Josephine Baker poster

This essay, on Josephine Baker, Éric Zemmour and universalism in French politics, was my Observer column this week. It was published on 5 December 2021, under the headline “How can a country that hails Josephine Baker take the racist Zemmour seriously?”

“How does it feel to be a white man?” Simeon was not a white man. He was an African American who had left his homeland to escape the ferocious racism every African American faced and sought shelter in Paris. There, he had got into a fight in a bar with an Algerian. The police threw the Algerian into jail. Simeon they let go. In Paris, it was the light-skinned Algerian who was treated like blacks back home, the dark-skinned American to whom the authorities show deference. “How does it feel to be a white man?” taunted the Algerian.

Simeon is the central character in William Gardner…

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