Black and Jewish: Freedom Of The Human Race

I thought long and hard before speaking out. I recited the alphabet forwards and backwards, ate lots of chocolate -- far too much -- during the public holidays but the feeling did not go away. I watched TV, listened to the radio, silently read the small print of twitters. I felt trapped in the confusion, trapped in a cultural, social and economic war which was also a clash of egos itching for media attention. In short, a cross-A time bomb ticked away, a kind of sustainable development in reverse. Still the feeling did not go away.

I had hoped that the new year would begin quietly, after the traditional stomach aches from overindulging. I wished for a year of opportunities, love, happiness and wild laughter. Today, on 18th February, I am in no mood to laugh: I am afraid.

I fell silent until the silence became unbearable. Since single sex marriage is now legal and other comings out are possible but just as hard to put into words, I have decided to spill the beans. So here goes: I am a woman, I am Jewish and Black. That's the way it is. I am afraid and ashamed.

My mother, of Polish Jewish origin, was born in 1940. She was hidden in France during the war. My entire mother's family was deported. My father, who was born in Africa between Gambia and the Senegal, two Muslim countries, arrived in France following colonization (true colonization). That is where my parents met and fell in love. They still love each other to this day.

During diner dates in town, I was reassuringly told: "How lucky you are. It's great, what an attractive mixture!".

So I naively I believed in my luck except that with every passing day and hour, the noodles in my chicken soup tended to vanish. The more quenelles -- French comedian Dieudonné's reverse Nazi salute -- the less noodles in my broth. Hatred must be more nurturing.

Today, France is a country that is divided, split and torn apart. I am asked to fit a category, to be pigeonholed, to choose between my father and my mother, between being black and Jewish. I am asked not to be who I am, not to live as I must, as an Afro-Yíddishe, as a French woman.

I am the product of French history, of a people singled out for extermination and of another people forced into slavery. And if my parents still love each other, it is also due to this strength to live that is uniting them against deep-rooted intolerance and repugnant ignorance. As a former athlete, I often watched the victory of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympic Games in front of Hitler. A black man, a sub-race, brilliantly outdistanced the Aryans. I am going to watch the race again because it does me good to watch it. That victory shared by Blacks and Jews at the finish line. If only Owens could lend Dieudonné his compass.

Dieudonné does not represent Blacks in France nor is he the leader of French youth. On the other hand, he is the stigma and the consequence of our failure to achieve real equality. Too few black artists receive media coverage and with whom our youth and we can truly identify. We sorely lack artists that mirror our society. If we had had our own Denzel Washington, Woopy Goldberg, Samy Davis or Morgan Freeman, they would have reacted to the present situation and Dieudonné would not have become the icon of a system in which injustice prevails.

I experience this lacerating discrimination alongside young artists who come from poor neighborhoods where they have nowhere to express themselves because their skin is too dark. I ride the RER suburban trains around Paris. The seat next to me remains empty, except when the carriage becomes crammed.

So here I am, stupidly drafting these lines and telling you my life story because there comes a time when remaining silent becomes an act of treachery. I feel hurt, hurt because Dieudonné hurts me in my flesh and bones. You cannot maintain the memory of the past by inciting hatred against another minority.

I am the outcome of two peoples who suffered the worst atrocities in the history of humankind. The reason why my parents love one another so much is because they lived through the same experience. Crimes against humanity, it must be said again and again, affect all men and women, regardless of individual categories.

When such hatred is stirred up, as Dieudonné does, it's perhaps because we do not love each other or others that much after all. I feel hurt. I feel hurt because it is not easy to tap into intimacy. The color of someone's skin is not merely superficial. I am proud of the color of my skin; my religion is printed in my DNA, it is a tattoo far more indelibly printed in that my grandfather's one.

I feel hurt when a black person tells me to choose my side, when he points a finger at my Star of David and tells that this is a target. I feel pain at the entrance to a synagogue when I am turned away because "no visitors are allowed". Vistors? A target?

Visitors of what? A target for whom? For the French far-right party. Yes, I am a bastard child; I do not belong to a pure race. If that is the problem, then say so clearly, but please do not mix it up with freedom of speech.

I obviously favor freedom of speech because my work is about supporting artists, above all. Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of democracy, but democracy implies believing in human beings. Perhaps that is where the shoe pinches with the artist in question.

France gave me life above all to live my life, to enjoy freedom, equality and fraternity. During my life, I have encountered some wonderful artists. In that respect, I am lucky. Manu Dibango, who continues to bring people together through music, the shortest route between human hearts. Edouard Glissant, who opened my eyes in his Philosophie de la relation and in his Tout-Monde in which people from mixed backgrounds come together and form relationships, despite the most violent and extreme ideas, in which human relations mean that different people fall in love and have babies. Hence, my sense of belonging is above all the sense that I am open to the wider word, to the millions of links that join us to our beautiful country, France. Everyone lives his or her life as he or she sees fit, but the ongoing search for a common foundation, the unremitting shaping of what unites rather than what divides us is what drives and spurs me on and what makes me who I am.

Yes, the ships and their holds, then the trains, the journeys by land or sea during the darkest hours of human history, they did exist. Our shared history. The very one that whispers to us: "Never Again".

Is being Black and Jewish adding insult to injury? No. Instead it is an invitation to dance to the beat of the African tam-tam and to the rhythm of Klezmer music. There are few things I hate. Chocolate calms me down. The competition between victims is a competition with oneself against oneself.

I did not choose to be only Black, to be only the daughter of a slave or only the Jewish grandchild of deportees. However, the one decision I took myself is not to be a victim, because in my life plan, being a loser is not an option.

To continue to reach out to the outside world together with the artists, to continue to forge links, to constantly enable people to endlessly mix might seem an obvious thing when you are Black and Jewish, even though this definition and mindset derive from the past.

I am not the victim of a faction. Above all, I hope that the factions which sad and pathetic people have today revived, will disappear in the future. So, looking forward, I am what I will be.