"We don't have that kind of problem here. This isn't the United States!"
That's the definitive response I received from a white professor at the Université de Provence when I raised my hand to ask about the dynamics of race in France. It was the winter of 2003, two years before the minority uprisings that followed the tragic deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore -- black and brown youth who died fleeing French police. I was in France for the first time, a junior in college, and knew little about French racism. I'd not yet read trenchant work of Franz Fanon and France's "Representative Council of Black Associations" would not exist for another two years. Embarrassed and flustered by the professor's dismissive answer, I nodded and continued taking notes. After class, one of the only other black students pulled me aside: “We do have those kinds of problems here. Hang with me and I’ll tell you about it.”
I've been hanging out with French people of color ever since, listening to their stories about what it's like navigating racism in a country that officially frames itself as "colorblind". My friendship with that student and her family introduced me to complexities of (anti)blackness in France. Her family had sojourned from Cameroon and struggled to integrate in a new society that was not especially welcoming to Muslims or Africans. At the same time, I learned that French Caribbeans were often portrayed as "relatively privileged" compared to other people of African descent. At the conclusion of my study abroad program, I vowed to return to the country one day to deepen my understanding of race in France and debunk the denial I heard from my white French professor.
After earning degrees in Sociology and French from Wellesley College (2004), I went on to complete an A.M. (2007) and Ph.D. in Sociology at Harvard University (2011). For my doctoral research, I spent over two years living in Paris collecting qualitative data to reveal how France's involvement in transatlantic slavery is represented, racialized and debated today. While in France, I worked at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization for the Slave Route Project and appeared frequently on French TV and radio to discuss race and politics. In 2012, my doctoral thesis won the Georges-Lavau Award from the American Political Science Association for the best dissertation on contemporary French politics.
Since 2011, I've been an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. My first book Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France was published in 2017 by Temple University Press. I teach a mix of graduate and undergraduate courses on race/ethnicity, methods and theory. I also run the Critical Race & Intersectionality Reading Group and am currently the faculty advisor to SBU's Black Graduate Student Organization.
In addition to research, teaching and mentoring, I love running, exploring nature, meditating and expressing my creativity through writing, singing and throwing down in the kitchen. I'm passionate about promoting holistic wellness in academia and beyond.
You can check out some of my original songs below..