A Supposition of Humanity / by Eric Etheridge

Vive les black-blanc-beur! It was great to watch France win the World Cup today, I only wish I had been back in the Goutte d'Or to celebrate with everyone there. Several of France's great young players reflect the country's complicated colonial history that is embedded in that neighborhood, though perhaps none so much as Kylian Mbappé. With a father from Cameroon and a mother from Algeria, he is especially emblematic of the immigrant neighborhood and nearby suburbs (where he grew up), where a promising new France still struggles in a time of rampant anti-immigrant fervor.

I remember especially my interview with The Bachelor, as he calls himself, a sapeur who owns a men's store in the Goutte d'Or (aka Barbès or Chateau Rouge) where he sells the fashions of la sape. Of all the Parisians who participated in Cocoon, he may have explained the spirit and possibility of neighborhood most evocatively.    

"I’m one of the defenders of my culture [as a sapeur], my life is a witness to it. I’m a life history that speaks. But if I’m a part of my history at most, what do I matter? What’s the point of my life?

"You have lived the culture you inherited from your parents. It’s the same for me. I’ve been in France for 36 years, but I’m from somewhere in a certain African country. If you’re in my store, the things are pretty much classic to have on the shelves, you see, but they wouldn’t have anything to do with what’s in other stores. It’s not provocation, but it’s a reflection. I’m always displaying my African culture for the world. You can dress yourself differently in order to express your culture and make yourself happy, by wearing something a bit crazy, but which isn’t that crazy at all.

"When I see people, like you, who come and give us the chance to say what we have to say, in my opinion, you are my ally—since you let me express myself, convey something about what immigrants are doing in Paris. There are negative associations, you see, with people from elsewhere. 

"Today, I left my store and I came here because, in your own way, you are participating in a certain cultural exchange, a supposition of humanity. Because what’s humanity? you have people talk to each other—from several cultures in Paris. 

"Because Château Rouge has become a certain new France. It’s a certain Africa, a certain Asia, a certain Latin America. You see? This project is in the center of a certain dialogue. That’s what is so great. All stories are welcome. Without them, these different cultures are left behind."