Brown Bag Lecture featuring Dr. Cheikh Thiam - "Race still Matters: The pragmatic limits of Mabanckou’s plea for a non-racial French nation-state in Le sanglot de l’homme noir"

November 13, 2013

The Department of African American and African Studies is pleased to announce the Brown Bag Presentation featuring Dr. Cheikh Thiam. The talk is scheduled for Friday, 11/15/2013 from 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM and will be held in the AAAS Conference Room (386B University Hall). For more information please contact, Dr. Devin Fergus at or the Department of African American and African Studies at 292-3700.

"This brown bag lecture will focus on the epistemic limits of Alain Mabanckou’s theory of a post-racial French state in his recent book The Black Man’s Sobs.  Adopting a social constructivist posture, Mabanckou proposes an implicit yet radical critique of the growing influence, in French black communities, of Afrocentric and Black Nationalist philosophies. For Mabanckou, these intellectual and political movements, the followers of which he calls “les africains en sanglot” (“sobbing Africans”), falsely reclaim Afri-centered identity and wrongly reinforce racialized politics.  Their position creates an essentialization of blackness in contemporary France and a simplification of the French political system by presenting it as fundamentally racist.  Accordingly, he urges these “weepy Africans,” to acknowledge the invented nature of the concept of race, accept their post-racial condition, and take full advantage of their actual citizenship.

I argue, in opposition to Mabanckou, that his argument is incomplete.  Given the colonial nature of the modern state, any appeal to go beyond “minority” groups’ racial consciousness should entail a radical critique of its colonial nature, which Mabanckou does not provide.  His book is therefore more a praise of colorblindness than the needed invitation to set a non-racialist French nation-state he claims to offer.  To be complete, the deracialized conception of citizenship in the French nation-state suggested by Mabanckou should entail a radical critique of the modern state, rather than an invitation to respect its supposedly inclusive principles. In fact, as long as the very epistemic foundations of the modern French nation-state is not questioned, racial consciousness will remain a matter of life or death given the importance of the color line in the social, economic and political spheres."