Fri. Jun 18th, 2021

Elisabeth Moreno, a Black woman in charge of diversity in Emmanuel Macron’s government, slammed “cancel culture” in a strong rebuke of U.S.-style wokeness.

“The ‘woke’ culture is something very dangerous, and we shouldn’t bring it to France,” the French delegate minister for gender equality and diversity told Bloomberg Tuesday on the sidelines of a TV interview, saying that the excesses of cancel culture “kick out people from ongoing debates because they think otherwise.”

The 50-year-old, born in the African archipelago of Cape Verde, said that while the greater awareness of social, gender and racial inequalities and injustice that comes with “woke culture” in the U.S. is a welcome development, no one should be shut out of the conversation.

“People are speaking up and that’s good,” Moreno said. “Everyone should fight discrimination. You can’t ask someone not to speak about a topic because the person doesn’t feel legitimate. It makes no sense.”

While the term “woke” has French roots and was quickly adopted by some in France, the notion is being criticized as a U.S. import that leads to censorship and intolerance in the name of political correctness. Moreno herself once said that White men were usually favored when it comes to finding a job, but quickly added that she didn’t want to use the term “White privilege” because it was a controversial U.S. notion.

It won’t be the first time Macron and his government have presented a different read on social campaigns that have taken the U.S. by storm. Although the MeToo movement made some ripples in France, Macron criticized it, saying he didn’t want a “society where every man/woman interaction is suspected of domination,” adding that he didn’t want to live in a “puritanical society.”

Deep Discomfort

In France, a diverse country that has yet to come to terms with its colonial past and is proud of having provided refuge to Black people fleeing U.S. racism in the 20th century, from author James Baldwin and singer and composer Nina Simone to entertainer Josephine Baker, conversations about race and ethnicity create deep discomfort.

Elisabeth Moreno and Emmanuel Macron

Photographer: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

With ethnic profiling by the Nazis and their allies during World War II scarring the country, such statistics are taboo and subject to legal scrutiny, making it difficult for companies and police forces to assess diversity among their ranks. But Moreno says that misses the point.

“It’s wrong to focus on the issue of ethnic statistics — you don’t need stats to see that there are problems of inclusion in companies,” Moreno said. “We are not lacking laws, we are lacking compliance of laws.”

French officials are reluctant to introduce racial quotas or affirmative action, citing the country’s self-professed Republican and color-blind culture. Moreno says she doesn’t want to be seen as successful because of her gender or race, but for her accomplishments.

“French universalism means that, in the French Republic, we want to recognize people per se, not because they are women or LGBT+ or because they have a different ethnicity or whatever.”

Failing Minorities

That universalism, however, has largely failed to give racial minorities a shot at top slots in most walks of French life. None of the biggest companies in France is led by a minority. A study by Institut Montaigne showed that people with Muslim-sounding names on resumes are less likely to be called in for job interviews. Inequalities were also laid bare by the pandemic, with the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, predominantly housing Black, Arab and other minorities, one of the worst affected by the crisis.