Forlag: La Decouverte (Frankrike)
When the book was published in Paris last year, it either aroused disgust and condemnation or received tributes and cheers. The outcry came from both activist feminists and historians, as did the applause.
Sex, race and colonies has been edited by three historians (Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, Christelle Taraud), one literary writer (Dominic Thomas) and one anthropologist (Gilles Boëtsch), all researchers at highly reputable institutions (CNRS, UCLA, Columbia). They brought with it 92 other academics to write the texts of the book's more than 1200 illustrations on sexual repression in the French occupations before, during and after the colonial era. But the text is – unfortunately – not the most important part of the book. It is the illustrations – the paintings, photographs, comics, advertisements, posters, magazine covers and jokes – that constitute the book itself; that's what takes up the space, it's what creates debate.
This is a book of dimensions: 544 pages in 29 × 31 cm format, 4,2 kg heavy and 65 euros expensive, it has 1200 illustrations selected from 70 found in public and private collections. It is written by 000 researchers, of which 97 are women, and concludes with more than 50 references. Here is the potential for a new "bible" about French sexual oppression of racialized women – and men – in French occupations and colonies over 1500 years. Instead, we have a pornographic masterpiece for the politically correct middle class.
In the first part of the book, "Fascination" (1420-1830), erotic paintings, drawings and copper engravings are reproduced. Always with a white man in the lead role and a racialized lady who challenges erotically or as one who satisfies the man. In the next three sections: “Domination” (1830–1920), “Decolonization” (1920–1970), and “Mixtures” (after 1970) are the most striking photographs. Here are lots of photographs of French colonial officials in white suits and tropical hats posing with (half) naked African or Asian women. While the French are beaming like happy trophy hunters, it is clear that the racialized women (often two pieces, one under each arm, often with only breasts partially hidden under the white-clad hands) are neither proud nor happy.
Their facial expressions indicate that they are forced to appear in the photographs, forced to appear (half) naked, forced to smile.
The sexual freedom male colonial officials experienced in Africa may have been a great contrast to the sex they had access to as married men at home in Catholic France – where they were to reproduce only the genus under the quilt, rare and dull. African women, on the other hand, are portrayed in the book as wild and willing. Although some of the texts describe the sexual relations of power and point out the force in them, there is too little analysis to make it particularly exciting.
While the French are beaming like happy trophy hunters, it is clear that
the racialized women, often with only breasts partially hidden under the white-clad hands, are neither proud nor happy.
In the section dealing with the post-colonial period, the ladies are even more naked. Here are illustrations from softcore magazines – called in France magazine the charm – which dominates. Racial front-page girls from New Look, Lui and Zoom adorn this "academic" bestseller along with covers from porn movies that Monster Black Cocks og Interracial Angels. Here, white women's fantasies about black men's erotic attraction, animal nature and big dicks are the patch. I see the images more as reproductions of stereotypes than as problematic ones. Here, too, the texts that follow the illustrations are brief and descriptive, without critical analysis.
Rarely does the text serve anything other than self-evident, and the book becomes more a picture book than an academic analysis. But then, too, post-colonial studies are just beginning in France in comparison to the United Kingdom and the United States. France doubts its colonial ties, culturally and politically, although all French presidents after Mitterand have said that "Françafrique" should be wound up. The male French elite still believes it has both legal and sexual privileges, though both are under pressure: the lawsuit against Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and the verdict against Dominique Strauss Khan, who sued a black maid at the Hotel Intercontinental in New York.
The most interesting text in the book is the preface, written by the Cameroonian historian Achille Mbembe. He writes intricately as always. "The sexes do not meet each other in the sexual act, and therefore the sex is completely devoid of sexuality." Mbembe clearly brings out the abuses of power and the repugnant to the sexualized images that appear in the book. In his lyrics, we are far from soft porn: "for the colonial official, it is possible to put their chosen ones in bed, feel their bodies and smell, and then, with a non-inflatable phallus, profit and take care of, use them to eventually wetting them out with their pollution ”.
The last part of the book, from 1970 until today, also makes room for the white women's sex tourism. The African youths who stroll uneasily on the beach with white women clinging around them, look just as unhappy as the half-naked white colonial officials racialized «mistresses» did fifty years earlier. Movies like Ulrich Seidls Paradise: love (2011) and Laurent Cantets To the south (2005) are used as examples.
"The iconographic is very important to understand the sexualized relationships that are characterized by subordination and domination," according to the authors. Thus, it becomes incomprehensible that they have chosen, or accepted, a layout that could make the brothels of rue St. Denis envious. On the front of the book, the title shines on us in neon types on a black background; inside are large color images on glossy paper.
"This book answers how such violence may have been possible," Leila Slimani writes in the afterword. I do not agree with that at all. I am left with a sense of having been looking into a colonial-sexualized violence expressed with erotic images, to the extent that suppression has anything to do with eroticism.