Op-Ed: Paris, #BlackLivesMatter, the Cultural Violence, and the White Western State – The Feminist Wire

Op-Ed: Paris, #BlackLivesMatter, the Cultural Violence, and the White Western State

By Malik Nashad Sharpe

Today, I mourn with French society, especially the families who have lost their loved ones to violence during yesterday’s attack at Charlie Hebdo. I also stand in solidarity with all of the Brown people in France, who, because of media fear-mongering, and Islamist-blame-gaming, will be further excluded from French society by State-condoned racism.

I’m not French, but one doesn’t need to be in order to see how deeply racism runs throughout French, and Western, societies. The ruthless murders of cartoonists– cultural producers who were questionably using their art to dispel (or perpetuate?) racism to an already discriminatory public in the name of free speech–and the counter-attacks against everyday Muslims, who would prefer this incident not be blamed on their entire, diverse, multi-faceted community, provides us with another opportunity to think through solutions to violence issued on behalf of the State and those retaliating to such violence in the form of extremism.

paris1France, like every Western country, ruthlessly excludes Brown/Black people by using discourses of exceptionalism to dispel claims of State-perpetuated racism in order to protect racist hatred under the guise of free speech. Take a look at the Parisian suburbs, Clichy-sous-Bois and Seine-Saint-Denis. Look back at France’s imperialist occupation of Algeria, or the French parliament, and one can easily tease out how obviously anti-Black/Brown French culture has been and become.

But France is not alone, anti-blackness runs deep throughout the West, most particularly among White people who have enslaved Brown/Blacks, have deprived us, murdered us, appropriated our cultures and claimed them as their own, lynched us, isolated us, and tortured us, in the name of the State.

charllieI do not condone the killings of any sentient being, and, yet, the same people trending the popular, #JeSuisCharlie hashtag are the same people trending #KillAllMuslims. The same people who are throwing grenades at French mosques in counter-attacks are the same people who believed Charlie Hebdo wasn’t racist, but satirical. In fact, what we really need to question is why satirizing non-White cultures is seen as harmless, especially when Black and Brown people of these particular cultures have been murdered time-and-time again in the name of the State because of the maintenance of anti-Black, White racial supremacist ideologies.

However, what troubles me the most is the fact that the same activists who have been protesting police violence against people of color, especially here in the United States, are the same people who are shamelessly posting sympathies with Charlie Hebdo.

garnerLet me be frank. Islamophobia runs deeply within Western culture. The same activists who are screaming Eric Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe” throughout all of the world’s metropoles should be the same people taking a stand against the rampant Islamophobic now proliferating via media. State-sanctioned cultural violence against Brown Muslims in France, is connected to the State-sanctioned violence exacted upon Black bodies in the United States.

Let us not forget that when Michael Brown was murdered in the streets of St Louis, when Tamir Rice was murdered in front of a park in Cleveland, when Aiyana Jones was murdered while asleep in her bed in Detroit, that across the ocean, Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna were murdered after being chased by Parisian police into an electrical substation where they were ultimately electrocuted to death.

Let us not forget that Western culture does not believe that the murders of Black/Brown people are worthy enough to be considered national tragedies.

Let us not forget that Charlie Hebdo cartooned racist caricatures of deprived Brown cultures in the name of free speech.

Let us not forget that no one became Christianphobic when White KKK members and other White racial supremacists burned crosses and murdered Black people throughout the United States in the name of Christianity.

Let us not forget the cowardice of Western media as they’ve attempted to focus on Black on Black crime or the recent, tragic, murders of NYPD officers by one Black man as a way of reminding Black and Brown people that we are capable of killing, too.

Media outlets are guilty of igniting the already fiery racial hatred that has been ablaze and guilty of forgetting to fully narrate the ways racial supremacy harms all of us. White people can bomb NAACP offices in Colorado or Mosques in France, and the United Kingdom, and not even get close to the same coverage as did the stories of the two police officers murdered in Brooklyn or that of the cartoonists murdered in Paris.

Let us not forget the pregnant Muslim woman who was attacked for wearing a Niqab in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil. She not only suffered from anti-Islamic taunts by her attackers, but also had her veil ripped, hair cut off, and most depressingly of all, her soon-to-be born baby murdered via miscarriage.

Let us not forget the White couple who caricatured Eric Garner’s death on ABC Live but did not receive any backlash from Western media.

Let us not forget the Turkish Muslims in Germany fearing for their lives, as Neo-Nazi’s paraded through the streets of German cities, while being excluded from the folds of German society.

Let us not forget that Islamophobia is not just about religion, but more particularly about race, and that even though Charlie Hebdo caricatured France’s White right-wing sensibilities, White people are the only one’s who benefit from racism.

Let us not forget that racism kills, too.


MalikMalik Nashad Sharpe is a queer experimental choreography, poet, writer, and radical thinker from New York, who  is now based in Chicagoland. His choreographic works have been showcased in London, Tokyo, and in Williamstown, MA, and his poetry has been published with New Bourgeois. He graduated from Williams College with a BA in Experimental Dance and Live Art, and also studied radical performance theory, choreography, and contemporary dance at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance in London, UK. His artistic work can defined specifically as a form of politics, using the organization of time, space, bodies, and words to formulate radical commentary and resistance.


  1. CreolaConCebab

    January 8, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Thank u Malik for some contextualization!!
    This were exactly my thoughts and feelings when i saw the (mainstream) media reactions.
    Most white European folks at the moment are like “how can u dare?” completely disregarding their almost non-existent outcry to the murdering of POC (as u described in ur article and many more!)
    Hugs from Germany

  2. kimber hawkey

    January 9, 2015 at 12:34 am

    You have given me a lot of food for thought here. Thank you for this perspective…

  3. Marie LCP

    January 9, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I agree with you about the terrible inequalities you are denouncing.

    But, please, do not forget that in France we are a lot both supporting the freedom of press and criticizing the activities of Charlie Hebdo. Both blaming the killing attack and blaming the media for not covering more crimes against brown people.

    Declaring a support for “Charlie” before the attack and after the attack is not the same at all from my point of view, today it is not about supporting the drawings about Mahomet and the way they pictured black people.

    As many of my friends and colleagues, I am against the violence that happened AND I am against the blaming of Muslims.
    I agree that islamophobia runs in part of France, and it makes me sick.

  4. Samuel Myers

    January 9, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    No question that French (and European) society is beset with increasingly dramatic instances of intercommunal violence; but to essentialize that down to “racism” or the rejection of “brown Muslims” from mainstream French society is to totally gloss over far more complex social and economic turmoil (also, while these events are underreported, no one has been killed, so let’s not make this an apples-to-apples comparison).

    Let us not forget, as you say that two of the victims were themselves Muslim — one of them a proofreader at the very paper you accuse of perpetuating racism, the other a police officer you tacitly accuse of supporting a racist state. Do not forget that secular and moderate voices across the Muslim world have spoken out, in unison, against this attack and the dangerous precedent it sets.

    No informed observer can assert that race, class, and the colonial past are not critical elements in any understanding of this attack, the rise of Islamist extremism, and the fundamental inequality of western society in general. Eliding these factors would be irresponsible and would have no part in any attempt at actually driving change in these societies (assuming justice and harmony are your goals).

    The argument that anti-immigrant parties are making all over western Europe is that non-European immigrants are culturally incompatible with the societies they live in. This is of course both ridiculous and ironic, given the fact that the presence of such large numbers of non-European immigrants stems from the destruction of immigrant homelands by colonial greed, forced assimilation into European society, and finally immigrant exclusion from the mainstream of those societies.

    That said, it is unfair to the French people, each of whom has individual agency and the ability to separate themselves from the abstract categorizations of modern social science, to blame them for the actions of other people with the same free will and individual agency. It is also unfair to the vast majority of French Muslims, who -regardless of their professional or social standing– are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, like almost all immigrants, everywhere.

    Pointing out instances of white aggression toward non-white or minority citizens is obviously valid as a tool to support the notion that such aggression is on the rise, but then again, if these acts can be singled out as defining a society, the corollary argument is that the acts of the Kouachi brothers can define a people and a religion (particularly given the fact that violent Islamic extremism is unequivocally on the rise). When you make sweeping generalizations couched in bold-faced ideology, you inadvertently support the very narrative you are trying to fight against.

    Let us not forget that the instance of white supremacist movements – and indeed aggressive populist movements all over the world, irrespective of their demography – tend to expand and gain traction during periods of intense economic woe. Furthermore, for every nationalist and exclusionist political movement that rises, there are equally robust counter-protests in the name of pluralism; as with moderate Islam, they just don’t get the same press.

    You point out the Turkish plight in Germany without noting the much larger pro-immigrant, pro-pluralist protests, also made up mostly of ethnic Germans. You neglect to mention the way Turks treat ethnic minorities in their own country, or even their shared history of colonial aggression (also, calling Turks “brown” is highly dubious; they are a multiethnic nation, and there are plenty of Caucasian Turks). You neglect to mention the efforts of the European church in fighting the racist tide. You also neglect to mention the very real threat Islamic extremism poses, not to Europe, but to other black and brown and (shockingly, in Syria and Lebanon) even white Muslims. The people dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and Nigeria and Kenya and Somalia are not Europeans. Where is your article condemning this?

    This is not a black and white world, even though it can feel that way. We are all here, mixed together, dying together, and walking the same path to destruction. We need to wake up to the more ancient tools of human oppression, which transcend the very construct of race. We are all Othered, and consequently turned against Each Other by competing, equally inflexbile world views that keep us all neatly boxed in our separate intellectual corners.

    • Samuel Myers

      January 9, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      Also, final point, it’s fair to point out that the majority of those tweeting the KillAllMuslims hashtag are retweeting it in condemnation.

    • Kaboha

      January 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      Brilliant! Thanks.

  5. Lidia

    January 11, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    thank you.
    how quickly western media vacuums up with master narratives.
    how easy it is for white culture to be benevolent–but only for some bodies.

  6. Efadul Huq

    January 11, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Before we conclude that the satire cartoons were “racist”, we should take the time to educate ourselves about the nuances of political humor in the french socio-political context.

    For example, check out the context for the Boko Haram cartoon here:

    Also, Charlie Hebdo was a far-left, pro-immigrant publication. A french friend translated a column from their site which I shared here:

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