THE N WORD AND THE FRENCH …

President Obama recently landed in hot water because he had used the N word. Ah-ha! Immediately I recalled the use of the word here in France: Nègre. My first recollection was of the delicious cake once sold by bakers and called a tête de nègre. The Head of a Negro. Oh, how many of those […]

On a sign in Paris

On a sign in Paris

President Obama recently landed in hot water because he had used the N word.

Ah-ha! Immediately I recalled the use of the word here in France: Nègre.

My first recollection was of the delicious cake once sold by bakers and called a tête de nègre. The Head of a Negro.

Oh, how many of those had I not eaten in my first years in France! Not having known French then someone told me what I was asking for in bakeries when I asked for a tête de nègre. Never did I blush and neither did the lady in the bakery. Or the customers lining up behind me.

I will describe the little cake. It was a round ball of black chocolate, the ball having a cream filling. The round black chocolate ball had a face: large white eyes and a mouth of thick red lips. The eyes and the lips were of marzipan. (And I love marzipan!) Well, so now you will understand the name: it was the way people with black skins used to be portrayed, were portrayed in paintings, advertisements, movies whatever.

One day, as the 1970s ended, the little cake had gone. It was replaced with a green frog: the frog made of marzipan.

Today, there are also no green frog cakes in existence, but we do now have pink pigs as you will see on the photos below. They are delicious by the way.

A  pink pig creamy cake (cc Marilyn Z. Tomllins)

A pink pig creamy cake (cc Marilyn Z. Tomllins)

Obama and his use of the N word, next reminded me of the Au Nègre Joyeux – The Happy Negro – sign above a small supermarket in Paris’s wonderful Rue Mouffetard: to be exact at No. 14. This was once the name board of a cake shop at that address.

It was, in fact, Paris’s first ever cake shop: In 1748.

The sign shows a black-skinned man serving tea and cakes to a white-skinned woman, Madame du Barry. The black-skinned man was named Zamor and he was Madame du Barry’s valet. (A photo is above.)

The Happy Negro (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Happy Negro (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The cake shop has gone and a supermarket has replaced it, but the sign has remained. There have been several requests from various anti-racist organisations to have the board removed, but this has not happened.

I will quote from my novel ‘For the Love of a Poet’ as said by one of the characters: … a nation who cannot free itself from the crimes of its past, cannot live in peace and harmony with its present and, thus, has no future. France has an important colonial past – and still has colonies, today called overseas regions of France, its citizens French, and I emphasize that France is living in peace and harmony with her past.

The Happy Negro (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Happy Negro (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

So after having been reminded of ‘Negro Heads’ and of the ‘Happy Negro’ sign, it was interesting a month or so back to see the sculpture of a little black boy in a chateau I went to. This was in the chateau of Maintenon, residence of Madame de Maintenon, second wife (morganatic however) of Louis 14, France’s Sun King. I wrote about the Maintenon Chateau here.

As you will see from the sign which has been placed beside the sculpture, the boy is clearly called a ‘Nègre’ – Negro.

The Negro boy in Maintenon Chateau (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Negro boy in Maintenon Chateau (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins

cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins

Maybe you would like to know what I think? Should we here in France ban the N word as has been banned elsewhere?

My reply is the one which that character of my novel ‘For the Love of a Poet’ had said.

I do not have a photo of the Negro Head cake but I do have the photo below of cakes in a bakery in the Northern France town of Arras. Those black and green faces looked very much like the Negro Heads and the Green Frogs of the past. Maybe the Arras baker was making a statement. I took the photo in June this year (2015).

In the window of a bakery in Arras (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

In the window of a bakery in Arras (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

I must just mention that using the N word these days here in France is a punishable offence. One may get away with it though, but it will be frowned upon as you can read here.

France has though come a long way from the days when the product down below was being sold here.

Both the advertisement and the box for Banania.

Both the advertisement and the box for Banania.

Oh, it still is, but no longer in that box and with that advertisement.

I will end by saying that black-skinned people here in France call themselves ‘Blacks’. Yes, the word in English. To be called a ‘noir’ (a black) is like being called by the N word.

 

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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