France and the Myth of the Colorblind Society

A controversial “anti-separatism” bill has set off an intense public debate in the country.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images


After a series of high-profile terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in France, the country finds itself in a heated debate over some of its most cherished values: laïcité, or secularism, and the principle of race-neutrality, or colorblindness, in public policy. A controversial new bill proposed by President Emmanuel Macron targeting “Islamic separatism” is meeting with fierce opposition. French author, journalist, and filmmaker Rokhaya Diallo joins guest host Vanessa A. Bee to discuss.

French President Emmanuel Macron: The problem at stake here is not our secular society, the French version of secular society, it’s about being able to practice one’s religion freely insofar as public order is maintained.

[Introduction music.]

Vanessa A. Bee: France is at a cultural crossroads. For more than a century, the country’s social and political life has been built around one particular idea: a secularism and universalism that places citizenship above all individual traits and identities. The French call this laïcité.

French newscasters: La laïcité…. laïcité…

… A l’origine de … c’est la laïcité.

… la laïcité à l’école.

… utilizer la laïcité.

… Le subjet de le temps … la laïcité.

VAB: But a rising generation of thinkers and activists, many of them French people of color, are challenging the notion that ignoring race, religion, and colonial history can actually produce equality for all. Now, a wave of terrorist attacks is pushing these issues into the public square and fueling a fierce culture war. This is Deconstructed and I’m Vanessa A. Bee, filling in for Ryan Grim this week.

On February 16, Frédérique Vidal, the French minister of advanced education and research announced a nationwide investigation into the country’s public university system. Her goal? To root out what she called “islamo-leftism.”

French newscasters: l’islamo-gauchisme… La polémique politique … “islamo-gauchisme.”

VAB: In public comments, the minister claimed that universities are harboring minorities who use their titles and auras to advance radical and militant ideas, ideas that she described as “a gangrene on French society.”

Frédérique Vidal: Je pense que l’islamo-gauchisme … n’est pas imperméable.

VAB: She singled out research on postcolonialism as an example.

FV: Le postcolonialisme …

Newscaster: The announcement was met with immediate outrage.

Protestors: Vidal! Vidal! [chanting in French].

Newscaster: Some 600 French academics signed an open letter calling for the resignation of the junior minister for higher education.

VAB: The renowned economics professor Thomas Piketty said that the minister had displayed a deep ignorance of research in the social sciences, and that she had acted irresponsibly, given the far-right’s growing power around the country. Indeed, the term islamo-leftism is a favorite in the French conservative arsenal.

Although the government’s spokesperson is eager to move on from the controversy, Vidal has since doubled-down on her investigation plans. Truth is, the minister is not waging this battle alone. Her supporters include high-profile colleagues like the minister of national education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, who himself blamed academic islamo-leftism back in October for a gruesome terrorist attack that claimed the life of a middle-school teacher. Blanquer went as far as suggesting that certain academics were intellectual accomplices to the killer.

You may be wondering: what is islamo-leftism?

The answer is a bit ambiguous, but the outlet France Inter recently published an etymology of the term that I found pretty helpful.

Combining “the left” with a scary reference to religion to spook people out is an old linguistic trick. In the 1930s, for example, the Nazi parties in both Germany and the United States frequently used the term judeo-bolshevism to spread the false idea that Jewish people plotted the Russian Revolution, in an effort to demonize both a religious minority and the political left.

Ironically, the term islamo-leftism appears to have been first coined by the philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff, in a 2002 text titled “The New Judeophobia.” In this essay, Taguieff described a political faction that tolerates Jewish people on the condition that they “display an unconditional Palestinophilia and fanatic anti-Zionism.” In his view, this faction — however caricatured — comprises the islamo-left. In other words, the left’s solidarity with a religious minority is what makes it the boogeyman here.

In the French language, the former refers to religious fanaticism whereas the latter encompasses the religion more broadly. But there’s an argument here that “islamo” is a root for both words, and thereby becomes a pejorative for all Muslim people, who in France comprise 10 percent of the population.

Regardless of how the ministers of education intended to use the term, the reality is that islamo-leftism has been appropriated — and is overwhelmingly used by the French right to attack progressives who argue that France does discriminate against Muslims, that France cannot seem to treat Black and Arab people as equals, and that France does see race, that wields it against people even as it has made it a taboo in the law and in public discourse.

In the last eight years, France has been hit by terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists that have killed around 250 people. The most recent one happened on October 16, 2020. A public middle-school teacher named Samuel Paty, during a class on the subject of free speech, had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. The caricatures were taken from an old issue of Charlie Hebdo magazine, which was itself the subject of a horrific terrorist attack in January 2015 — actually, the first of two mass shootings that year.

An 18-year-old religious extremist named Abdoullakh Anzorov heard about what Samuel Paty had done, tracked the middle school teacher down, and beheaded him in retaliation. The attack sparked thousands-strong marches and warnings from French politicians about radicalized Muslims, which the interior minister called “the enemy within.”

Newscaster: This was Paris on Sunday, when thousands of people joined a rally in the memory of Samuel Paty, and there were rallies in other cities, too.

Newscaster: The newest slogan on posters here: “I am Samuel” — or simply, “I am a teacher” — an echo of the rallying cry sparked by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo five years ago.

VAB: The October attack struck a chord — not only because of the sheer number of recent occurrences in France, but also because of where it took place.

As I alluded in the beginning of this episode, secularism and universalism are a fundamental part of France’s identity, and public school is an important site of indoctrination. It’s where children are taught the concept of laïcité from an early age.

France dislikes talking about race so much that in 2013, then-President François Hollande declared: “There is no place in the Republic for race.” He then went on to promise to remove the word from the French constitution altogether. (The measure did not pass the senate.)

It’s also illegal in France to use government funds to collect information about race. The roots of this commitment to colorblindness, at least rhetorically, go back to the Enlightenment, but it was influenced as well by the country’s participation in the Holocaust. France collected information on Jewish people and expelled around 75,000 from the country, sending them to their deaths.

And so assimilation is bred in the classroom and insisted upon for all newcomers. But many say that this color-blind, religion-blind system isn’t working, and that it’s breeding racism on a systemic level.

The French establishment’s response has been hostile and dismissive. They decry the importation of American thought, which they say is ill-suited to the fabric of French life. They accuse outspoken critics, like my guest today, of seeing race and racism everywhere — of being identitarians, in other words — of being racists for pointing out racism. They clutch their pearls at objections to the way they speak of people of color, claiming threats to their freedom of speech.

If it seems strange to hear me discuss killings and attacks by religious extremists in the same breath as questions of systemic discrimination, it’s because it is. In principle, these are two different subjects. Failures to protect religious and ethnic minorities do not excuse violence; nor does sharing a religion or country of origin with the killers make another group responsible for the actions of another. But in France these concepts are interconnected and difficult to disentangle. I think the government’s response to the middle school teacher’s murder illustrates why.

Consider this: The week after the killing, the interior minister announced dozens of raids and actions against more than 51 Muslim organizations and announced the mass expulsion from the country of more than 200 foreign citizens deemed radical — most of which were already behind bars. The same minister also decried the CCIF, the Collective Against Islamophobia. The CCIF is a French non-profit that maintains a register of anti-Muslim acts. The interior minister called the CCIF “an enemy of the Republic.”

And that’s not even the most bewildering part. After Samuel Paty’s death, the minister of education required all schools to observe a minute of silence on November 2. He also ordered teachers to report any and all inappropriate comments, however minor. Close to 400 reports came in. Astonishingly, at least 14 minors were taken into police custody and held for questioning because of comments they made at school relating to the killing. The New York Times reported that one student was strip-searched and held for 8 hours for questioning the commemoration of the teacher’s death, and for having said in class, during a debate, that “Paty had asked for it.” Four 10-year-olds of Algerian and Turkish origin were questioned by the police for giving the wrong answer when their teacher asked if he risked decapitation by showing them caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

When the Macron administration’s response to the October attack sparked criticism in the global media, Macron actually picked up the phone and called the New York Times to accuse the so-called Anglo-American press of blaming the victim, of legitimizing the violence, and failing to understand laïcité.

“Our model is universalist, not multiculturalist,” Macron said, adding: “In our society, I don’t care whether someone is Black, yellow or white, whether they are Catholic or Muslim, a person is first and foremost a citizen.”

But Mr. President, what if that is the problem?

[Musical interlude.]

VAB: Today’s guest is Rokhaya Diallo. Rokhaya is a French journalist, writer, and filmmaker. She has directed several documentaries including “Acting While Black: Blackness On French Screens,” which came out in 2020. She is the author of several books and a co-host of the biweekly podcast Kiffe Ta Race, which explores questions of race in French.

Rokhaya, thank you for joining us today. It’s such a pleasure to have you on Deconstructed.

Rokhaya Diallo: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really glad and honored.

VAB: So before we begin, I want to ask you a question that you often ask your guests on your own podcast. How do you identify?

RD: I grew up in and was born and raised in Paris, where I still live. And it took me some time to understand that I was a Black woman. So I identify today as a Black, Muslim woman.

VAB: I will do the same. I am not Muslim, but I am Black. Born in Cameroon, but grew up in France since I was a baby. So I’m French and American with some British influences, which is to say I feel very European, very American, and pretty African. And I’m very interested, for these reasons, in the subject that we’re going to talk about today.

RD: Great.

VAB: So as I was preparing, I realized that the discourse around race in France is so complex, and so far-reaching that it’s hard to figure out where to start to give American listeners a basic sense of the culture wars shaping up in France. But a good place to start may be with laïcité, which claims to see no color, no creed, no origin, just citizenship. But now an increasing number of critics, including yourself, are challenging assumptions around what laïcité means and what its effects have been on various populations around the country.

So with the understanding that critics are not a monolith, or a single voice, I’d love to hear what you see at the heart of this cultural debate, and what reforms critics are asking for when they bring up these issues around race.

RD: Thank you for that great question. As you said, there are many assumptions around laïcité. So it’s a concept that was introduced into law in 1905 in France, and the purpose of the law was two things: The first one was to separate the state from the religion and the majority religion at that time was Catholicism, and it was a way to protect the state over the influence of the church. And the other point of laïcité is that the state doesn’t recognize any religion.

And I think that there have been a discursive way of interpreting laïcité so that some people today think that laïcité means that you have to hide your religion if you have one in order to blend into what is supposed to be the French identity, but it’s not the case. Officially, if you look at the text of laïcité, it only makes sure that there is no inequality between between people, whether they are believers or not, and, you know, whatever their religion is.

VAB: I mean, bringing up these issues around race, what are academics and outspoken activists asking for? What is the end goal?

RD: The thing is that more and more laïcité is claimed by people who frame it into something that is supposed to erase everything that is religious, to weaponize it against Muslims.

Laïcité hadn’t been debated that much after the beginning of the 20th century. And it was certainly part of the public debate in the end of the 80s, because there were two school girls who wanted to go to their middle schools with their headscarves, they were Muslims. And from that point, every time laïcité was invoked, it was to make it face Muslims and Islam, and to make Muslims understand that the way that they could display their beliefs didn’t really fit to France.

And according to me, it’s not the purpose of the laïcité initially, but it’s weaponizing the public debate as a tool of Islamophobia. And it’s pushed more and more to make sure that Muslims don’t have the space to express themselves as being visibly Muslims.

VAB: Right. The French establishment — and by this I mean prominent media figures and politicians — often pit universalism and multiculturalism, they claim these things are in conflict, and that there can’t be a secular society where French citizenship comes first if identity, including religion, is permitted to enter the discourse. Do you see a tension between universalism and multiculturalism? Must it be one or the other?

RD: I think it’s not one or the other.

First of all, I think that universalism here in France is a myth. It’s something that is shaped around the idea that the white and Christian identity is neutral, and everything that doesn’t fit to the definition, is seen as being non-universal. And I think that, you know, people don’t know that France still has some departments who used to be colonies. It means that France is present on the European soil, but not only. It’s also on three other continents, with some departments that are in the Caribbean, like Martinique and Guadeloupe, some other close to Africa, like the Réunion Island, or Mayotte, and other places in the Pacific Ocean, whether it’s the French Polynesia or the New Caledonia. So it means that we in France are all over four continents. And having citizens who are dispatched around the word means that it’s not possible to have one single culture and one single language. So even if French is officially the language of the French people, there are several different cultures in France.

And it’s not possible to say that France is a one-culture country, as long as it does have citizens who are from Native American-people descent, for example, for those who are in the French Guiana; you have people who are from enslaved people descent, in the Caribbean, in the Indian Ocean; you have so many different people in the culture; and even in the French mainland, you have people whose ancestors have come from many different places. So I think that we are telling ourselves a myth that is nowhere close to the truth.

VAB: The French establishment, I think, including on the center and some parts of the left, has not received this reminder about its own geography, in a way, and its own history very positively. I want to give listeners a sense of the hostility there by reading a passage from a speech that President Emmanuel Macron gave in October 2020. It’s a little bit long, but I’ll read it out and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

So, here’s Macron. He says: “[…] we’re a country with a colonial past and traumas it still hasn’t resolved, with facts that underpin our collective psyche, our project, the way we see ourselves.

The Algerian War is a part of this, and basically this whole period of our history is being replayed, as it were, because we’ve never unpacked things ourselves. And so we see children of the Republic, sometimes from elsewhere, children or grandchildren of today’s citizens of immigrant origin from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, revisiting their identity through a postcolonial or anti-colonial discourse.

We see children in the Republic who have never experienced colonization, whose parents are on our soil and whose grandparents have been for a long time, but who fall into the – again deliberate – trap of some others who use this discourse, this form of self-hatred that [they say] the Republic should nurture against itself, but also taboos we ourselves have maintained that make their origins mirror our history and also fuel this separatism.”

So, long passage here, and there’s a lot to unpack in this passage, Rokhaya. But I was particularly struck by the suggestion that asking France to do some introspection, to acknowledge the sort of internal diversity and these internal conflicts, amounts to self-hatred, and this idea that criticism based on postcolonial or anti-colonial analysis equals separatism. Those are strong accusations.

What do you make of that framing? Is Macron misunderstanding the criticism at issue here?

RD: I think it was a great mistake to say that because there is also that suspicion around people who are the children or the grandchildren of the people who are colonized, that they are not really lawful to the republic, and saying that there is a link, a connection, a continuum between the colonial times and today’s racism is just something that is very logical. You don’t have to study that much to see that.

Obviously, today, if you go to France, there are some ghettos where people who are from colonial descent live more and they face racism, they face discrimination, it has been documented a lot. And I was telling you about those French departments, who used to be the place where enslaved Africans were working for free for the sake of France, there are still now departments in which the majority of people of color, and they are structurally discriminated against.

So saying that is not being self-hateful; it’s just pointing out the fact that the French Republic is not perfect. And I would say that if you don’t care about France, you don’t say anything. I think that people who care about France, they try their best to remind the country of its own principles. And I think that if you criticize your country, it doesn’t mean that you hate it, it just means that you believe in it, and that you demand it to fit with principles and values.

VAB: That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned in that answer ghettos around the country. That’s something that Macron recently acknowledged — the ghettoization of Muslims in the banlieue — which I think has always been rather obvious, and yet him even speaking that was a sort of radical move. It seems like a step in the positive direction. But the admission that there are ghettos that sort of segregate people by color and religion in France also contradicts the official line that the French Republic is a colorblind society.

I’m wondering if it goes further than that? I mean, do you think the French government has any responsibility for the ghettoization and segregation of people of color in housing and jobs in other sectors of the economy? In other words, is the government to blame for racialization a little bit?

RD: I think we cannot put it only on the shoulders of the current government. I think that the responsibility should be shared by several different governments, and it’s not up to Macron to just solve the problem magically.

And I think it’s a good thing that he acknowledged the fact that there were obviously mistreatments that were that some people in the country we’re facing. I think it has much to do with the fact that it’s very difficult in France to speak about race openly. We don’t have that many opportunities to speak about race. And if you don’t really have a public discourse on something that is so obvious, it’s very difficult to create the policies in order to try to dismantle that system. That’s what is lacking today, the fact that we don’t have many grounds to try to tackle racism, because you don’t have public policies that really explicitly address race.

VAB: Now that there is a somewhat public discourse around race going on, one complaint I’ve seen from the French establishment is that there was a problematic Americanization of the debate on race, and that academics and activists are importing things like critical race theory from the United States through social media and other means, and that they’re forcing it onto French issues which, in their view, doesn’t map cleanly onto France’s unique history and unique values. Is there any truth in that? Is there an American influence of thought? And if so, do you think it has its limits?

RD: So France and the U.S. have been influencing each other for a very long time. France supported the American Revolution in the 18th century. So it’s not something that is new. The countries have been influencing each other for a very long time. But saying that the issues of race that are debated today in France by scholars, by activists are imported by the U.S. is a way to deny the fact that there is a very local, specific reason to debate race in France, and it’s not something that just suddenly appeared today.

France has also a past with the slave trade; it has a past with the colonies; it was the second largest colonial empire after the British Empire in the 20th century. So what we’re dealing with today has much to do with that history.

And I think that we tend to erase the heroes of the resistance against slavery, against colonization, that stood against France from history books. That’s the reason why we have so many monuments or public facilities that are named after Martin Luther King, after Rosa Parks, after Nelson Mandela, who were great figures, but who are not French.

So it’s like there is that kind of collective denial of the fact that something happened here in France, and whoever tries to address it that is sent back to the U.S. — but the U.S. were also founded by Europeans. So it’s also important to remind [people of] the fact that the country was, of course, founded on a genocide and then on a horrendous slave trade. But it was founded by Europeans who crossed the Atlantic with European ideologies. And I think that we miss the point if we think that racism was only a constriction of the U.S. And I also would like to remind [people], I already said it, but the fact that France is in the Americas. There are French territories that are in America. So it means that we don’t need to import anything from the American continent, since we’re already, as a French country, on the American soil. And it’s something that people tend to forget.

VAB: Even if we were to take at face value this argument that there is an Americanization of the debate, I think the argument around that — around importation — ignores the fact that the people bringing the criticisms, often people of color, often people born in France, raised in French school, since they were little, are products of the French system. And even if they are seeing and importing these American arguments, it means that they are seeing relevance in them, and they are adapting them to analyze French issues. Which I think means —

RD: — I totally agree. Sorry. But I would like to jump in because —

VAB: Of course. Of course!

RD: I totally agree. I think it’s a very patronizing way of just looking at them. Because even if you use some of the theories that were created in the U.S., you’re still French. And it’s like saying that those people would be unable to analyze their own country, because they would be manipulated by some people who have never left a futon in France. So it’s very, very patronizing.

VAB: Yeah. There’s so much of a double standard going on here where French nationality is sometimes all-encompassing: when we’re all watching the World Cup together, everybody is French. And then it becomes conditional when convenient.

It kind of reminds me actually of when the socialist President François Hollande, responded to the Paris terror attacks by proposing — I’m not sure if you recall that, I am sure you do — that terrorists with dual citizenships be stripped of their French citizenship.

RD: Yes, I do.

VAB: But of course, if a white French person with only one nationality committed the same horrible crime, their citizenship would never be in question. And the bill didn’t pass, but the fact that the president — from the left — would propose it, I thought was very telling. And you have these moments of crisis around the country of intense pressure, where I think France reveals its true face and the weakness in its own narrative around laïcité, secularism, and universalism.

RD: It was shocking. And, you know, the assumption on that is that people who attack France have ties to other countries — they are not truly French — and they should be sent back to the country that they really belong to. And it’s something very disgraceful because if you attack your country, there is a set of laws that are meant to punish you. So you don’t mean to add something very specific to the people who are supposedly not that French.

VAB: Right. We talked a little bit about denial and denial of France’s own problems, and I want to go back to that. The summer of 2020 and George Floyd protests that spread after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, those protests spread around the world, including to France. And that summer, the movement seeking justice for victims of police violence in France, including for Adama Traoré, a young black Frenchman who died in police custody in 2016, that movement gained a lot of traction and there were thousands in the street asking France, I think, to kind of provide answers and to reckon with its own police problem. Last summer’s protests weren’t the country’s first against police brutality and racism, right?

RD: Yes, of course, there have been protests in France for a very long time. There was, for example, in the ‘80s, in 1983, the March for Equality and Against Racism that was started by a young man whose name is Toumi Djaïdja, because he was the victim of police brutality. He was from Algerian descent and he decided to start a march, which ended up being in the first national march against racism.

There have been uprisings in 2005, after the death of two young teenagers who were chased by the police for no reason. They ended up being electrocuted in a power station and not being rescued by the police, so two of them died, and they were 15 and 17. And it was the beginning of an incredible wave of uprisings, first of all, in the suburbs of Paris, but then on all the French soil — the French territories.

And early in the 90s there were also several uprisings following police brutality. So it’s something that has been happening a lot, and actually the family of Adama that you mentioned, who died in 2016, started to protest the very day of his death. So they have been organizing marches like every year on the place where he lost his life since 2016.

George Floyd’s tragic death just gave activists around the world an opportunity, even if it’s in very sad circumstances, an opportunity just to push the local media and the local police station to pay attention to what was going on in the country, instead of only covering the U.S.’s racist crimes.

VAB: I want to talk a little bit about coverage. So President Macron caught a lot of bad press after the killing of Samuel Paty, the middle school teacher, for ordering dozens of raids on Arab homes and Muslim organizations. Macron hit back what he calls the anglo-American press by accusing them of being incapable of understanding French conditions and values.

You are a French journalist, but you also write for the op-ed section of the Washington Post, where you bring a unique insider perspective on French questions. So having a foot on both the French and Anglo sides of the media ecosystem, do you agree with Macron on any level here? Is there value? Or do you see value in outsider commentary on the Hexagon?

RD: There is this idea that there is in France what we call “exception culturelle” — so the cultural exception — that implies the fact that our culture is so refined, so specific, that it would be so difficult for people who are not French to understand us. And I don’t think it’s the case.

And the thing is that yes, I do write for the Washington Post from my French perspective. And what I write in the Washington Post is the exact same thing that I would say in French. And I think that what the international — and especially the American and some British press — have been able to echo is the voices of people who are unheard in class, and who are not that much interviewed in the French newspapers. And I think that some voices, especially minority voices, women’s voices, are not really acknowledged in their local context. And the fact that some foreign press would take them into account and value their voices, of course, from a very different image of France than the one that is usually exported, but to me, it’s a good thing. And I’m sure that some people, including Emmanuel Macron, are very surprised to see that those minority voices have so much space out of the country, because they’re not really valued here.

But it’s, to me, a good way to change the narrative about France. And for example, the New York Times has a bureau here in Paris. And in their bureau, there are French journalists who know the country as much as Emmanuel Macron does. So there is no reason to start a controversy on that because those people know that they work and they speak about France in a way that is very accurate.

VAB: This ties in to another facet of this debate, which is the question of free speech. A common complaint from the French establishment is that mentioning how people of color are talked about in France and for instance, denouncing the pejorative words that are used to describe them — to describe us — the caricatures made of them, of their religious beliefs, threatens their own freedom of speech.

Yet, Macron was clearly upset that the foreign press would use their free speech to paint his actions in a harsh light. I think that’s policing free speech. When a few days ago, the government and particularly the Minister of Advanced Education Frédérique Vidal announced an investigation into university departments that are doing postcolonial research, that was also clearly policing free speech — which is to say that I’m not convinced that France is actually the sort of beacon of enlightenment and free speech that it claims it is.

What do you make of that? And more broadly, you’re in the public light a lot, talking about these issues, forcing them into the discourse; have you found that the public and the French establishment have been open to directly engaging on these complex issues around race and civil rights?

RD: Thank you for that great question. I think it’s the other way around. It’s very difficult in France to be a public figure and to try to speak about race, or about gender.

You know, if you just watched the French TV, listened to the French radio, or read the French newspaper, they’re not that many voices like mine. And I have faced much backlash for saying what I say. I can name some artists who tried to address patriarchy, racism, and how much they’ve been in trouble for that, because they were certainly not the beautiful women who were smiling at the camera — but who are deeply thoughtful on current issues and who were determined to speak the truth to power.

So I think that if there is a threat regarding freedom of speech, a threat that could come from an institution, it’s on the free speech of minorities. I face being expected to take part in a public debate and having the debate canceled by a mayor, by a public institution, because I was the woman who was claiming that there was state-sponsored racism in France. And I’ve faced so many consequences for saying that. And, you know, I’m an individual, I don’t belong to any organization. And what I’ve experienced is being shut down by an institution, by someone who represents the Republic. I’ve even been sued for saying something by a mayor, so she used public money to sue me. I was released at the end of the day, but it cost public money to sue me for saying what I was saying, as a French journalist by a mayor. And I never hear anyone saying, you know anything about that, because I’m not the only one.

So I think it’s still difficult to navigate into the public space if you are a minority and trying to address racism.

VAB: Well, Rokhaya, I’m certainly very grateful that we were able to get your perspective on this complex subject here on Deconstructed. Where can listeners find your latest work?

RD: You can follow me on Twitter and read my pieces, which are in English, on the Washington Post, you have a page with all my pieces that are published about social issues and generational issues of human rights in France. So just follow me on Twitter and it’s pinned on my profile.

VAB: Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us.

RD: Thank you. It was a great pleasure. Thank you for listening to me.

VAB: That was Rokhaya Diallo, a French journalist, writer, filmmaker, and co-host of the podcast Kiffe Ta Race.

While there are no easy answers to the challenges facing France today, I hope that today’s episode helped shed some light on the so-called islamo-leftism controversy and the state of race in France.

[Credits music.]

VAB: Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Our supervising producer is Laura Flynn. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Vanessa A. Bee. You can follow me on Twitter @Vanessa_ABee.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice — iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

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