All Born to Freedom? Comparing the Law and Politics of Race and the Memory of Slavery in the U.S. and France Today
USC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-18
42 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 15, 2011
Both the United States and France have seen a burgeoning of memorialization of slavery and abolition in recent years, and France has even passed a memorial law declaring slavery a crime against humanity. This Essay compares law, racial politics, and the memory of slavery in two nations trying to come to terms with their slave pasts. Despite important differences in their histories and civil rights regimes, I argue that in both France and the U.S., movements that oppose race-conscious law portray slavery as part of the deep past, and a generalized past detached from race, whereas those seeking some form of recognition or reparation emphasize that slavery is “not even past.” In both countries, the originary revolutionary moment – in France, associated with the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and in the U.S. with the 1787 Constitution – is invoked to create a sense of the timeless continuity of the principle of colorblindness, with slavery (and race-conscious legal remedies today) temporary deviations.
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