Black women living in the French empire played a key role in the decolonial movements of the mid-twentieth century. Thinkers and activists, these women lived lives of commitment and risk that landed them in war zones and concentration camps and saw them declared enemies of the state. Annette K. Joseph-Gabriel mines published writings and untapped archives to reveal the anticolonialist endeavors of seven women. Though often overlooked today, Suzanne Césaire, Paulette Nardal, Eugénie Éboué-Tell, Jane Vialle, Andrée Blouin, Aoua Kéita, and Eslanda Robeson took part in a forceful transnational movement. Their activism and thought challenged France’s imperial system by shaping forms of citizenship that encouraged multiple cultural and racial identities. Expanding the possibilities of belonging beyond national and even Francophone borders, these women imagined new pan-African and pan-Caribbean identities informed by black feminist intellectual frameworks and practices. The visions they articulated also shifted the idea of citizenship itself, replacing a single form of collective identity and political participation with an expansive plurality of forms of belonging.
Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris
World War I gave colonial migrants and French women unprecedented access to the workplaces and nightlife of Paris. After the war they were expected to return without protest to their homes—either overseas or metropolitan. Neither group, however, was willing to be discarded.
Between the world wars, the mesmerizing capital of France’s colonial empire attracted denizens from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Paris became not merely their home but also a site for political engagement. Colonial Metropolis tells the story of the interactions and connections of these black colonial migrants and white feminists in the social, cultural, and political world of interwar Paris. It explores why and how both were denied certain rights, such as the vote, how they suffered from sensationalist depictions in popular culture, and how they pursued parity in ways that were often interpreted as politically subversive.
Soundscapes of Liberation. African American Music in Postwar France
In Soundscapes of Liberation, Celeste Day Moore traces the popularization of African American music in postwar France, where it signaled new forms of power and protest. Moore surveys a wide range of musical genres, soundscapes, and media: the US military’s wartime records and radio programs; the French record industry’s catalogs of blues, jazz, and R&B recordings; the translations of jazz memoirs; a provincial choir specializing in spirituals; and US State Department-produced radio programs that broadcast jazz and gospel across the French empire. In each of these contexts, individual intermediaries such as educators, producers, writers, and radio deejays imbued African American music with new meaning, value, and political power. Their work resonated among diverse Francophone audiences and transformed the lives and labor of many African American musicians, who found financial and personal success as well as discrimination in France. By showing how the popularity of African American music was intertwined with contemporary structures of racism and imperialism, Moore demonstrates this music’s centrality to postwar France and the convergence of decolonization, the expanding globalized economy, the Cold War, and worldwide liberation movements.
Suzanne Césaire: Liberation beyond the Great Camouflage
Suzanne Césaire’s essays in Tropiques make an important intervention in imagining a new Martinican and ultimately Pan-Caribbean identity during World War II. This study examines Césaire’s joint politics and poetics of liberation in the context of dissidence in Martinique. A close reading of her essays alongside previously uncited personal correspondence reveals Haiti to be central to her vision for a Caribbean cultural renaissance after the death and destruction of the war.
Reverse Exoticism and Masculinity: The Cultural Politics of Race Relations
The black colony was sculpted from the elements of racial and political solidarity, but Paris was still dominated in the eyes of black people by white men. In consequence, strategies for sociocultural independence could not follow straightforward political lines, in particular with respect to the phenomenon of negrophilia. How did black men respond to their categorization as exotic others when faced with a vogue nègre that threatened to leave them voiceless? How did they reinforce their control not just over the political milieu they had forged in part through racial bonds, but also within the broader cultural sphere of the capital?