Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Le Racisme Expliqué à Ma Fille" (Racism Explained to my Daughter) by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Year of publication : 1998
Genre: non-fiction for children and young adults

About the author: Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in Fez, Morocco, in 1944. After having attended bilingual schools in Morocco, he studied philosophy and psychology in Paris and has been living in France since 1971. He became famous with the novel L’enfant de Sable (The Sand Child, 1985). His novel La Nuit Sacrée (The Sacred Night, 1987) won the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious literary prize in France. Racism Explained to my Daughter was a best seller in France, Italy and Germany.

What it’s all about: This book was conceived during a demonstration against an immigration law in Paris and answers his daughter’s questions about the reasons for racism. It is aimed primarily at children and teenagers and it was widely read in schools in France.

Some thoughts: I don’t usually read non-fiction books, but I’ve always desired to have this book on my shelf. I know many people (in the sad sad place where I come from) who should read this. Unfortunately, as the author says many times, adults’ preconceptions are difficult to eradicate, which means we should work with children. I would strongly advice every Italian school to have this read in class, but as for Treviso, there is a long way to go.
I also learned a few things from the book, apart from some racial slurs in French that I’ll never use. For example, I learned that 5 out of 6 French people are of ‘foreign descent’ and a bit of history of the Jewish population of Morocco.

Now I’d like to share a short anecdote with you. It’s from a letter addressed to the author included in the annexes (pardon me if I'm too lazy to translate or find the English version):

Lorsque ma fille avait quatre ans, lors d’une promenade dans notre petite ville où nous ne rencontrions à l’époque presque jamais de personnes d’ascendance africaine, nous voyons venir en notre direction un bel homme de très haute stature, aux traits africains, à la peau presque d’ébène. Lorsqu’il nous a croisés et qu’il est à quelques pas derrière à nous, ma fille me demande si je pense qu’il est hollandais. Je suis surprise de sa question; je n’ai vu que des traits africains, une peau de couleur très foncée. « Pourquoi penses-tu qu’il est hollandais ? » lui demandai-je. « Eh bien, me dit-elle, c’est parce qu’il porte des sabots. » Je me retourne et , en effet, le jeune homme portait des sabots. Cela m'a fait chaud au cœur.