Being an African in Paris is a difficult existence. You are navigating the city of your colonizer, making sure to conjugate your vowels and stay out of the way. You live in a city where there is a hierarchy that is controlled by a country of people who have historically believed Africans to be uncontrollable beasts, and helpless creatures that must be saved. I by no means want to paint a picture that ALL Parisians are some group of racist artifacts whom haven't grown out of the colonizer psyche, but I do want to illuminate the fact that I have been disregarded, ignored, and followed in stores throughout Paris because I look like the West African woman I am.
Oftentimes it is not until I speak English, with my perfect American accent, that I am catered to, doors are opened, and people want to exchange emails and LinkedIns to keep in touch. What Paris has made me realize is there is definitely such a thing as American privilege. Yup, American privilege is real, and it trumps the fact that you are black. No matter your skin tone or socio-economic background, if an African American makes it to Paris they will be put on a pedestal and people will listen to your opinion on gun control, #blacklivesmatter, healthcare, and rap music.
It has always been interesting to me how I could go from a regular African (read: immigrant, refugee) to interesting American (read: activist, connoisseur of cool) in two seconds. When I'm riding the metro with my best friend and we are talking and laughing in English, we get smiles and sometimes questions about what part of America we are from. The musician Saul Williams who moved to Paris four years ago, wrote an article this year, speaking about American privilege that black Americans have used to propel their own artistic career. He finds that "Paris is interesting because their love affair is particularly with African Americans. That’s their love affair. That’s who they love, what they love. What they get about America has so much to do with our struggle, which is why so many of our artists will go there." Even with a city full of interesting, artistic, cultured African people, Parisians often times find themselves entranced with black American experience. When my partner and I went to Paris last summer, (he is an African american artist as well), he also found a sense of appreciation and understanding that is greater than what he has found in DC: "When for the first time you've been accepted by a group of people who aren't your own, the first question is why do I feel more respected as a person here than I do in my own home?" And he's right, there is a respect AND recognition, that as an artist, I don't think he would get in DC for the simple fact that African Americans are not the stars of racist show, that leading role goes to Arabs, followed by the supporting cast of Sub-Saharan Africans. I don't mean that the Parisian experience is the answer for all black people, but with the racist spotlight firmly placed on others, I feel that African Americans can be released from certain anxieties and social politics that allow for an ease of existence that they may never experience as a black person in America.