Right-wing outcry as black historian leads France’s education ministry

The appointment of Pap Ndiaye, historian and expert on the rights of American minorities, was the biggest surprise of the new French government formation. Even before he got to work, the left-leaning academic was criticized by the political right for his “woke” stances on race and police brutality.

“I am a pure product of Republican meritocracy, of which school is the pillar,” Ndiaye said on Friday when he entered the government of Elisabeth Borne.

Coming from a modest Franco-Senegalese family, Ndiaye’s French mother, a teacher at a college near Paris, raised him and his sister alone.

He became director of the Musée de l’Immigration in Paris, a member of the scientific council of the magazine “Histoire” and an authority on colonialism and the history of race relations in France and the United States.

“I am also a symbol of diversity,” he said, adding that it was not necessarily a source of pride but that it gave him “a sense of duty and responsibility” towards young people in France.

Ndiaye, 57, rose to prominence with his 2008 essay, The black conditionon French minorities.

In addition to his extensive teaching experience in higher education, he was a consultant for a 2019 exhibition on black role models at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The following year, he co-wrote a report on diversity at the Paris Opera.

Structural racism

Some of Ndiaye’s positions have drawn criticism in France – a country with a long universalist and secular tradition.

A supporter of positive discrimination, he said The world in 2017, there was “structural racism in France”.

His advocacy of identity politics led his critics to label him an “indigenist”, although he also opposed the removal of the word “race” from the French Constitution.

In 2020, he said the country was still struggling to recognize it had a problem with police brutality, which disproportionately targets racial minorities.

“There is denial about police violence in France, and it’s been going on for a long time,” he told France Inter radio.

Outgoing French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, left, and Pap Ndiaye during the handover ceremony in Paris, May 20, 2022. The two men have very different ideologies on issues of discrimination and discrimination. ‘equality. AP – Christophe Ena

A call to the left

Ndiaye’s ideological positions contrast sharply with his predecessor, Jean-Michel Blanquer, who not only denounced what he called Islamo-leftism in French universities, but founded his own think tank to oppose what he called the doctrine of imported “Wokism”. the United States.

“We went from Jean-Michel Blanquer, someone very closed to questions of identity, to someone very open,” philosopher Bérénice Levet told Europe 1 on Monday.

While President Emmanuel Macron has favored continuity in the new government – keeping the same finance, justice and interior ministers – Ndiaye’s appointment is an attempt to satisfy left-leaning voters who have helped Macron win a second term.

It’s not just about keeping a promise to listen to the concerns of the left, the president also needs those votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections if he is to secure a majority in parliament.

As a guarantee of Ndiaye’s left references, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of a left alliance (NUPES), welcomed the “bold” appointment of “a great intellectual, Mr. Pap Ndiaye”.

The head of SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, called the appointment a “wonderful symbol”.

Pap N'Diaye in 2012 at the EHESS (Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Sociales) in Paris where he taught and shared his pioneering work on black studies in France, inspired by his research in the United States.
Pap N’Diaye in 2012 at the EHESS (Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Sociales) in Paris where he taught and shared his pioneering work on black studies in France, inspired by his research in the United States. AFP – MEHDI FEDOUACH


But the reaction from several members of the right has been overwhelming.

The high deputy of the Republicans (LR), Eric Ciotti, tweeted: “A passionate Islamo-leftist and militant anti-cop! Creepy !

Fellow Republican Julien Aubert described the historian as a “Trojan horse for American leftism” who supports “wokism” and “racialism”.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, called this appointment “the last stone in the deconstruction of our country, its values ​​and its future”.

Eric Zemmour, leader of the rival far-right Reconquest party, predicted the new education minister would “deconstruct the history of France”.

Ndiaye’s sister, award-winning author Marie Ndiaye, came to her defense, calling Le Pen’s accusations “absurd”.

“I would perhaps find it worrying if he were congratulated by Zemmour and Le Pen,” she told the daily Liberation. “He isn’t and never will be, and that’s to his credit.”

Author and geopolitical expert Pascal Boniface lamented that Ndiaye, an internationally renowned intellectual, was accused of being an “indigenist” simply because he worked on discrimination and is of mixed race.

“Racism and anti-intellectualism go hand in hand. These reactions are catastrophic for France’s image in the world,” he tweeted.

cooler than awake

When Ndiaye was appointed head of the Museum of History and Immigration in June 2021, he said he “shared most of the causes” of activists in France considered “woke”. They included feminism, environmental protection and anti-racism.

But he also said he “didn’t approve of the moralizing or bigoted rhetoric of some of them”, adding that he felt “more ‘cool’ than ‘woke'”.

“It’s probably a generation thing,” he said.

Those who have worked with Ndiaye say his sense of nuance and desire to build consensus will be invaluable in bringing the fractured world of education together.

“I find [the criticism] surreal and dishonest”, declared Clément Beaune, Minister Delegate for Europe. “He is someone who has always kept a certain nuance, who is not at all the awakened, the indigenist, the communitarian to be introduced to us.”

Asked on CNews on Sunday, Beaune argued that Ndiaye dismissed arguments of white privilege and state racism but said there was “racism and discrimination in our society.”

“It’s obvious, and luckily he’s there to remind us of that,” Beaune said.

Education reform

The teaching body, meanwhile, is waiting to see how its new minister will manage the long-awaited major issues of salary increases, the recruitment crisis and the reform of vocational high schools.

Ndiaye’s appointment “makes us more optimistic”, said Didier Georges, general secretary of the education union SNPDEN, as he has “shown empathy and understanding towards the teaching staff”.

The SNES-FSU, the main secondary teachers’ union, hailed the appointment “as a break with Jean-Michel Blanquer”, but it also warned that education “is not governed solely by symbols” and that quick answers were needed “particularly in terms of salaries”.

While Ndiaye has made no secret of his views on French society and race relations, he has yet to reveal how he will approach the reforms and what support he will have to carry them out.

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