Conflict Management and Resolution PLSC 872 What is the French policy of ASSIMILATION about, what did scholars like Leopold Senghor mean by the term Negritude as a strategy for countering that French policy and what is the place of the two in the methodology of ethnic conflict management? INTRODUCTION The trajectory of this paper is within the purview of Conflict Resolution and Management.
However, it traverses a historical path that takes us back to the era of colonialism in Africa, the Afrocentric Movement leading to independent African states and how this all coalesces into a formula of how to (or rather how not to) deal with differences that have the potential to dynamically incinerate conflicts, both ethnical (or racial) and otherwise.
To this end, an expose of the Policy of Assimilation employed by the French in governing French African colonies shall be succeeded by an analysis of Negritude.
The foregoing would then be placed on the stage for examination of how it performs as a methodology for managing ethnic conflicts wherever they may occur.
ASSIMILATION A cursory search for a definition will qualify assimilation simply as “the social process of absorbing one cultural group into harmony with another. ” This definition well covers the basics of the concept of assimilation even as it is insufficient for our purposes.
Assimilation, as is to be understood here, was an ideological basis of French colonial policy in the 19th and 20th centuries. At variance with any other colonial ideological foundation, the French sought to homogenise their colonies in such a way that by the latter’s adoption of French language and culture, they were eventually going to became French. It was a policy designed to make the Africans in their colonies rid themselves of their indigenous customs, mores, values, culture and language and become more French through education.
In the end, these colonies were going to be much more than outposts of French mercantilisms but extensions of France. Thus, as schools opened to teach and espouse French language and culture, the French also hoped that an adoption of this social straitjacketing was going to make their subjects more complacent to French rule. The attempt was as physically intrusive as it was social. French structures and lifestyle were injected into the fabric of the society to create an ambiance sometimes rivalling the Riviera.
Boulevards, beautiful landscapes, sea-side resorts, cafes, gorgeous gardens and well-manicured lawns dotted the main cities of these colonies in as much the same way as it did in France. Known to be tastefully fashionable, the French endeavoured to foster that fashion consciousness on their subjects as well. Subjects of these colonies, by implication, were to be considered French nationals and citizens of France.
As long as the French language, culture and social customs were adopted, the natives of the colonies were due the rights and privileges of French citizens and were supposed to perform similar roles (including military responsibility) as French citizens in Paris, Toulouse or any other French cities in mainland France. In the colonies where this was adopted, French laws applied regardless of distance from France, the size of the colony, the organisation of the society, the economic development, race or religious beliefs of natives.
However, all this was theoretical. In actual practice, the attempt at eliminating differences by assimilation to make Africans French in everyway except for the colour of their skin turned out differently. When the common native endured the rigours of literacy in French culture and language, with the pensive hope of attaining equality with colonial French nationals as a ticket to making a good living and earning well enough to cater for himself and any dependants, he found his goal elusive.
The “BlackFrenchMan” found himself increasingly alienated by the French and socially alienated by his immediate environment. This inconsolable situation was a consequence of the hypocritical reluctance on the side of the French to actually accord their African subjects what assimilation promised even after the said subjects had fulfilled everything the ideological policy demanded. The complacency gradually began to give way to dissatisfaction and to rising discontent and eventually to an ideological retort known as Negritude.
NEGRITUDE The term has been described as a revolt against colonialist values, glorification of the African past, nostalgia for the beauty and harmony of traditional African society and, to quote Leopold Sedar Senghor, “the sum total of the values of the civilization of the African world. ” Negritude was a significant ideological and literary development that became a formative movement of African literature aimed at breaking down established stereotypes of blacks propagated through centuries of colonialism in Africa.
Black intellectuals in the West, especially France, buoyed by the rise of Black Renaissance in America in the 1920s began to reflect upon and express their increasing sense of alienation occasioned by the hypocrisy of assimilation. These writers found solidarity in a common black identity as a rejection of perceived French colonial racism and they believed that their shared black heritage as members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against French political and intellectual hegemony and domination. Senghor (1906–2001) promotes a quest for the authentic self, knowledge of self, and a rediscovery of African beliefs, values, institutions, and civilizations. ” Senghor advocates for a version of assimilation that allows for association, what he referred to as “a cultural metissage” of blackness and whiteness. He posits notions of a distinct Negro soul, intuition, irrationalism, and crossbreeding to rehabilitate Africa and establish his theory of black humanism.
He envisions Western reason and Negro soul as instruments of research to create “une Civilisation de l’Universel, une Civilisation de l’Unite par symbiose” (a Civilization of the Universal, a Civilization of Unity by Symbiosis). For Senghor, the dual black and white cultural background gives insights that neither can give separately, and African input can help solve some problems that have challenged Westerners. He points to a new race consciousness that lays the foundation for challenging enslavement and colonization of blacks, as well as establishing a “rendez du donner et recevoir” (give-and-take).
To the charge that Negritude is racist, Senghor responds with his definition, “Negritude… is neither racialism nor self-negation. Yet it is not just affirmation; it is rooting oneself in oneself, and self-confirmation: confirmation of one’s being. It is nothing more or less than what some English-speaking Africans have called the African personality. ” Negritude must take its place in contemporary humanism in order to enable black Africa to make its contribution to the “Civilization of the Universal,” which is so necessary in our ivided but interdependent world. CONFLICT MANAGEMENT Like Genocides, Forced-mass population transfers and Partition or Secessions, Assimilation is based on the idea of eliminating differences, in this case by creating a common identity. This method gained currency not only during the colonial era but also in the “melting pot” origins of the United States of America where the attempts at evolving a homogenised group that was “supertribalised” was pursued vigorously.
However, as already stated above, it failed in its attempt. Because the model of assimilation practiced in French colonies was of the variant that required some coercion: compulsory educational homogenisation and the imposition of standard cultural codes as preconditions of full industrial and welfare-state citizenship, its rebuttal by the subjects was not without some violence as was the case in Algeria where the Ahmed-Ben Bella Front de Liberation Nationale engaged French forces in full fledged warfare spanning years.
In fact, it is conclusive, as the text suggests, that “unless assimilation/integration projects are targeted at people willing to acquire a new civic identity (like voluntary migrants) and to modify their ethnic identity, they produce rather than provoke conflict. ” This has thus lead many a liberal democracy to consider multiculturalism and enunciate policies across these lines rather than integration and assimilation.
The concept of the “salad bowl” in the United States of American embracing pluralism is the typical example because rather than seek to eliminate differences, the is grist to the mills of the individual desires of the members in these ethnic communities to maintain their identities and differences that mark them as unique. Negritude, on its own part has faced criticisms from scholars with such wide variety as Jean Paul Sartre and Professor Wole Soyinka. To quote Soyinka Negritude in my opinion was a failed but good faith attempt to create a literary movement, which would separate French African literature from French literature.
I think that it failed for two reasons. It failed to realize that blackness is not enough to create and to sustain a literary movement and that although literature can be about language, it cannot be about color. In other words, Negritude continued the stereotypical stubbornness of the French to make French literature and the French language be about Frenchness for the truth of the matter is that once France made the choice to become a colonial power, it could no longer claim French solely as its language and claim to have the sole right to control and to mold it. ? CONCLUSION
We have looked at the concept of Assimilation and the movement that rose in opposition to it, Negritude and have also seen how the former, proposed as a differences-eliminating homogenising strategy failed. In the penultimate part of the essay we also saw how the strive to eliminate differences cannot but be barking up the wrong tree in the face of the consciousness that exists among members of the community to which the strategy is aimed at adopting or incorporating. Multiculturalism was proposed as a more balanced and practical strategy in societies where differences exist and must needs be managed.
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