what Pap Ndiaye actually thinks

His appointment drew media attention and aroused the ire of the far right. To Marine Le Pen, Pap Ndiaye, the new Minister of National Education and Youth, ” defends indigenism, racism “, and his appointment constitutes ” the last stone in the deconstruction of our country, its values ​​and its future “. In this same tempered vein, Éric Zemmour described the historian as ” true indigenist intellectual, a true “. Outrageous attacks, which cling poorly to the personality of this 56-year-old man with a measured verb and whose long developments arouse an obsession with nuances.

Pap Ndiaye is an academic who tackles hot topics while approaching them with caution, which perhaps explains the intensity of the reactions he provokes. There is no need to camouflage the obvious: naming rue de Grenelle as an importer of black studies in France, in place of Jean-Michel Blanquer, a vigorous supporter of republican secularism, Emmanuel Macron has ostensibly chosen to substitute one political sensibility for another. This choice worries beyond the right, such as former education minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement.

Pap Ndiaye’s career is a good illustration of the ambivalence of his position. Born in 1965 in Antony (Hauts-de-Seine) to a Senegalese engineer father (quickly removed from the family home) and a French professor of natural sciences, the future minister lived a childhood in the form of a republican utopia. In all the portraits dedicated to him, Ndiaye and his sister Marie state bluntly: they did not experience racism, in a France of the 1960s where the assimilation of universalism was not yet questioned. ” We had forgotten the color of our skin “, they testify, evoking isolated and insignificant episodes where the color of their skin was suddenly reminded to them. ” In our quiet lower middle class suburb there was no racism “Remember Mary in The world. It was, therefore, without suffering racial discrimination that Pap Ndiaye, who devoured books on French history, completed a brilliant schooling that led to a literary baccalaureate with honors at the Normale-Sup Saint-Cloud and then to the aggregation of history.

Identity disclosure in the United States

Thinking about the ENA contest, he traveled to the United States in the early 1990s to study in Charlottesville, in the south of the country, at a university in Virginia that was a key place for the civil rights movement. Here, far from the colorblind hexagonal prism, Pap Ndiaye’s intellectual universe changes: It was in the United States that I discovered the black world “, confesses the Frenchman who participates in demonstrations and meetings with non-mestizos, reads Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, learns the history of slavery and colonization. A brilliant student of a French school indifferent to colors, he becomes aware of part of his identity in the country of triumphant communitarianism, in which he obtained a scholarship thanks to a mechanism of positive discrimination, without knowing it at the time. ” I am a product of the French republican school and theaffirmative action American “, concludes Pap Ndiaye, who, therefore, will never stop oscillating between the two models without ever completely switching to one side. Back in France, he became a specialist in American history and a doctorate at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), before becoming a professor at Sciences Po.

The beginning of the 2000s marked the emergence of a national debate on the ” black question ” in France. Pap Ndiaye, based on his experience across the Atlantic, is committed to this, co-founding the Action Circle for the Promotion of Diversity in France (Capdiv), then the Representative Council of Black Associations in France (Cran), who espouses ethnic statistics, while espousing a more moderate line than he does today. Unsurprisingly, the future minister is one of the most “ reasonable of the young organization. Above all, the historian publishes a remarkable first essay, the black conditionin 2008. A book with which he says he hopes “ to lay the foundations for a new field of study in France, black studies, which takes into account national particularities, inspired by what was being done in the United States and Great Britain. I also wanted to contribute to the emergence of a “black” collective voice, to make the injustices experienced by blacks in France heard and to make them more visible in the political field. »

Differentiated positions

Inside the black conditionPap Ndiaye lays the foundations for his thinking on the subjects that interest him: racism, communitarianism, discrimination… Refuting the existence of a ” black community similar to what exists in the United States, however, it affirms the specificity of black identity in France, resulting not from biology, but from society, its stereotypes and the discrimination that exists within it (prejudice, access to employment, housing). So for the historian, being black is not an essence or a culture, but the product of a social relationship: there are blacks because they are considered as such. The book’s conclusion sounds like a compromise between a demand for the realization “to the end” of universalism, rejecting particularisms, and the desire for an identity recognition inherited from his American experience: ” We want to be French and black at the same time, without this being seen as suspicious, or strange, or tolerated as a temporary problem while waiting for assimilation to take its toll. We want to be invisible from the point of view of our social life and therefore the harm and harm that affect us as black people are reduced. But we want to be visible from the point of view of our black cultural identities, of our precious and unique contributions to French society and culture. »

Pap Ndiaye will therefore continue to operate this pendulum between a universalism that he seems to consider too abstract and a visibility of minorities that he fears to see leaning towards identitarianism. “ If we want to deracialize society – and therefore make skin color no more important than eye or hair color – we should start by talking about it. “, he defends The worldexpressing the hope of find a way that allows us to fight against discrimination experienced by minorities, which requires promoting them in the public space and, at the same time, finding forms of expression that bring together the greatest possible number of people. “When he was appointed head of the National Museum of Immigration History last year, Ndiaye said he wanted to” absolutely preserve universalism and ensure that it is valid for all “.

READ TOO: Pap Ndiaye succeeds Jean-Michel Blanquer: “For the School, don’t give up anything”, recalls Souâd Ayada

The historian’s approach is openly intersectional, in the academic sense of the term: detached from militant excesses, the academic nevertheless claims an approach that leads him to challenge the pre-eminence of the economic and social factor in relations of domination. ” The social question does not dissolve in class relations, but must incorporate, without a determined hierarchy, other social relations, in particular those based on racial hierarchies. “, writes in the black condition in 2008. Ten years later, in the midst of a debate on the removal of the word “race” from the French Constitution, he criticizes our country’s reluctance to face this ethnic dimension, seeing in it the influence of a republicanism that ‘he judges’ hard but also from the colonial heritage and from Marxism. We will have guessed, in the debates that agitate the left, Pap Ndiaye feels more attuned to the “inclusive” current influenced by Anglo-Saxon ideas, judged “ More open than the guardians of the universalist temple. As the theme of anti-racism gained traction in the 2010s, the historian gained more visibility: he participated in the conception of the exhibition “The Black Model” for the Musée d’Orsay, and presented a report on diversity at the Paris Opera, heavily dyed of decolonialism, which mocks opera as an art that reflects ” the point of view of white European men in power near him “.

However, Pap Ndiaye keeps his distance from the excesses of the new anti-racism, an identity to the point of becoming sectarian. He implicitly criticizes the principle of same-sex gatherings, which he understands (are common in the United States), calling the associations ” define itself by its object and not by the quality of its members “. For him, the old universalist anti-racist organizations in decline and the new associations with more identity are ” additional. It would still take a little goodwill on both sides: let’s recognize that some are not the terrible instruments of white men’s domination; and that the others are not made up of horrible communitarians… »

Concerned with nuance and respectability, Ndiaye explicitly dissociates himself from the worst excesses: the censorship of Aeschylus’ performance of “Suplicants” at the Sorbonne in 2019 by activists who accuse the director of “blackface” is ” hateful “. ” It suits ” avoid the vertigo of exaggerated interpretations whereby any sign becomes proof of a racist intent “Judges the future minister, who criticizes the decolonial turn of student union associations such as Unef or SUD:” Intersectional struggles have all their uses, as long as they are not entrenched in an inter-self without perspectives. The form of the struggles carried out by these unions and certain associations is intriguing. Strategies of total denunciation and very harsh confrontation, as well as the uncontrolled mobilization of the vocabulary of “race” prove to be counterproductive. They harm the just causes they claim to serve and drive away goodwill. I fear that sectarianism is prevailing in decolonial student movements. »

And the school in all this?

The researcher also believes that the notion of State racism ” is frankly irrelevant to characterize the French situation, because “state racism” assumes that state institutions are at the service of a racist policy, which is obviously not the case in France “, but he claims that “ There is indeed structural racism in France, whereby institutions such as the police can have racist practices. There is racism in the state, there is no racism in the state. In short, a position between two waters emerges: Ndiaye considers that the now famous ideology I woke upIt is ” a scarecrow more than a social or ideological reality “, and ” the term islamo-leftism does not designate any reality in the university “. But if he says share most causes “young feminist, environmental and anti-racist activists who scare some boomers so much, the historian” does not approve of the moralizing or sectarian speeches of some of them. I feel cooler than “woke up”, it’s probably a generational issue. »

READ TOO: Natacha Polony: Pap Ndiaye, a minister by symbol or by action?

If these considerations have stirred political and media backwardness in recent days, they don’t say much about Pap Ndiaye’s future term in rue de Grenelle. Extremely talkative about his specialty subjects of anti-racism and universalism, the new minister has not yet commented on the refoundation of the school, the reform of professional secondary education or the reassessment of the teaching profession, so Emmanuel Macron announced that education would be a of the great challenges of his second five-year term. No doubt aware of the emotion caused by his appointment, Ndiaye made a symbolic first trip to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, to the college where Professor Samuel Paty was murdered by an Islamic terrorist in October 2020.

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