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'Racist slurs hurt my kids' says black minister

AFP/The Local · 21 Nov 2013, 16:20

Published: 21 Nov 2013 16:20 GMT+01:00

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France's top black politician on Thursday opened up about the pain her loved  ones had suffered over a string of racist slurs as the initially subdued reaction to them belatedly turned to outrage.

"The problem is above all for those close to me who see all that," the 61-year-old minister said in an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper.

"It is very hard, very aggressive as an image for my children.

"But it goes far beyond my case. This displaying of racism is a problem for everyone. It tarnishes France. It is not just one isolated person that is being called a monkey, it is a government minister, the justice minister."

Taubira has been publicly critical of her government colleagues for the tepid nature of their reaction when the issue first flared up last month following the expulsion of an electoral candidate from the far-right National Front party for her observation that she would prefer to see the minister "swinging from the branches rather than in government."

SEE ALSO: Far right sues black French minister amid 'monkey' scandal

A series of possibly copycat incidents have followed and Taubira was on Thursday presented with a petition expressing support and sympathy that was signed by over 100,000 people, including some of France's best-known personalities.

In a statement that recalled Taubira's complaint about the lack of "loud and strong" voices speaking up on her behalf, the organiser of the petition, Green activist Steevy Gustave told the minister: "You asked for these beautiful voices. Today they have been heard.

"We are the firemen who have come to extinguish the flames of hatred."

A class act

Among the celebrities present at the handover of the petition was the Anglo-French actress/singer Jane Birkin, who paid tribute to Taubira's dignity in the face of the personal attacks, which included an incident in which a group of children taunted her with chants of: "Who's the banana for, it's for the monkey."

Racial insults have been banned by law in France since the 19th century but Taubira has so far declined to initiate legal proceedings against her detractors, her advisors reasoning that the resulting publicity may be exactly what they want.

"She has shown remarkable restraint," said Birkin. "She is a class act."

Actress Josiane Balasko added: "She is someone who was attacked and no one stood up for her. That's why we're here.

"I don't think all of France is racist. It only takes one rotten herring to make the whole barrel stink."

Historian Pascal Blanchard believes Taubira has become a hate figure for sections of French society because of her involvement in two landmark pieces of legislation - a 2001 law which classified the slave trade as a crime against humanity and this year's gay marriage act.

The law allowing same-sex marriage triggered massive demonstrations and, some say, created a new and poisonous climate in which racist abuse has been able to flourish.

"There are some people who see these laws as anti-French," explains Blanchard.

Story continues below…

SEE ALSO: '5 Steps France must take to tackle racism'

Aside from the petition, Taubira supporters are also planning protest marches over the next few weeks in the hope of conjuring up the spirit of 1983, when a handful of anti-racist campaigners walked from the southern city of Marseille to Paris and were greeted by a 100,000 turnout when they reached the capital.

Jamel Debbouze, the actor son of Moroccan immigrants, has made a film about that march which will be released next week, and he cautions about overstating France's current problems.

"In 1983, immigrants, or at least those from the Maghreb, were dying every two or three days because of racist crimes. That is not the case today," he told AFP in an interview.

"There is racism in France but France is not racist."

AFP/The Local (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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