Ta-Nehisi Coates: Living In Paris, I Learned To Not Make Racism Comparisons
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Living In Paris, I Learned To Not Make Racism Comparisons

DeAnna Taylor
DeAnna Taylor Mar 31, 2021

If you are a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates, then you know the Between the World and Me writer briefly lived in Paris from late 2015- summer 2016. The move came at the request of his wife, who fell in love with the city and wanted their family to spend some time there as well.

It was also just after the release of his award-winning book, and Coates traveled between the US and France often to make press appearances and other interview obligations.

His short-lived Parisian expat journey brought a lot of reflection and forced him to confront questions that fans asked. “What is racism like in Paris? Do you feel safer there?,” were only some things people wanted to know of the Baltimore native’s time in France.

During an interview with US-based platform Democracy Now, Coates talked about the similarities and differences in racism he found between Paris and the US.

“To be in a country which has much greater social protections than we have here, a much stronger safety net than we have here, and to meet with Black people over there, to meet with Maghrébin people over there, and to see that even with all of those— that expansive safety net that they have that’s so much stronger than ours, it hasn’t cured racism,” he said in the interview.

He goes on to explain that the conversations around race and racism are something, at least during that time, that are not being talked about across Europe. Almost as if people couldn’t define exactly what was happening.

“To see that it actually remains an issue, that the idea of identity across Western Europe, not just in France, but across Western Europe, you see these sorts of issues with the “refugee crisis” and everything, it’s actually the same thing. It’s very, very much the same thing—a continent that is becoming browner and struggling with the idea of who’s going to actually be protected by these safety nets. It’s very clear that the United States is not necessarily different in terms of the issues it’s dealing with.”

Shortly after his move back to the United States in 2016, Coates sat down with The New York Times ahead of the third annual Festival Albertine that he curated in France.

Much like the Democracy Now talk, the author talked about his time in Paris and the ongoing racial and identity issues the country was facing.

“Americans are always saying, “We need to have a national conversation about race!” But we have no idea. France doesn’t even acknowledge race.”

The interviewer goes on to ask Coates more about the upcoming festival and to talk about some of the panelists that would be speaking. One panelist, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, a dual citizen of Paris and Algeria, was a favorite for Coates, and he was exited for her to be able to share her experience, after having the opportunity to sit down with her several times himself.

“Just listening to her talk about her experience with structural racism and Islamophobia in France, showed me why it was dangerous to make a one-on-one comparison between Black folks there and Black folks here.”

The interview concluded with the moderator asking Coates how his year in Paris changed his view of America, he said:

“We get into this very simplistic analysis of which country is more racist. But it’s more productive to look at the history of a country. Racism certainly exists in France, but it’s not the same. Is it better? I don’t know. But I like it here [the US]. It feels like home.”

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