"To wonder about the name of a parliamentary hall is in no way an insult to history"

Grandstand. For a month, the images of the murder of George Floyd in the United States have created enormous emotion around the world. They also act as an indicator of hidden problems. Because it is not the emotion of the moment that in all countries pushes crowds to re-examine the symbols of a colonial or slavery past.

On the contrary, it is the fact that for too long these symbols have not been seen for what they were at the time when they were built: the celebration of an old order carrying racism and discrimination, at its heart in the case of the symbols of Confederation in the United States, or in its colonial margins among the European powers.

Settler errors

These questions are not anecdotal. They say as much about our societies as societies of the past which have left us these places, these traces, these monuments.

This is why former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was right to draw the attention of the French to the importance of the Black Code, through a proposal to rename a room of the French National Assembly which bears the name of its principal architect, the Minister of Louis XIV Jean-Baptiste Colbert ("How to understand that in the premises of the National Assembly a room still bears the name of Colbert?", The world June 13).

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also "Censorship cuts its sword on works which an arbitrary re-reading judges indiscriminately racialist or racist"

And the reactions that his invitation to debate aroused in France do not fail to surprise the historian of the first French colonial empire that I am, so much they indicate a poor understanding of the nature of this text, of the context in which it was prepared, and its legacy that leads us to today.

The Black Code is not in fact this "progress" brought to people enslaved in the French possessions of the Caribbean (that is to say, in 1680, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint-Christophe) by an elaborate text by a great state clerk wishing to put an end to the wanderings of the settlers installed in these distant lands.

The assertion of royal power

The Black Code is rather the birth certificate of colonial law, this misguided legal system which for three hundred years authorized in the colonies what the law and morals prohibited in metropolitan France: trafficking in human beings, slavery, then inferiority statuses (indigénat), forced labor, assumed non-respect of universalist principles, in the name of the superiority of the dominant over the dominated.

You have 63.19% of this article to read. The suite is reserved for subscribers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here