Why the French use the English word ‘black’

The French language is replete with words borrowed from English, like ‘weekend’ and ‘podcasting.’ But French speakers’ use of ‘black’ is in a category of its own: this one short syllable tells the story of France’s racial and colonial legacies and how they stack up against U.S. history, from slavery to Black Lives Matter. Both countries are idealistic, rooted in 18th-century revolutions and grand principles. But while many in the US value racial and ethnic difference, France sees itself as a color-blind society that rejects the race-based policies of its past. So, using the French word noir is almost un-French—prompting many Black French citizens to embrace ‘black.’  Reporting this episode is former Paris resident, Emma Jacobs.

More about Emma Jacobs here and here. Music by Martin Klem, Medité, Trabant 33, Podington Bear and Blue Dot Sessions. Photo by Lea Dasenka. 

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