Op/Ed: Will Erasing Dark History Change The Memories

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Between history and memory, the questions that emerge today in France on the prevalence of racism and xenophobia refer to the apprehension of the ways of thinking of a country with complex relationships with its past.

The debate which animates France today on the historical legacy of colonization and its racist and xenophobic corollary is about to shake the certainties of a country long confided in its history.

The homeland, mother of Human Rights, has always had great difficulty digesting its past for multiple reasons ranging from greatness to ego, through pride and power, shame, and dishonor.

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In this spirit of recognition, did we not hesitate to give the name of Colbert to one of the halls of the National Assembly, Colbert, eminent Controller General of Finances of Louis XIV but also author of the Code Noir in 1685.

At the same time, the Jules Ferry, Paul Bert, Ferdinand Buisson schools, without counting the streets, the squares, the avenues ... have flourished for decades in order to honor the fathers of the republican school but all of them pillars of a Republic, the third in this case which brought colonial enterprise to its climax. And there is no shortage of examples, from De Gaulle to Mitterrand ... The dilemma is most difficult.

Enlightenment and Memory

Should we still honor men like Colbert, Ferry, and other charismatic figures from a double-sided country where the spirit of the Enlightenment and the darkest hours of a nation torn by the mistakes of the past rub shoulders? The question will not be answered here because everyone will bring their own. But history which wants to be a construction of proven and verified facts therefore carries with it all the aspects that compose it, aspects judged by the yardstick of the era in which we live.

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Just as our contemporaneity will be judged in decades by others, admirers or repulsed by our way of life and thought. Thus, the words of Jules Ferry on the responsibility of the superior races would be today, and rightly and without possible discussion, condemned. But at the end of the XIXth century, this same discourse which then certainly moved, did not hinder the march to colonization nor altered the idea that Europe and the white man felt invested with a superiority considered to this era as founded.

The current debate inevitably brings us back to these essential questions of history and memory, the two fighting over the primacy of reason.

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History, construction of facts, and memory, partial, individual or collective perception of the past which aggregates into a more global whole to the point of forming one of the constructive elements of History, appear as the Gordian knot of the debate which is emerging.

Culture and Temporal Vacuum

Evoking Colbert and Ferry as great statesmen, promoters of the greatness of the country or craftsmen of the Republic for the second is not insulting if at the same time are remembered what the two men, among other guardian figures, also defended as ideas which today go against the foundations of our societies.

In an improbable and impossible leap in time, Colbert and Ferry would understand nothing of our contemporary societies if they had to stay there. Why? Because each era defends its own mores which through culture, education, knowledge ... are amended or combated.

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Colbert and Ferry thought and acted like men of their time, confronted with the evolution's and ways of thinking of their own time in a country itself also in intellectual construction. Throwing Colbert or Ferry out of the water without any other form of trial would be to erase them from history, to create a temporal void that would make no sense because action or non-action, the errors or the benefits of these men explain also the evolution of History which continued after them.

The Black Code was abolished because it had been drafted and colonization was condemned to finally stop because it oppressed unjustly and cruelly Men. Judging men of the past is an arduous, difficult, and complex task because if the court of the time does not apologize, like any judicial institution, it listens before convicting.


Bio: Olivier Longhi has extensive experience in European history. A seasoned journalist with fifteen years of experience, he is currently professor of history and geography in the Toulouse region of France. He has held a variety of publishing positions, including Head of Agency and Chief of Publishing. A journalist, recognized blogger, editor and editorial project manager, he has trained and managed editorial teams, worked as a journalist for various local radio stations, a press and publishing consultant, and a communications consultant.

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