Paris exhibition explores racism amid tensions in France

31.03.2017

A UNESCO-backed Paris exhibition exploring the psychology behind racism aims to shed light on why racist acts in France are on the rise and to educate against prejudice.

"We and the Others, Prejudices of Racism," which opens Friday to the French public at Paris' Museum of Mankind, comes at a prescient moment – during a divisive presidential campaign that's been rife with anti-Islam rhetoric.

This week, deep racial tensions affecting France's large Asian community were exposed in violence that spilled onto Paris' streets. Museum organisers said that some French political parties, especially the far-right, have used fear to fuel anti-Islam and anti-immigration policies.

"In politics, French people, especially young people, are taking on prejudiced attitudes and extreme views because they have forgotten where it leads," said co-curator Evelyne Heyer, a professor of genetic anthropology at the National History Museum.

The exhibit, which includes multimedia, objects and text, makes for uncomfortable viewing. It revisits dark historical moments including the Rwandan Genocide, segregation in the United States, the Holocaust, as well as French colonial rule.

One section's display features a simple metal funnel dated 1943 that was used to gas people in Natzweiler-Struthof, the only Nazi death camp on current French territory. Elsewhere, cabinets showcase colonial-era French scientific textbooks that teach children hierarchical racial difference.

But the exhibit is rooted in the present day. It presents newly-published research, which shows that while racial tolerance is generally increasing, racist acts and threats have been rising over the last ten years in French society.

Exhibit organisers launched a prominent campaign in the Paris metro, featuring large poster images of French celebrities of different ethnic backgrounds reduced to simplified black and white shapes. The museum hopes that its prime position on the Place du Trocadero, opposite the Eiffel Tower, will help attract tourists from all nationalities.

"This is a very good moment to look at French society... It's been 20 years since scientists proved race doesn't exist, but why is there still racism?" Heyer asked.

"We hope people – and some who are prejudiced – will come and take another look at why they feel the way they do," she added.    (AP)

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