Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris

Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris

Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris

Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris

Synopsis

World War I gave colonial migrants and French women unprecedented access to the workplaces and nightlife of Paris. After the war they were expected to return without protest to their homes-either overseas or metropolitan. Neither group, however, was willing to be discarded. Between the world wars, the mesmerizing capital of France's colonial empire attracted denizens from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Paris became not merely their home but also a site for political engagement. Colonial Metropolis tells the story of the interactions and connections of these black colonial migrants and white feminists in the social, cultural, and political world of interwar Paris and of how both were denied certain rights lauded by the Third Republic such as the vote, how they suffered from sensationalist depictions in popular culture, and how they pursued parity in ways that were often interpreted as politically subversive.
This compelling book maps the intellectual and physical locales that the disenfranchised residents of Paris frequented, revealing where their stories intersected and how the personal and local became political and transnational. With a focus on art, culture, and politics, this study reveals how both groups considered themselves inhabitants of a colonial metropolis and uncovers the strategies they used to colonize the city. Together, through the politics of anti-imperialism, communism, feminism, and masculinity, these urbanites connected performances of colonial and feminine tropes, such as Josephine Baker's, to contestations of the colonial system.

Excerpt

On May 6, 1931, a black man walked up the steps of a brand new metro station in Paris. the Métro Dorée station was built as part of the French government’s bid to lure what would eventually be 8 million visitors to the event known as the Colonial Exposition. Analogous to a world’s fair, the Colonial Exposition was a project to showcase France’s colonial empire both to its own citizens and to other nations. the policemen who were staking out the métro exit immediately noticed the man as he emerged from underground. After all, very few people of African descent were attempting to enter the exposition. Most Africans and Antilleans (people from the French West Indies, or Caribbean) were already inside its gates, in attendance not to visit but to perform aspects of colonial life for visiting dignitaries and other spectators.

Agent Joé, as he was known, was at the Colonial Exposition on its opening day not only to take in the sights. He was also an informer, there to report on what he heard and saw in the African, Caribbean, and other colonial milieus of Paris to the French authorities. If he had made it through the exposition’s gates, his task would have been to locate other politically militant black men present at the event and take note of what they said and to whom they said it. Were they speaking to the performers, who had been sailed in for the exposition and were to be sent back overseas once it was over, hopefully without the baggage of Parisian anticolonial politics? Were they approaching white French men and women? However, with only a few hundred meters to go Joé was waylaid himself and arrested by the police inspectors, who discreetly took him to a police station nearby. Convinced that . . .

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