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Public Culture

An interdisciplinary journal of transnational cultural studies

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Imagin(IN)g Racial France: Take 3 — Hervé Youmbi

Dominique Malaquais

Like most postcolonial stories, the story of racial France is a story of commodity fetishism. It is suffused with desire: desire for things (objects, ideas, currencies) and places — above all, places. In the media — in news and film reportage, magazine specials, Hollywood blockbusters, and ad campaigns of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) — increasing (if largely superficial) attention is paid to places in Western Europe and North America that Africans risk life and limb to reach. Place and pathos are presented as coterminous entities. Little concern is shown for other types of quests: the desire to reach given places not because lives depend on it but because these places function as commodities in and of themselves. While immigrants hailing from other parts of the world — Asia most notably — are commonly depicted on the move, in search of abodes far from “home” as part of coherent, long-term plans for economic betterment, Africans are systematically typecast as refugees. Notions of choice and strategy rarely make their way into the picture, and, when they do, they are mostly ascribed to alimentary motives. Africans take to the road (and sea) to survive: so the story goes.

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Public Culture is a reviewed interdisciplinary journal of cultural studies, published three times a year in Fall, Winter, and Spring for the Institute for Public Knowledge by Duke University Press. The journal's full archives are available online at Dukejournals.org.

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