French Minister Trashes Muslim Women With Anti-Black Slur: Will She Be Sacked?

Laurence Rossignol's shocking remarks put French "laboratory of Islamophobia" on display.

Laurence Rossignol faces growing uproar in response to her racist and Islamophobic statements.
Photo Credit: AFP

Thousands are demanding justice after France’s minister for family, children and women’s rights hurled a racist epithet against African-Americans in an effort to denigrate Muslim women who wear hijabs.

Laurence Rossignol made the comments on Thursday in an interview with RMC radio and BFM TV, during which she slammed retailers who design products for Muslim women, such as hijabs, arguing that these companies are “promoting the confinement of women’s bodies.”

When the journalist pressed Rossignol, arguing that some women choose to wear such items, the minister retorted: “Of course there are women who choose it. There were American negroes who were in favor of slavery.”

The French word that Rossignol chose to use, "nègres," is a particularly offensive and outdated term with colonial undertones. It is equivalent to the English word “negro,” and some argue it is as bad as the slur “n*gger.” The French word contrasts with other terms that are considered less offensive, such as “les noirs” and “les blacks.”

Rossignol’s use of this word has historic significance in a country that saw the birth of the mid-20th century “Négritude” movement, in which French writers and artists of African descent such as Aimé Césaire culturally reappropriated the term as an expression of identity and resistance.

Rossignol later admitted in an interview with AFP that she had used offensive language, stating: “I didn’t take into account the most widespread perception [of the word]—that one doesn’t say negro even if it is allowed in respect to slavery.”

But in in the same breath, Rossingol dug in her heels, declaring, “Outside of this error of language, I am not retracting a single word I said."

Rossignol’s comments instantly provoked uproar, with over 8,000 people signing an online petition demanding that the minister be “punished” for her racism. The statement declares that that the minister’s words constitute “an insult to the memory of millions of individuals, families and countries destroyed by slavery and its consequences.”

“It is terrible to see that persistent anti-black racism is used to justify and legitimize a gendered Islamophobia,” the petition adds.

Interviewed from Paris by AlterNet, Yasser Louati, spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, said that “racism, especially Islamophobia, is completely normal” in his country. This bigotry extends from the far right as well as the supposed progressive wings of the government, he argued, noting that Rossignol hails from the Socialist party.

“We have to keep in mind that France is the laboratory of Islamophobia, just like it was the laboratory of anti-Semitism in the 1930s,” Louati continued. “When you have a country being turned into a police state to justify mass surveillance and adopt the excesses of the U.S. Patriot Act, the dehumanization of Muslims makes it possible to play around with human rights and democracy.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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