World War I brought many Black Americans to the city of Paris for the first time. The United States had “given” France Black soldiers during the war, which exposed Black Americans to a new land. After the war, as white Americans tried to put Black people “back in their place,” Paris became a place to escape.
But was it the refuge from racism it seemed?
To many Black Americans, Paris felt like a place where they could just exist comfortably without the racial projections of white Americans. However, they never expected their novel presence to turn the city upside down.
The bohemian white Parisians soon became obsessed with Black culture. It became “in fashion” to own African art, listen to Jazz, and dance Black dances. There was even a word for all this: “Negrophilia.”
Another name for it? Racial fetishization. Their “love” for Black culture actually showed that they defined Africa and Blackness as a “primitive” thing they could escape to. Their love for the culture was never based on trying to actually understand Black people.
This continues today. The truth is, there can be no “cultural appreciation” until we have cultural power. Otherwise it will always be fetishization! They don’t want to be us, they want to wear our skin, then take it off when it suits them – and we should never forget that.