It’s not that the French media are so obsessed with race that bothers me — because hey, so is the United States — it’s the contradiction of, on the one hand, maintaining that France is a race-blind country, and, on the other hand, never losing an opportunity to describe any non-white American firstly by his or her ‘origin’ — *even if the person was born in the United States*, and thus has only one origin, American.
When a colleague from the States wrote me yesterday to report that President-elect Obama had appointed retired general Eric Shinseki as his secretary of veteran affairs, it was because Shinseki had been a sort of dissident within the Bush military machine. (Maybe dissident is too strong a word; he’d simply said it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq, countering the Bush chicken-hawks view that 100,000 would do it.) It wasn’t until today, when the appointment topped the French news, that I learned Shinseki was a Japanese-American. (Or, as the French newscasters put it, ‘d’origine Japanese.’ Never mind that he was born in Hawaii.) But it got worse. France Culture radio’s Washington correspondent strongly implied that the ‘unspoken’ significance of Obama’s announcing the appointment on December 7, the annivesary of that day of infamy in which the Japanese (the ones originating from Japan) attacked Pearl Harbor (in Hawaii) was that Shinseki was Japanese. In fact, non. I hate to disappoint the race-obsessed French media, but, were I to hazard a guess, the signficance of Obama’s announcing his nominee to head the department of veteran affairs (autrement dit, des anciennes combatants) on this particular day was that it was our soliders who gave so much of their young lives on December 7, 1941, when nearly 3,000 of them were killed, many in their barracks.
PS: Giving credit where it’s due, as is often the case, commentator Mark Kravitz, who understands American society better than most, was the exception to the rule on France Culture this morning, noting that the principle of diversity in the U.S. is not what the French think it is.