Leading the Fight for Justice in France - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because this is a global fight.

“A country with no justice is a country that calls for a revolt!” Assa Traoré posted in French on social media just days after George Floyd’s brutal killing in Minneapolis. “Justice for Adama, Justice for George Floyd, Justice for all!”

And soon, hundreds of people swarmed the streets of Paris, heeding her call. In fact, reports suggest that so far more than 20,000 people, including a visible white population, have joined in her fight.

For Traoré, 35, the fight began four years ago. July 19, 2016, to be exact. A special education teacher in the Paris neighborhood of Sarcelles at the time, she was in Croatia chaperoning her students on an educational trip when she learned her brother Adama had been “asphyxiated to death” following a “stop and frisk” — and a chase — by police. Adama, who turned 24 that day, was returning home after celebrating his birthday.

All these deaths deserve answers. … For that I would dream of having a sister like Assa.

“Assa,” by French singer Mallaury

Since then, she has become, as the French press calls her, the Antigone of new-age France, ensuring justice for his brother, one among her 16 brothers and sisters. 

And while there is a lot of criticism about the Traoré family because of the patriarch’s “polygamous nature” and racial makeup, Assa — a mother herself — makes it clear in her book Le Combat Adama: “We have no half-brothers or half-sisters, no stepmothers. We believe all of us are part of the same family. And the Traoré family, it’s a family of all colors.”

French philosopher Norman Ajari, a professor at Villanova University, believes the criticism of the Traoré family just goes to show the “racism and anti-blackness” rampant in the country. “Just because the history of their family doesn’t fit into the French Bourgeoisie ideals.”

From being a special education teacher, Traoré has, over the years, become the voice of Blacks and Arabs in France and is leading the charge of a moment of reckoning against racial injustice. That reckoning, Ajari says, “has been amplified because of what happened to George Floyd in the U.S.”

But it’s not a new fight for Traoré. She has been so instrumental since 2016 that last year French singer Mallaury released a song called “Assa,” which the artist says is a homage to Traoré. “All these deaths deserve answers. … For that I would dream of having a sister like Assa,” the lyrics, loosely translated from French, read.

Ajari traces back the racism in France to its colonial history, adding that the problem in France lies in the concept of universalism. “The underlying concept is that every person in France is on the same page, under the same republic, and there is no data to back us on atrocities on the basis of race and ethnicity. And it’s a fictional concept.” 

But a new revolution is slowly brewing, with polls showing that the public believes there is discrimination in policing and employment. Abolishing the police is discussed in France too, and the French government announced a chokehold ban — though it backed down after officers protested.

But Traoré’s fight is leading to the government softening its tone on racial injustice. Stating that “we must not lose the young people,” President Emmanuel Macron urged justice minister Nicole Belloubet to look into Traoré’s open letter to them, which had gone unanswered.

Is Traoré impressed? Not unless the world gets to know the truth.

And as Mallaury sings, “You’re on the right track, Assa.”

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!