France the Colonial Power – How prejudices turned into scientific facts

The sound of monkeys was heard in the stands when France’s black star Kylian Mbappe took the ball in the last European Cup match in Budapest. Christiane Taubira served as Minister of Justice in Paris in the mid-2000s. As a headline story for a far-right Parisian daily, the black politician was portrayed as a monkey eating bananas.

There is a long history of racism against blacks. In 1892, the French physician Paul Barrett posited: “Blacks are inferior.” This sentence, as historian Delphine Peretti-Curtes writes in her book, goes to the heart of the way French doctors used to think about blacks.

“Intellectual inferiority, emotional exuberance, laziness or excessive sexuality: these are some of the prejudices against Africans that rose to the rank of scientific truth through the medical literature between the end of the eighteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century.”

(Photo/fStopImages/Malte Müller)

The white body was considered the base

For ten years, Peretti Cortes evaluated the medical treatises of that time, among other things. It shows how white physicians successively associated purported personality traits and behaviors with the black skin of the African population, creating stereotypes and clichés. The historian speaks of a “factory of racial prejudice”.

“Today we are talking about prejudices, at that time they were considered scientific discoveries.”

Inspired by the spirit of the Enlightenment, researchers since the 1780s have increasingly studied human species and their supposed differences. The white body was considered the norm, and the black body was a completely different example.

“Confronting this other represents the first stage in the evolution of prejudices. The first studies, the first observations concerning others of African people, are mostly based on travel reports. However, at that time, there were no empirical studies on living people. From the second on and then In the mid-nineteenth century, researchers developed new tools and methods to deepen their knowledge of the so-called African race.

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The omnipotence of science

Objects were measured as a whole and in detail: skull, nose, bones or genitals. The structure of hair, eyes, and skin color were indexed. The color grid was developed by German physician and anthropologist Franz Brunner Bei.

“This shows the sheer power of science, which depends on its measurement data. One is trying to create more and more rigorous, more compact racial categories, using data that is described as scientific and therefore irrefutable.”

Multi-faceted collage with all skin colors (Imago) (picture)“Sweat” in the head – you can see it!
Anyone who categorizes people by their skin color picks up an unimportant adjective for individuals who grew up in a particular place, at a particular time. You don’t gain knowledge this way.

France’s role as a colonial power

France’s rise to colonial power also declined during this period. Jules Ferry was entirely behind this policy of expansion. In 1881 he introduced compulsory education in his homeland. Four years later, as prime minister, Fairey declared: “The superior races have the right and duty to the civilization of the inferior races.”

The French population was able to get their own portrait of blacks for the first time in 1889 at the Paris World’s Fair: their attractions included refined South African villages, where entire families of the San, formerly known as Bushmen, supposedly moved. Primitive daily life in front of everyone. The exhibition attracted 32 million visitors. Sarti Bartmann has achieved sad fame. Black South Africa went down in history as the “bright flower” – because of the abnormally wide hips and buttocks. From 1810 onwards, the young woman was somewhat compelled to go to English exhibitions before she was later exhibited in the salons of the upper class in Paris. She died in 1815, and her body was dissected and preserved in a museum in Paris. Bartmann’s remains were not officially interred in their homeland until 2002.

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“Since the end of the 1920s, colonial medicine has developed just like the Pasteur Institute. The medical view of the African population has become more realistic. Even if attempts continue to enrich the ‘race theory’, it is now also about the health care of the black population. To maintain” Human aphid”, his work”.

Studies should confirm prejudices

The theory of human race has now been refuted thanks to genetic engineering. But during the colonial era, medical professionals were convinced of the supposed superiority of whites. In the end, according to the historian, they only sought to confirm their unconscious biases in their studies. Despite any contradiction, as Peretti Curtis demonstrates with an example.

Three human skulls in the Phyletic Museum of the University of Jena.  (dpa alliance / photo) (dpa alliance / photo)On the Racial Roots of Science
Human races invention. But this knowledge is clearly not enough to eradicate racism from the world. Of all things, science bears a shared responsibility, the results of which racists still point to to this day.

“African women were often underestimated in medical discourse: she was primitive, mentally poor, too muscular for hard work, male. At the same time she was praised as an ideal mother – at a time when people wanted to promote motherhood and breastfeeding in France, The supposedly very normal African woman worked on reading the riots of French middle-class women.”

“Proximity to nature is valued in an era when one believed that the African population should be civilized and brought by culture. However, African women should not be denied their closeness to nature, because after all, procreation corresponds to their natural destiny.”

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The illustration shows a black French police officer looking in horror at his smartphone, with a white hand sticking out of it and suffocating him.  (Radio Arte / Zaven Najjar) (Radio Arte / Zaven Najjar)Investigations into racism in the French police
By chance, black policeman Alex comes across a WhatsApp group in which some of his colleagues are exchanging racist and anti-Semitic voice messages. He decided to resist.

Delphine Peretti-Curtis’ extensive study, which was met with a broad response, has not only revealed the historical origins of the racial cliché. It is also trying to show its effects to the present – and hopes to weaken it.

Delphine Peretti Chores: “Black Bodies and White Doctors – The Factory of Racial Prejudice, Nineteenth – Twentieth Century”
La Decouverte Editions / ISBN: 978-348-04501-1

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