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Friday, 27 April 2012

Miss Black France - well-intentioned or divisive?

There's an election this weekend in Paris.

No nothing political.

Well at least it's not meant to be.

Saturday will see the crowning of this country's very first Miss Black France, a competition, which as France 24 says, "Has the distinction of recruiting candidates based only on the colour of their skin."

(screenshot from trailer)

The winner will be chosen from the 20 preselected contestants appearing at the Salle Wagram in Paris on Saturday; a panel of 10 judges determining the outcome.

Now put aside whatever you might think about beauty pageants (difficult perhaps) and try to answer the question posed in a piece on the France 24 website as to whether this competition is, "An Americanisation of the idea of a Miss, an innovative idea or the beginning of a slippery slope."

The whole thing is the brainchild of a long-time magazine journalist Frédéric Royer, who says the traditional Miss France competition has never really been entirely representative of the whole country.

"There have been mixed race candidates but they've generally come from the Overseas Départements and not been of direct African descent," he says, forgetting perhaps that Miss France 2000, Sonia Rolland, although brought up in mainland France was actually born in Rwanda to a French father and Tutsi mother.

"What I hope is that this competition will make it easier for more black women to make the covers of magazines."

Ah yes. Of course that's his aim; purely altruistic.

And he has been successful in convincing Conseil représentatif des associations noires (Cran) an umbrella group representing more than 120 associations, to back the contest.

Cran seems to have been persuaded that to paraphrase Royer, the beauty pageant is a "militant act, while at the same time remaining glamorous" and "will provide a boost for a large group of women under-represented in the mainstream media"

One voice speaking out against it though is, of all people, the founder and former president of Cran, Patrick Lozès.

He thinks the election goes against the principle in French society of communitarianism, which emphasises the responsibility of the individual to the community.

"The intentions behind the idea might well be honourable," he says.

"But the logic in the thinking is completely at odds with French society," he continues.

"Does that imply that if black people are underrepresented at the top universities (Grandes Ecoles) and major businesses, it's necessary to create institutions reserved solely for them?"

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