Across Europe we are witnessing an increasing prevalence in right-wing, exclusionary discourses which foster hostility towards those who are designated as foreign and, therefore, not belonging within the conglomerate’s national borders. Linda Lê and Marie NDiaye, two critically acclaimed contemporary French authors reject attempts to label them and their works because of their ethnic backgrounds. In this way, they challenge the “othering” discourses which try to mark them as outsiders because the former was born in Vietnam and the latter has a Senegalese father. This is reflected in their novels which often portray the inequalities and violence faced by racialised minorities in France, including assault, rape, hate speech and expulsion from geographical or social spaces. However, Lêand NDiaye also complexify our understanding of discrimination by portraying it as multi-faceted: ethnic minority characters are marginalised not just because of their skin colour or cultural background but also because of their gender, class, age or sexuality.
In light of this, my thesis, funded by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, examines how racism is impacted by various forms of intersecting “othering” discourses. The concept of intersectionality was coined by the American lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw:
‘…the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism… Because of their intersectional identity as both women and people of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, the interests and experiences of women of color are frequently marginalized within both.’ (Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’, Stanford Law Review,43:6 (1991), 1241-99, p.1).
As such, women from ethnic minorities are not only liable to suffer greater discrimination because of both their gender and background but this is less likely to be recognised and challenged. This marginalisation has also been experienced by women in France who have been overlooked by both anti-racist movements and feminist movements. However, there has been a surge in groups aiming to tackle this fissure in recent years by revealing the misogyny and racism within the anti-racist and feminist movements respectively. By analysing this socio-political evolution, my project aims to bring to light the intersectional nature of marginalisation experienced by ethnic minorities in contemporary France and how this is reflected in Linda Lê and Marie NDiaye’s novels. I hope to demonstrate that they can act asa powerful medium for subverting these “othering” discourses by revealing their intrinsic violence and giving a voice to people who experience multiple forms of discrimination. This revelation can open the eyes of the reader and help them to question how they can engage more ethically with the world around them.
Alison Marmont, University of Southampton
Image credits: Wikipedia