by the fact
that their sisters generally managed to get employment and make their
way up in the world, unlike them. Their problem was "emasculation"!
(this is the actual word used). Obviously, this reporter (like everyone
else) didn't seem to find it strange that the youth he was talking about
were all male. His argument would be laughable (I mean yeah all those
young Algerian women in the 16th arrondissement wearing Hermes scarves
and Chanel) - except that it is widely shared in the French media and
intelligentsia ...
 
I don't want to suggest here that there is any inevitability or cultural
specificity to this situation - actually in the 8 years I lived there,
it worsened palpably every year, so that I could probably draw a map of
the spaces that got cut off to us from one year to the next... Also this
is not specifically a "muslim" phenomenon - tho it may become one, given
the propensity of islamicist groups to hijack any free-floating
disaffection they can get their hands on (much like international
socialist actually!). Besides the fact that many people of Magrhebine
descent are not muslim, the rioters are also of African and
Afro-Carribean background.
 
Hopefully this sketchy picture of everyday life in Paris will help to
explain why, whenever there was a riot of anykind in the streets where
we lived, we battened down the hatches and stayed quietly inside,
knowing that we would be just as much a target of the violence happening
outside as any Renault! 
 
All this makes me sad b/coz it feels like all these things have been
said and debated before and each time the wheel gets reinvented. Is it
necessary to wait till after the revolution for these complicated and
not so easy issues to be thought through, or is this just a very facile
understanding of resistance in the first place? I feel that right now
its really important to recognize that not all "uprisings", riots,
popular, or even anti-state movements etc are progressive - actually
what we're seeing a real resurgence of popular, micro-political, street
forms of (neo)fascism... and its important to think about the way they
intersect, clash and sometimes collude with state fascisms.
 
I hope this doesn't sound all too anecdotal but I really think its the
lack of thinking about these issues that is making post-Seattle
activism/political thinking so stagnant and facile ... 
 
Melinda


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