After staying up until 8am watching and celebrating the election in an international bar with friends, I woke up the next morning with the following text from French rapper XV Blackara on my phone (I translated the parts that were in French):
“Yes we did it. All of this can happen in any community that becomes aware and fights for its emancipation. Obama is the fruit of past battles. So yes we did it, but don’t give up the fight…”
While I’ve gotten to know XV and his rap partner MP Blackara by visiting their weekly radio show, these words also represented what of what many of my French friends expressed following the victory of President-elect Barack Obama. Since the election, I’ve received all sorts of congratulatory remarks from those inspired by last week’s events, but the Obamania wasn’t just limited to young people or banlieusards (suburbanites).
Since I arrived in September, you couldn’t turn on French television or open a newspaper without hearing about Barack Obama. Anywhere I went in Paris, people from all over the globe would stop me and ask me where I bought the pin on my bag and give me signs of encouragement as if I were running for president myself. In Dorothy’s Gallery, an art gallery run by American ex-pat Dorothy Polley, an exhibit dedicated to artistic representations of and inspired by Obama has been extended until January because of the win, and the space has been used for fundraisers, concerts, and parties to support and celebrate his campaign (see poster above). When I asked Ms. Polley about why she wanted to devote her gallery to the campaign, she explained that she wanted to show her support despite being out of the country and she selected a mix of French and American artists (among other nationalities) to contribute to the exhibition.
Here are some of the featured works in the exhibit:
While I would have loved to celebrate in the States, France was definitely an interesting place to be— wonderful because of the excitement yet fascinating because it is a complex country full of paradoxes. For instance, the overwhelming support for President-elect Obama started months before the election in France, and while this was really exciting for me as an American, it was also really puzzling for anyone familiar with French race-relations and the socio-political landscape. As one of the journalists on a panel discussion on the French perspective of the U.S. election said in September, the French would vote for Barack Obama immediately if he were to arrive tomorrow, but he could never stand a chance at ever being a viable candidate among the relatively homogenous French political elite.
As I’ve had many conversations with rap artists such as the members of Blackara and young people from the city and the banlieue (suburbs), many hope that underrepresented French communities will also join together to have a stronger political voice in France, but they are also aware that it will not happen overnight, and that it will not happen without focus and dedication. Last Friday at Blackara’s radio show, they were interviewing a young rap group, and suddenly launched into questions about their political views. When one of young artists admitted that he didn’t vote in the last French Presidential election in 2007, MP joked “So, we have you to thank…” but then both he and XV encouragingly emphasized the importance of being politically active, and even asked for my opinions on air.
In fact, both me and my friend Magee who originally put me in touch with Blackara, each discovered the group after reading an April 2007 article in the U.K. based paper, The Observer that reported on French rappers’ involvement in last year’s French presidential election and specifically, XV’s involvement in rallying his community to vote. He was quoted as saying: “You have got to vote and you have got to learn about politics. The most dangerous thing in the world is ignorance. It is about having a say, about making sure our voices are heard.” While many Americans currently see themselves as one step closer to having more representation in politics, I’ll be interested to see if and how the results of our election has any effect on the awareness and mobilization of certain communities in France.