Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Rachida Dati: Black taxing à la Française

A reply to Barbara Ellen- "Rachida - this was an act of weakness, not strength" The Observer, Sunday 11 January 2009

To be honest, I don’t quite like Rachida Dati. I don’t like the way she has been appointed Minister of Justice to silence the claims of deprived populations living in the suburbs of the République - for this “powerful symbol” as they said hiding the cruel reality of social and racial discriminations in France. I don’t like her very bling-bling style, certainly inspired by the president himself: the way she is displaying haute-couture dresses in sensationalist magazines. I don’t even like the political measures she took, favouring fear over freedom: last November, 534 judges denounced in a petition the “inconsistency of penal Criminal Policies” and the fact she was promoting a policy that increased the mandatory minimum sentences.
Yet, I could not admit the way Rachida Dati is currently commanded to disclose the name of the father of her child and the way she is judged upon being back to work, five days only after her childbirth. “Who’s the daddy?” is an indecent question, especially when it is asked on France 2 by Arlette Chabot, an allegedly serious political journalist - that happens to be a woman as well. In this interview with Dati, Chabot gives herself the satisfaction of pestering the Minister with constant private questions. As a result Dati feels uncomfortable, and Chabot may think that what makes a great journalist is creating this uncomfortable situation. It is not false as far as you ask the right questions. But Chabot is mixing judgmental comments with gossip. She is showing, for example, a short video where another minister, Bernard Laporte, is “officially” denying with a strange and quite obscene hilarity - shared by the journalists interviewing him - the fact that he is the father. 
As a woman and as a feminist, all this gossiping, chatting and laughing about another woman’s pregnancy seems both gross and quite pathetic to me. Public television, which is supposed to defend public interest, is again disappointing. Instead of being critical and asking serious questions about the very controversial reforms in justice, Arlette Chabot plumps for vulgarity and sensationalism. “Who’s the father?” she asks, but who cares!
As a French citizen myself, I am not interested in the sexual life of any of the members of the government. Tell me more about my civil rights, Madame Chabot, tell me how the student and activist Julien Coupat has been charged with "directing a terrorist group" by the Paris Prosecutor's office and is still held in prison with no material evidence, tell me why the violence of police forces against youngsters on account of their race is still increasing. Those would be examples of some really useful piece of information. 
Sexuality is political though. The fact the maternity of Rachida Dati has been so largely commented by journalists is truly interesting. They reproach her for being back to work in the name of feminism. First, it is a rather sad irony to reduce the history of feminism to a normative motherhood. Secondly, these journalists seem to forget the “race” factor. African‑Americans call it “black tax”. Being a woman from an ethnic minority group, Rachida Dati is clearly expected to perform at least twice as well as White men and women. Nadine Morano, the Secretary of State of Family, was not even ashamed to say on France 2 that “it [was] normal these people have to prove themselves”, as if they were second-class citizens. In this context, it is not surprising that any act of strength will be turned into an act of weakness by those who do not have to pay this tax. And in the end, no special treatment will be granted to policy makers, even for those who blindly serve the presidential project - as Rachida Dati does. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.