Shay Youngblood’s Paris: A Time of Immigration and Racism

by Naa Kai Koppoe 

Black Girl In Paris, takes place in France in 1986. The main character in the novel, Eden, travels to Paris to find James Baldwinm and she wants to experience love. Throughout the novel, the reader can sense tension between the various groups such as the police and immigrants. Eden is fearful of the bombs that go off without warning, and she is also afraid of having her papers checked by the police. Eden makes friends with a Haitian, Olu-Christophe, and at a point in the novel, he is dragged away by the police, never to be seen again.

Little information about the time frame in which Shay Youngblood was in Paris can be found, but one can assume that she was in Paris during the same time Eden is.  During the late twentieth century, immigration from North Africa increased, resulting in turmoil, tension, and racism in French society. Understanding the conflict between the North Africans and the French is imperative for grasping what is happening in the novel. After World War II, an influx of Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian immigrants came into France. France was looking to “rebuild its war-torn economy” (Laachir); therefore it was logical for people from its ex-colonies to immigrate to France. The North Africans arrived in Paris to fulfill the demand for workers to help rebuild France. They were unskilled laborers, and because they were in need of money, they were willing to work for lower wages than the local Frenchmen, and labor riots increased in industrial towns. In many instances the conflict over the availability of jobs ended in violence. Despite the fact that the need for workers gradually decreased, immigrants both legal and illegal steadily increased.

In addition to economic conflict, problems stemmed from French perception of  North African immigrants. The North Africans were viewed as the reason for the end of economic success in France, and as a result immigration became a more frequented topic (Laachir). In 1986, the Prime Minister of France, Jacques Chirac, adopted a resolution to make tougher laws for immigration. It allowed for local administration to remove immigrants, reserved the right of automatic citizenship, and gave more power to police to refuse entry into the country (Seljuq). These measures contributed to the view that the North African immigrants did not belong in the country, and as a result, dramatic increase in racism. While these measures helped reduce the number of illegal immigrants, the French attitude changed toward both immigrants and people who migrated generations before. Many people in France viewed Muslims as outcasts, and those labels solidified their impression of North Africans. North Africans were referred to as “second-generation immigrants” or “young Arabs” (Laachir) regardless of the length of time they had been in the country. The French desire to see immigration from North African end and their desire to see North Africans removed from the country caused  a change in the way North Africans were treated.

The Paris Shay Youngblood and Eden experience is a Paris full of turmoil.The country was trying to find a way to deal with the influx of North African immigrants. However, the way the French reacted to the North African presence  caused more trouble. The bombings that took place throughout the city caused Frenchmen to look upon North African immigrants with suspicion. Dalil Boubakeur, the Imam of the Paris Mosque, said in an interview that “what we fear is that France comes to see every Muslim as a potential terrorist” (Laachir). His fear was legitimate because as a result of the terrorist acts, North Africans were treated as though they were terrorists, regardless of whether they were an activist or a normal citizen. North African immigrants had to deal with intense racism and their financial situation made life difficult for them. Paris in the late twentieth century was a difficult place for one to be North African, and these struggles are highlighted throughout Shay Youngblood’s novel.

Works Cited

Laachir, Karima. “France’s ‘Ethnic’ Minorities and the Question of Exclusion.”Mediterranean Politics 12.1 (2007): 99-105. Web. 14 November 2010.

Seljuq, Affan. “Cultural Conflicts: North African Immigrants in France.” The International Journal of Peace Studies 2.2 (1997). Web. 14 November 2010.

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