A Paris Tour Where You Probably Know as Much as a Parisian

When Kévi Donat first embarked on tours around Paris in 2011, there was one nagging question he would be asked over and over again by foreign tourists: “Who is that African-American? “

They will point to a portrait of Aimé Césaire – the extremely influential Francophone writer, intellectual and politician of the 20th century, the island of Martinique – on display at the Panthéon, a mausoleum containing a number of public works. France’s most famous people.

“Black people exist outside of America!” Donat recalled thinking, if not loudly berating his guests.

“The United States has its own complicated history with the race to deal with,” he explained. “But there’s a lot of other histories around the world, and the problem is too many people don’t know about them.”

Although Césaire’s image must be admittedly striking in a space usually reserved for white faces, the lack of understanding of martiniquais and his remarkable achievements led in part to Donat – who grew up in Martinique and moved to France at the age of 13 – to start Le Paris Noiror Black Paris, in 2013.

The concept is simple: to tell the often overlooked Black history of the City of Light.

While Paris has been and continues to be one of the most visited cities in the world (a city of two million people expect to be 33 million tourists by 2022), Donat argues that there’s more to it than the clichés of picturesque boulevards, charming bistros, and well-visited landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

“Paris is a quintessential tourist city,” says Donat. “It is famous all over the world. A particular image of Paris has been featured in films and magazines. But that means most people [who come to visit] already have an idea of ​​what it is or should be. “

In fact, the French capital’s connections to Africa, the Caribbean and the United States – range from a gruesome history of slavery, colonization and immigration to a host of literary and political figures. and black art – largely wiped out. History is written by the winners, he explained.

“I wanted to make this alternate history more visible,” says Donat. “If it is not spoken by someone, it may be forgotten. But also telling that history, which means we hope to have the opportunity to learn from what happened in the past. “

Currently, Le Paris Noir runs two tours in French and English. The first is based on La Rive Gauche, or the Left Bank of Paris, and traces a route past the classic stops on the Paris tourist trail with a twist: from the steps of the Pantheon to the Jardin de Luxembourg and the Great University. Sorbonne study. Second, focusing on La Rive Droite, or Right Bank, is an entirely different perspective, passing through the lively and diverse 18ème neighborhoods of Château Rouge and Goutte d’Or, known for their populace. West and North Africa. Later this year, Le Paris Noir will launch its third tour focusing on the role and importance of statues.

On each route, Donat enlivens those lesser-known histories with engaging storytelling, while strolling around an authentic Paris flâneur Style.

For example, a tour of the Rive Gauche touches on the life of Alexandre Dumas – the author of such French literary backgrounds as Count of Monte Cristo and Three Musketeers—A person known as a “quarteron” (a child born to white and mixed-race parents) and subject to discrimination as a result. There are many nods to Victor Schœlcher, a politician in Guadeloupe and Martinique from 1848 to 1851 who played a leading role in the abolition of slavery, and Félix Éboué, the first black Frenchman. appointed to high office in the French colonies. And there was also room for intellectuals like WEB Du Bois and Frantz Fanon, African-American writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin, who lived in post-war Paris, and pioneering women who defied inequality. gender equality of such as Josephine Baker, a famous dancerheroine of the resistance against France. In many cases, these histories are as little known in France as they are abroad.

Donat has a relaxed, pluralistic style in his tours. He raises questions rather than preaching – such as whether the same holds true for people from former French colonies who apparently then came to France for validation through the country’s education system. are not. He also recommends an extraordinary list of podcasts, books, and movies for further study. “People decide what they think,” he said.

Almost a decade has passed, and much has changed. Donat, who now runs 15 to 20 tours a month, says interest has grown steadily over the years. The number of visitors interested in his tours has also increased.

“In the early years, most of my guests were from the US,” he says. “But that is already starting to change. There is growing interest from the French, who now make up the majority of my clients”.

Donat believes that events like George Floyd’s murderAn African-American man was killed by police in May 2020 after a store employee claimed he used a fake $20 bill, having played a role in it.

Likewise, events in France, which have long lingered with its traumatic past, such as exploitative relationship with former colonies like Haiti and bloody fight for independence in the Algerian War—Continue to create chaos.

Tensions have recently increased due to the exception of “color blind“The approach to the race as well as the idea of ​​”the awakening” and the important race theory, with Critics claim that it was exported to France by the US. In a confirmation of those social rifts, the far-right French get the highest percentage of votes in history in the presidential election in April.

“It’s a difficult situation in France,” said Donat. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am an optimist. But I also don’t want to be too dramatic.”

Beyond that, he said, there are small signs of progress to catch: In May, a statue of Solitudeheroine of the war against slavery in Guadeloupe, was unveiled in the 17th arrondissement of Paris — the city’s first statue of a black woman.

“We are taking small steps forward,” said Donat.

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