“Where are you from?” is without a doubt the question that black French people are asked the most, the question that pops up the most spontaneously in conversation. “Where are you from?”, asks the friend of a friend at a party, the person next to you at a dinner, the colleague trying to make friends, the perfect stranger. I’m in a square in Portugal. A young French woman bounds up to me. “You’re kids are so cute! Where are you from?” I want to answer her: “From France, like you.”

At the age of 6, Isabelle discovered that she was black. She dreamed of playing Mary in the school nativity play. She would be Balthazar, the Wise Man from Africa. For this little girl raised in a smart neighborhood of Paris, it was a shock. Day-to-day racism had entered her life.

From Paris to Abidjan, from her private Catholic school to working in television, Isabelle Boni-Claverie tells her story. A black woman from a privileged social background, she nonetheless has to face the obvious: in France, class does not erase race. Her lively, razor-sharp writing weaves this tale into that of the incredible destiny of her grandfather, an African who became a magistrate of the French Republic in the 1930s, and husband of a young woman from the rural town of Gaillac, the first local to marry a black man.

With great sensitivity, Isabelle Boni-Claverie encourages us to question our relationship to difference, to plurality. In turns funny, uncompromising, and moving, she ends on an optimistic note proposing that we at last opt for real equality.

TOO BLACK TO BE FRENCH Editions Tallandier, available in bookstores in  France, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Ivory Coast and online.

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