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Calmez-Vous, Americans: It's Quite OK To Call Us "The French"

A widely mocked tweet by the Associated Press tells its reporters to avoid dehumanizing labels such as "the poor" or "the French". But one French writer replies that the real dehumanizing threat is when open conversation becomes impossible.

Parisians sitting on a café terrasse.

Parisians sitting on a café terrasse.

Dirk Broddin on Flickr
Gaspard Koenig


PARIS — The largest U.S. news agency, the Associated Press (AP) tweeted a series of recommendations aimed at journalists: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing 'the' labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead use, wording such as people with mental illnesses.”

The inclusion of “The French” in this list of groups likely to be offended has evoked well-deserved sarcasm. It finally gives me the opportunity to be part of a minority and to confirm at my own expense, while staying true to John Stuart Mill's conception of free speech: that offense is not a crime.

Offense should prompt quips, denial, mockery, and sometimes indifference. It engages conflict in the place where a civilized society accepts and cultivates it: in language.

So my dear American friends, don’t be shy. Say that the French are lazy, that they eat frog legs, or that they write poems while sitting at the terraces of cafés. Continue to paint us as cynical and fickle smokers, just like you do in the show Emily in Paris. We will be big enough to defend ourselves and smart enough to laugh about it.

Humor behind the apology 

The funniest part is the AP’s reaction: it modified the disputed message, apologized for having caused “unintentional offense.” And yet the subject was obviously not the offense, but rather the very idea that there could even be one. It seems as though the East Coast journalists are no longer able to untangle themselves from the self-righteous spider's web of egotistical hypersensitivity, perpetual indignation, and untenable earnestness they have weaved for themselves.

The reasoning of offense has become impenetrable. Any word can be declared blasphemous by non-discrimination fanatics. Publishing houses now hire "sensitivity readers" — in other words, censors in charge of making sure that no one is offended. But this is the function of literature. The United States is entering an era of obscurantism to which progressives and conservatives alike are contributing (Republican Florida now sanctions discrimination... against anti-wokes!).

The AP’s vice-president unwillingly revealed the substance of this new inquisition by trying to justify himself: “the reference to the ‘French’ as well as the reference to ‘the college educated’ is an effort to show that labels shouldn’t be used for anyone, whether they are traditionally or stereotypical viewed as positive, negative or neutral”. Thus, the phrase "the French supported the American War of Independence" would become offensive to counter-revolutionaries who were hostile to it. Their descendants may feel hurt, despised, and trapped in a history they do not support.

Two Parisians at a café terrasse.

To speak is to generalize 

What is at stake, beyond the somewhat grotesque meanderings of this case, is the very possibility of language. One does not have to know semiotics to understand that concepts proceed both from a grouping of individual occurrences and from an opposition between general ideas. By establishing distinct criteria between different categories, thoughts are discriminating by nature. To speak or to speak to ourselves is to generalize: “trains are late”, “men are sexist”…

By saying “the French”, nobody pretends to grasp 68 million individuals.

In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates explains that a philosopher must, with their words, cut up reality like a good butcher, without chopping all the body parts to pieces. Knowing where the individual muscles, bones and joints are has been the object of all our discussions and debates for 2,500 years.

By saying “the French”, nobody pretends to grasp 68 million individuals. Like the British historian Theodore Zeldin in a book appropriately entitled The French, everyone tries with more or less skill and good faith to identify common characteristics, only to be contradicted. Such is the life of ideas.

First Amendment and loud silence

On the contrary, wanting to identify a person or a thing as a pure singularity forbids talking about it. In a short story titled “Funes or the Memorious”, Borges imagines a hypermnesiac who, perceiving each situation in its smallest details, becomes incapable of general ideas: "Not only was it difficult for him to comprehend that the generic symbol dog embraces so many, unlike individuals of diverse size and form.”

The country of the First Amendment is thus sinking into a loud silence where any common conversation becomes impossible. That is what is dehumanizing.

We can only hope that Europe, and in particular "The French", will manage to escape from it.

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The Colonial Spirit And "Soft Racism" Of White Savior Syndrome

Tracing back to Christian colonialism, which was supposed to somehow "civilize" and save the souls of native people, White Savior Syndrome lives on in modern times: from Mother Teresa to Princess Diana and the current First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

photo of a child patient holding hand of an adult

Good intentions are part of the formula

Ton Koene / Vwpics/ZUMA
Sher Herrera


CARTAGENA — The White Savior Syndrome is a social practice that exploits or economically, politically, symbolically takes advantage of individuals or communities they've racialized, perceiving them as in need of being saved and thus forever indebted and grateful to the white savior.

Although this racist phenomenon has gained more visibility and sparked public debate with the rise of social media, it is actually as old as European colonization itself. It's important to remember that one of Europe's main justifications for subjugating, pillaging and enslaving African and American territories was to bring "civilization and save their souls" through "missions."

Even today, many white supremacists hold onto these ideas. In other words, they believe that we still owe them something.

This white savior phenomenon is a legacy of Christian colonialism, and among its notable figures, we can highlight Saint Peter Claver, known as "the slave of the slaves," Bartolomé de Las Casas, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Princess Diana herself, and even the First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

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