‘Le wokisme’: France wrestles with wokeness as latest American import
French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife Brigitte Macron, left, and French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer talk prior to a dictation in support for the European Leukodystrophy Association (ELA), at a school in Boissy-Saint-Leger, east of Paris Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.(AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus/AP
‘Le wokisme’: France wrestles with wokeness as latest American import
Katherine Doyle November 28, 07:00 AMNovember 28, 07:00 AM
PARIS — For four November days, France’s aspiring leaders traipsed through a conference center on the outskirts of Paris, tasting regional delicacies, trying on specialty wares, and posing for selfies at the ninth Made in France showcase.
It’s a widely watched stop for French politicos who claim to hold the line against the forces of globalization that have decimated the country’s local industrial economies and led to surging unemployment.
Now, some fear that predatory global influences have designs on another target: France’s fiercely protected language and culture.
Broadcasting quotas dictate that French content must make up at least a third, and sometimes more, of the music and entertainment on radio and television. And there are rules governing the use of French language in advertising, public schools, and the workplace.
Pushed to adopt American neologisms, France has coined its versions, adding to last year’s edition of the Petit Larousse dictionary terms such as “le locavorisme,” “adulescence,” a contraction of “adult” and “adolescence” akin to “kidulthood,” “la cryptomonnaie” for cryptocurrency, “Ubériser” meaning the use of Uber-like service economy apps or “Uberization,” and “suprémacisme,” as in “white.”
For “inclusif,” a word for “all-in,” the Larousse added a second meaning, inclusivity, and has been newly stretched to encompass a multi-gendered style of writing known as “ecriture inclusive.”
While France shares cultural touchstones with the United States and counts itself as America’s oldest ally, pressure to maintain its distinct identity and secular traditions are increasingly fraught.
Now, France is wrestling with trying to chart a path that embraces some change without the totalitarian shift that some urging reform in the U.S. demand.
Some see the left-wing identity politics that have prompted a cultural revolution in the U.S. segueing across the Atlantic — and they don’t like it.
Inside liberal media institutions, “L’esprit Charlie” is out of favor among a new generation of French writers and their readers, cleaving them from marginally older colleagues.
Le Figaro wrote last month about how one member of the Le Monde and L’Obs editorial boards protested a special edition of L’Obs on slavery in French history, charging that a singular lens applied to the nation’s history was antithetical to the French Left. He stepped down from the post amid rebuke from his colleagues.
According to Pierre Valentin, who works with Le Laboratoire de la République, a new government think-tank, the divides don’t fall along clear ideological lines.
“We have a Left that topples statues. We have a Left that renames streets. We have a Left that thinks that rationality in French universalism, laicite, and fighting against Islamism are all white heteronormative social constructs,” Valentin said. “And then you have a Left, in the Charlie Hebdo spirit, saying, ‘Well, actually, what we’ve always stood up for, is these things.’”
Valentin said each sees the other group as part of the problem.
“You see both Lefts saying, ‘Oh, no, no, you’re actually the reactionary. You’re actually the right-winger,’” he added. “It’s like the Spiderman meme.”
That is, an image of Spiderman pointing at his identical likeness used to suggest that something you thought about someone else was about you all along.
Authors such as Mathieu Bock-Côté, a columnist for Le Figaro, blame the influence of America’s liberalized economy for the shift.
“If we don’t adopt the language of ‘systemic racism,’ if we don’t adopt the language of diversity, it is as if we have fallen behind,” said Bock-Côté, a Quebec-native.
But the issue goes beyond ideas of racial justice and gender identity imported from America’s ivory tower institutions. France has struggled to assimilate its Muslim population over decades, now a third rail in the nation’s political landscape, which can make or break political fortunes.
Earlier this year, the topic surfaced in a pair of letters, one authored by nearly two dozen retired generals. Addressed to French President Emanuel Macron and his government, the letter denounced “the disintegration that is affecting our country,” warning of rising crime and Islamic terror attacks, including the beheading of a middle school teacher last year.
Blame for this falls on “anti-racism,” which the authors say stirs hatred. They also point the finger at radical Islam.
A second letter followed, this time signed by some 2,000 enlisted soldiers who served on the front lines of Mali, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere fighting radical terrorism. The authors argue that France is on its way to becoming “a failed state,” pinning this in part on France’s identity politics, or “communitarianism.”
“We see violence in our towns and villages. We see communitarianism taking hold in the public space, in public debate. We see hatred of France and its history becoming the norm,” the letter states.
A majority of the population appears to agree.
According to a Harris Interactive poll, 58% of the French public agreed with the “disintegration” premise laid out in the first letter, including 46% of people who support Macron’s centrist La Republique En Marche party. On the left, 43% of far-left party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise supporters agreed.
And outside the confines of France’s fractured left-leaning political groups, there is broad public support for combating the spread of anti-racist language.
According to the April Harris Interactive poll, 74% of the French public believe “anti-racism” has “the opposite effect.”
In a 2020 speech, Macron confronted the idea head-on, making international news when he proclaimed that “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States” were prompting a radical deconstruction of some French identities.
Later, Macron said the “ethnicization of the social question” drawn from American influence was “breaking the republic in two.”
Aware of the brewing political climate, the president has taken pains to emphasize France “first.”
He is often praised for his astute political sensibilities and success shattering France’s left-leaning voting bloc, rendering his liberal opposition toothless, while dividing the political Right. Critics say his anti- “woke” screeds reflect an effort to capture some right-leaning and center-right voters after alienating many on the left with his pro-business stances.
A symbolic move early in his presidency, when he reverted the tricolor flag to a pre-1976 blue, is another example of his appeals to nationalist sentiment. The change went unnoticed until a recent book revealed the decision. According to a Palace official, the new shade, a dark navy rather than the brighter blue which used to mimic the European flag, “evokes the memory” of those who fought in the French Revolution, and later, in the trenches of World War I and resisted the WWII invasion.
The France-first focus hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Competition from cheap labor outside France has routed manufacturing and industry know-how over the last decades and became a divisive issue in the last presidential election.
The president will need to overcome skepticism to fend off political rivals who have made a stronger claim to France’s heritage over decades.
© 2021 Washington Examiner
Originally appeared at Washington Examiner