Decolonizing High-school Education in Martinique


Martinique! Small island of the Caribbean located between Saint Lucia and Dominica. Martinique, with endless sandy beaches, coconuts, bananas, and sexy Black — but not too Black — men and women. Its cocktails, its ti-punch and its rum! Its rum! Internationally recognized, bringing lots of money to the descendants of slave owners — oh yeah, I should not mention that.

So what was I saying again? Yes! Did you know that in addition to having alcohol, docile Blacks, and white-sanded beaches, Martinique is one of those wonderful places where French is the main language? Which makes me realize that I did not introduce myself. My name is Alexane and I’m French. I was born in the French region of Martinique, 8,000 kilometers from Paris, the capital of my country. I have never known a winter or a fall except when I went to the United States a year ago. I have a French passport, which allows me to live wherever I want in the European Union. Oh yes, I am also European — although some of my compatriots think that I am anti-European racist, or am I?

It does not make much sense to you? In fact, it is very simple. During decolonization, France wanted to keep Martinicans near her. Out of love for niggas. You don’t believe me? You conspiracy theorist! So now, we are French. Most Martinican people are very happy about that fact. I too was, until two years ago. Now, I belong to the 1% of people who want independence for Martinique; these crazy people who want independence. Who would like that? Long live dependence! It doesn’t sound good, I know right?

I did not go straight from believing I was French to being an independentist — and one that’s proud of their Africaness! — just as I did not become an activist overnight. As you can imagine, this has been a loooong and funny journey. For instance, I’ve wondered if wanting to be free meant that I hated white people.

So let me introduce myself for the second time: I’m Alexane, I’m Martinican, I’m mixed. And this is my story.

I officially became an anti-racist activist in the eyes of my compatriots (French and Martinican) the day I posted a picture and link to on Twitter — Yoohoo! It was during the week of May 22, 2017, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery on my island. A few days before, I’d read an article explaining that Victor Hugo, one of the greatest French authors, was racist during his lifetime. And booooy, I was very disappointed. Because all year, my French teacher, a non-Martinican woman — this is code for white — had us studying this author in depth. In lessons she gave us about him, she mentioned all this man’s qualities: “humanist,” “feminist,” opposed to the death penalty, protector of children, the poor and even animals — he was a vegetarian before it became trendy!

As a result, I, who used to admire him, was shocked to discover what he thought of Africa and Africans. According to him, “the white man” had made the “black man” a human being, and “God” ordered the Europeans to take African lands “full of savages” because Africa “belonged to Europe.” I told my teacher about that. She pretended to be surprised, and told me that she would talk about it in class. She didn’t. So I decided to write an open letter to the Minister of Education of France, in which I asked that teachers and books no longer present this man as a perfect humanist. Because, you know, “former” colonies have the same education program as France. And that’s not cool.

I posted this open letter on Twitter. Seeing the attention it drove, I rewrote it as a petition. The vast majority of Caribbeans who wrote to me after that told me about their similar experiences with professors, and made me realize that school to us, “French of the Caribbean,” was propaganda. One week after the publication of the letter, A big TV station interviewed me. The next day, a representative of the Academy of Martinique intervened during my French class. She said that Victor Hugo was a “man of his time” and that it was the duty of our parents to teach us that most (all!) famous french authors were racists. All I could think was, “But you brainwashed our parents too.” Schools were going to keep telling us lies, basically. My French teacher added that all I did was trying to “go viral.”

But I didn’t really care about what she had to say. What saddened me was that almost everyone in my class thought that it wasn’t a big problem because “he was a man of his time,” and “he’s dead.” But that was back then. Now when I talk with them, they seem to really get it and some of them have started to study our history more, which makes me very happy. Eventually, artists and political figures shared the petition. Two of my interviews were shared online and people from all around the world started messaging me; most of their messages were full of hope and kindness.

The French Minister of Education completely ignored it. But I do know that they’ve heard about it and that it stressed them out for a little while, which is very rejoicing. I still wanted to keep shaking things up about Victor Hugo (and all of his little ‘humanist’ friends). So in June of this year I purposefully went off topic for a baccalaureat (the final high school exam) test, which was about one of his plays, and I got a 3/20 grade. But I’ll come back to that story later.

After May 2017, I wanted to get involved in real life activism,, not just on the Internet. During a march in March 2018, I met the coolest old guy ever. His name is Garcin Malsa, a former mayor and the face of the fight for reparations in Martinique. His organization, which is 20 years old, even took France to court for slavery. Two weeks after meeting him, I skipped class and used all my savings to go to Senegal with him and 80 other angry old Black people. They became my family and I am an angry Black person now. I felt free. I felt like I was doing something bigger than myself. Something that had more meaning and would teach me more than just sitting in a class. We went to the “slave” house in Gorée. We talked about reparations with many people, including Aminata Traoré, a former minister of Mali. We met with many people involved in the fight for reparations in Senegal. I didn’t feel like I was struggling alone anymore. I felt guided and at peace.

Just like every activist, I’ve asked myself if I want to be the kind who debates with the oppressor, to the point where you’re part of the system, or the kind that goes against the system completely.■