From Port-au-Prince where I was on Friday, October 15, the words uttered by Jean-Paul Guerlain, aired live on French national television: “I do not know if negroes ever worked much, but anyway …” stunk to high heavens.
France, as a matter of fact, transported more than a million men, women and children (from Africa) to Haiti for over one hundred and fifty years.
That human trade left nearly six million dead bodies in Africa (five deaths for one live slave, according to the most optimistic estimates).
The average life expectancy among those “negroes”, who Mr. Guerlain doubts were ever hardworking enough, was five years.
The word “negro” to some French, especially those who belong to Mr. Guerlain’s generation, is directly linked to slavery. Hence the idiomatic expression; “to work like a negro”.
And there is also the “nègre littéraire”: a commonly accepted expression for a ghost writer, which verbum pro verbo translates into “literary negro”.
The “nègre littéraire” works on behalf of another person who grabs the money and accolades earned from the toil of his/her brow.
This is the angle of attack of those rare ones who have criticised Jean-Paul Guerlain’s racist remarks.
Yes, Mr. Guerlain is overtly racist.
First, because he assumes that the “negro” is part of a group which to him cannot afford to buy his perfumes. He is wrong.
Secondly, that this group only has defects. Specific genetic defects. The “laziness” of those “negroes” guilty of not breaking their backs enough for their masters.
The negro is particularly guilty of not dying within the five year life expectancy period whilst slaving away: a commonplace of colonialists and slave masters that has been the mindset among some Europeans since the eighteenth century …
Claude Ribbe is a French philosopher, historian and human rights commissioner. He is the author of The Crime of Napoleon (Le Crime de Napoléon).