Loi Deferre, loi Joxe, lois Pasqua ou Debré,
une seule logique : la chasse à l’immigré.e.
(Deferre, Joxe, Pasqua or Debré laws follow one logic: hunting immigrants.)
This line opens the canonic rap song 11’30 contre les lois racistes (11 minutes 30 seconds against the racist laws) put together in 1997 by an impressive collaboration of rappers and producers — Akhenaton & Freeman (IAM), Arco & Mystik, Assassin & Maître Madj, Aze, Djoloff, Fabe, Menelik, Passi & Stomy Bugsy, Jean-François Richet, Radicalkicker, Rootsneg, Sleo, Soldatsfadas, White & Spirit, and Yazid — with the activist organization Mouvement de l’immigration et des banlieues (MIB).
The racist laws, which the song refers to, consist of a series of legislations enacted between 1982 and 1996 by both “left” and right wing governments. The most notable ones are the two drafted by infamous minister of the Interior Charles Pasqua in 1986 and 1993, which deploys a legal arsenal against current or potential immigrants — a term notably inappropriate when designating people whose parents were colonized subjects of the French empire — in particular enabling organized police harrassment of anyone who “looks like” they could be undocumented. These two laws are completed in 1997 through another law drafted by Jean-Louis Debré (son of Michel Debré, who was France’s Prime Minister during the second half of the counter-revolution campaign in Algeria), which allows the confiscation of undocumented people’s passports, the collection of their digital prints, and more leeway to imprison them in detention centers.
This song is an important part of the antiracist struggle’s cultural production in France. Only four years after the massive 1993 march for equality and against racism between Marseille and Paris, which was to a certain degree, co-opted by the then ruling Socialist Party with the creation of SOS Racisme, targeted by the song which calls for the end of “folkloric and naive anti-racism” (to which we can add the “We Are the World”-like song campaigns that use a charitable model rather than a political one). 14 years later, SOS Racisme has no credibility even amidst the most reformist anti-racist activists, given how it keeps applying a moralizing and individualized understanding of racism, which led them to episodically denounce an illusion of “anti-white racism.”
Yet today, the song can also serve as a critical witness of an era where the struggle for undocumented workers and anti-racist struggles were absolutely indissociable. Its historical feats involve among others the massive rent strikes of Sonacotra worker hostels (1975-1980), the tireless efforts towards the documentation of 131,000 immigrants in 1981, or the creation of the MIB in 1995, to which the 11’30‘s profits went.
At a time when the U.S.’s anti-racist paradigm is a bigger (yet distant) influence on many current anti-racist activists in France than models from elsewhere in the world, or for that matter, from the past of the local struggle, the terms of the fight have somehow shifted to a demand for equality for all citizens (whether articulated as such explicitly or implictly). Consequently the question of the undocumented or foreign residents’ struggles appear more and more desperately separated from most (not all, of course) political organizations in France. Examples of intergenerational transmission of the struggle are starting to develop however, and a song like 11’30 is here to remind us of this past indissociability.
I end this short text with a powerful memory from July 13, 2019. The day before, 300 undocumented activists had gathered under the name Gilets Noirs (Black Vests, in contrast, more than in opposition, with the Gilets jaunes), splendidly occupying the French Pantheon in Paris before being expelled, brutally beaten for many, with some arrested by the police. Those of us who were here to support them that day came back the next day to stand in front of the police station of Paris’ 5th arrondissement to show our solidarity with the arrestees (whose arrest would finally be broken in court a few days later) and to demand their liberation. When our speeches ceased, we turned the big speakers towards the police station to blast 11’30 so that both police officers and detainees would be reminded of this song’s message. ■