FULL BOOK FORUM: Black France, White Europe – Emily Marker
**Last week we published a book forum on Emily Marker’s Black France, White Europe: Youth, Race, and Belonging in the Postwar Era, with four reviews of Marker’s book and an author’s response.
The whole forum is now available for download as a PDF. **
It is difficult to overstate the relevance of the topics that Emily Marker tackles in her new book, Black France, White Europe: Youth, Race, and Belonging in the Postwar Era. Marker’s approach, which positions the history of European integration and decolonization in the same analytical framework, is deeply pertinent for understanding the issues that flood our front pages today. Our reviewers have highlighted only a few examples: the inclusion of Ukraine into the cultural and geographic European “community” as a consequence of Russian aggression, the debate over whether African students studying in Ukraine at the time of the invasion “count” as Ukrainian refugees, and France’s recent rhetorical war on “islamo-gauchisme.” We could certainly add to that list of recent geopolitical debates. For example, the contrast between the public display of welcome demonstrated in Europe for Ukrainian refugees and the so-called “migrant crisis” in 2015, which saw a wave of mostly non-white asylum seekers shake the belief in the value of further European integration and cooperation when it came to borders policy. Even the World Cup and the renewed arguments in France about the enduring legacy of colonialism sparked by a multiracial French national soccer team takes on a different significance after reading Marker’s book.
Marker uses the French education system – its administrators, policies, programs, and most importantly, actual students – to “explore the shifting coordinates of postwar belonging” (13). During the postwar moment when France was constructing both its central place in the vision of an integrated Europe as well as the future of its former empire in the age of decolonization, youth within and across national, imperial, and continental structures became integral to the vision and implementation of these generational projects. Through her examination of youth, Marker explores the constructions of both a “European” identity that spanned the continent and a “French” one that connected metropolitan young people with their French African counterparts. While both originally developed in tandem, the success of the former based on a Europe that was constructed to be simultaneously “both white and raceless, Christian and secular” doomed the latter as the rhetoric of a colorblind French republic that came into conflict with the material consequences of structural racism for French African youth. Marker writes that “despite [its] efforts to strengthen ties with its African colonies in the 1940s and 1950s, France became both more French and more European during precisely those years” (219).
Our reviewers, historians of France, West Africa, and decolonization, had an immense amount of praise for Black France, White Europe. Liz Fink writes that the book is an important contribution to both the literature on France’s postwar empire and the ways in which mid-20th century racial discourse was constructed in France, noting particularly how Marker traces “the interplay between the changing ways the French state rearticulated its ideas about race and the ways it was critiqued by Africans constitutes ‘postwar common sense.’” Jessica Pearson argues that Marker’s approach and framing is as groundbreaking as her findings. Pearson writes that Black France, White Europe is no less than a “call to do political history differently,” an innovative “history of the everyday life of politics” that “center[s] the humans—including young people—whose experiences and identities are at the core of modern politics.” Gregory Valdespino sees the book as not only “interest[ed] in the diverse futures imagined in the aftermath of World War II” but also one that explores how those futures were acted upon, and why “certain kinds of belonging became viable while others failed,” showing “how efforts produced postwar unity in one domain fostered division in another.” For Valdespino, one of Marker’s most notable interventions is the way in which she “pushes historians of postwar Europe to recognize how Africa, including Africans themselves, helped build the continents’ borders.” Similarly, Sarah Runcie argues that Marker’s emphasis on “underscoring racialization as a relational process in the postwar period” that ties together the processes of both European integration and decolonization makes it a crucial contribution to the literature on African decolonization. The directional inverse of Valdespino’s insight about the book’s potential impact on historians of postwar Europe, Runcie contends that Marker’s work urges “historians of Africa to engage much more closely with the politics of European integration while also effectively foregrounding concrete intellectual production, lived experiences, and political projects of African historical actors.” Like Pearson, Runcie sees Marker’s book as a model for other historians, especially those interested in writing “entangled” histories. It will be, she believes, “generative for historians in a variety of sub-fields.”
Perhaps Valdespino expresses it best when he writes that “a work this rich cannot help but raise new questions.” In that spirit our reviewers also brought up several questions and probed potential future lines of inquiry. Runcie asks about gender and how it “operated as either a spoken or unspoken parameter of these visions of postwar youth and education.” Valdespino wonders about the influence (or lack thereof) of pan-Africanism, a simultaneous “pluralist political vision” that could perhaps have constituted a competing “alternative pole of attraction” for young Africans growing disillusioned with the prospect of “imperial reform.” Or how might a discussion of the economics of education, European integration, and postwar pluralism be woven into Marker’s analysis?
These four fascinating and thorough reviews, along with Marker’s own thoughtful response make for a vibrant discussion that represents the best that this cutting-edge work on decolonization and European integration has to offer. We at Tocqueville 21 hope that this is the first of a series of forums on new work that represents all that this innovative sub-field has to offer. We offer our gratitude to all our reviewers and to Marker herself for this opportunity for such a generative conversation. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
Melanie Bavaria is a PhD Candidate in History and French Studies at New York University. She works on colonial citizenship in Martinique and Guadeloupe and the formations of national, regional, and imperial belonging during the French Third Republic.
The whole book forumis also available for download as a PDF. **