Welcome to Episode 4 of Season 2 of the Glorieuses economic newsletter. Each month we write about economy, gender and race with an international perspective, and with the support of researchers.
Last month, we talked about the « Pink Tax« .
This month we feature a portrait of researcher Carmen Diop, a pioneer of intersectionality studies in France.
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Vous pouvez lire la version française, #Economie, ici. Translation in English by Stephanie Williamson.
January, 17th, 2021 – reading time :8 minutes
Carmen Diop, a 60-year-old Afro-Caribbean woman, is a pioneer in intersectional research in France. In 2007, she decided to resume studies in Occupational Psychology to study the experience of black female graduates in the workplace while working in a major Parisian university. Today, she is writing a thesis on recognition. “There is no age to study,” she tells us. On the contrary, Carmen Diop considers that her “maturity” is an asset. It allows her to carry out her thesis in complete freedom, without worrying about professional opportunities.
If Carmen Diop doesn’t care what others think of her, it’s because her primary motivation is personal: treating a depression caused by the mistreatment she suffered in the workplace in France for
several years. Micro-attacks, insults, belittling, the hindering of career growth and refusal of salary increases, harassment, side-lining: she’s seen it all. « Is it my bad temper, or my skin colour? » She needed an answer– and she got it from the field research she carried out between 2007 and 2009.
« Black people who can’t find a job aren’t looking for one »
At the beginning of her career Carmen Diop was not professionally confronted with racism. At the age of 23 (in 1983), after a Master’s degree in Political Philosophy and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, she decided to venture into journalism. She landed her first freelance work with Jeune Afrique. “It was an unconscious strategy that I understood when I started to do research: I turned to the pan-African press because it was an advantage for me to be black”, she analyses. « We were– as Africans– among ourselves. There were a few white people who worked with us but who were the minority for once– it was very nice for us, it reversed the situation. »
Talented, determined and big-mouthed (in her own words), Carmen Diop
rapidly broke into journalism, which she describes as « a world of sharks ». In 1988 she founded Elite Madame, a magazine aimed at French-speaking black women. At 28 years old, she became deputy editor-in-chief of Afrique Elite. Then she worked at Jeune Afrique Économie, and worked for RFO / AITV.
In 1993, the Paris correspondent of Africa Nº1– an international African radio– offered her the opportunity to replace him during his honeymoon in 1993. She had already planned to go to Africa to give her daughter a different view of Africa than the “devaluing vision” France holds of the region. The temporary replacement position went well and she was recruited as a permanent correspondent by Africa Nº1 in Dakar. She produced reports, interviews and documentaries on Senegal, Mauritania, Cape
Verde, Guinea Bissau and Gambia while also working as a correspondent for the Lettre Confidentielle Afrique Expansion for West Africa. “I was good at my work,” she recalls proudly.
The political world was fighting to talk with her. She received messages on her answering machine from chiefs of staff asking her to interview their ministers. This success “started to go to my head,” she admits. In 1995, a year after her arrival in Dakar, the United Nations Development Program for Mali invited her to join them. She worked there for 4 years while contributing to the building of the national communication policy for the development of Mali within a project financed by the UNDP and the FAO. She was 35 years old. She doesn’t hide the perspective she had: “I was one of those people who said: black people
who can’t find a job aren’t looking for one.”
30% of employees in France say they have experienced racism at work
Her return to France in 1999 was a disaster. “I no longer had any form of journalistic network,” she recalls. Her daughter had just entered seventh grade. She resolved to take the exams necessary to become a civil servant, as did many in her West Indian family on the maternal side, even though she had sworn to herself at a younger age not to follow their path.
This allowed her to be hired at the CNRS as an assistant to the committees that assess laboratories, researchers and scientific journals in 2002. It was the beginning of hell. She discovered what, according to a study published by Glassdoor
(2019), 43% of employees in France say they have experienced: racism at work. “My self-esteem saved me, but it also acted as a screen that kept me from seeing reality,” she says today.
After another exam in 2006, she was appointed Head of the Communication and Public Relations department by the chancellor of the University of Paris 1 in 2008. Her colleagues refused to recognize her authority and constantly made things difficult for her. “They only saw the colour of my skin, which was no longer a privilege. They treated me like a secretary and spoke to me badly. They were sure I’d slept with the manager to get appointed.” In fourteen years (from 2006 to 2020), she never underwent any annual assessment interviews– which are however compulsory – to advance her career.
“It was extremely difficult psychologically for me because I had never thought of myself as subordinate. At first, I didn’t even understand that I was being mistreated and I demanded respect.” In fact, Carmen Diop filed a complaint against the university in 2012 for discrimination and was dismissed by the administrative court, which criticized her for her “intransigence » and « aggressiveness ». The reprisals didn’t take long. She was made to work in an abandoned library on the 4th floor without an elevator, despite the fact that she was recognized as a disabled worker due to a slight motor impairment. She was transferred to Ivry sur Seine, which meant she had to undertake three and a half hours of public transport and more than 40 minutes of walking per day.
after returning from long-term sick leave, she was assigned to the lowest hierarchical level of the department she once led to serve as a ghostwriter for a manager in charge of creating a journal. Carmen Diop contributed to the design of a popular science journal and yet her name does not even appear there. In 2020, she was obliged to refer to the Ombudsman of the Ministry of National Education so that a collective agreement of seniority rights dating back to two years prior be applied to her.
Carmen Diop plunged into depression. She took sick leave after sick leave. “There was such a cognitive dissonance between who I was to myself and how I was perceived and treated, it was intolerable. But I didn’t have the tools to figure that out ”. Her psychiatrist wasn’t helping, prescribing her too much medication and advising her to try to « fit in!” “Society always wants us to believe that we’re the ones who are the trouble,” explains Carmen Diop.
Indeed, in the United States, several studies suggest that the symptoms of depression are taken less seriously when they concern black people because of racial stereotypes – yet, according to a study carried out in 2014 in the United States, 49% of black women show symptoms of depression
and 10% have suicidal thoughts. “This denial of racism is such that whites behave like narcissists towards minority people. They refuse their feelings, they refuse their experience,” says Carmen Diop.
This suffering prompted Carmen Diop, who was then 47, to return to university in 2007. “I needed to understand what was going on. Why did people talk to me badly, why was I being mistreated? I went back to school just to make sure I wasn’t responsible for these behaviours. My thesis healed me.” She then moved to the CNAM, the cradle of psychodynamics of work, a discipline which studies the relationships between psychological functioning and work organisation. She chose to do her thesis on the suffering of black female graduates in the workplace. She contacted a dozen women aged between 25 and 60, of West Indian, African and Afro-Caribbean origin.
Carmen Diop quickly realized she wasn’t alone. “These women talked about exactly what I was going through”: a
social downgrading because of their skin color. They experience more difficulty than white people in finding a job, hold positions that do not match their level of education and earn less than their white colleagues.
Carmen Diop transcribed some of the testimonies of these women in an article published in the Revue Homme et Migrations in 2011. “My French friends had their pre-employment contracts before they’d even finished studying. While those named Soumaré or Diakité didn’t work or did internships!” says a bookkeeper with a Master’s degree. “I earned 1.700 euros and I trained a white colleague with no experience who
was paid 2.050 euros!” testifies another woman. A Guadeloupean, in charge of General Affairs, said that when she arrived in a metropolitan public establishment, a colleague greeted her by asking her « are you the one who will be my secretary? »
The standpoint perspective, by Carmen Diop
The method I used for my research is a so-called situated point of view or theory of the point of view that comes from the United States. It was also developed by feminists to explain that it is from the point of view of women that one can best understand the oppression they experience. The challenge is to place it in a wider context and to draw from it a collective knowledge which has value for all the people who are in the same conditions.
These theories are contested in France because they call into question the objectivity of Western knowledge. They claim that greater objectivity can only come from subjective experience. In France, people of minority or racial groups are told that they cannot do research on their own community because they are too close and lack perspective. White
people are constantly conducting research on their own society and those of others, without it being a problem. So this obligation of so-called objectivity masks the fact that in reality what they identify as objective is really only the point of view of the majority group, that of men for feminists, that of whites for racial minorities.
White female researchers are aware of this positionality. When they present themselves in seminars or in an article, they say: “I am a white middle-class woman, I am aware of my class and race biases”. But this is not enough. Positionality doesn’t just mean that women and men have different experiences, which leads to different knowledge. It shows that the social situation of marginalised groups allows them to ask questions that the majority group does not think of and that are not
relevant to the dominant majority.
Intersectionality also recognizes that we are all different. Black women graduates are my research subject, they don’t exist in the wild. The 50 people I interviewed may be graduate black women like me, but we are all hugely different from eachother. I am a 60 year old Afro-European single mother, I am a graduate, I come from a middle-class background, I was born and raised in Africa, I have a slight disability etc. Some are accountants, other lawyers, artists, singers, etc. The only thing we have in common is a shared experience of racism. Depending on our individual situations, the dynamics of privilege and disadvantage will change. For example, in my case, during the first part of my life I didn’t really experience racism since I was in a majority position. I only encountered it after I found
myself in the minority position.
A degree does not protect against racism
Those who occupied positions that matched their qualifications were given no responsibilities. They felt they were being used to display ethnic “diversity”. “When my cases were being processed, my assistant director didn’t send me to meetings alone! I came with her, so while I was the secretary, she was the one to speak. But my white colleague was sent alone to the meetings,” testifies a young diplomat. “They made me senior consultant, but that was just a title!” adds a lawyer.
This experience was not without consequences on their self-esteem. “You have some who have internalized racism, who self-deprecate, who self-hate,” explains Carmen Diop. “A mixed-race woman, whose mother is a Portuguese princess, who did rallies when she was a
teenager, suffers from it. It doesn’t matter that she is nobility, that doesn’t stop her from hating her skin color.”
However, not all of them seek to protest against these injustices. “Often they are in denial. They refuse to think that what is happening to them has to do with their skin color,” says Carmen Diop. On the contrary, to get rid of the stereotypes associated with them, they instead seek to distinguish themselves from other black women. “There are young black women who explained to me that they are not like other black women,” says the researcher.
“The solution is the creation of collectives for black women”
« These individual defence strategies deprive us of means of action, of means of struggle, » regrets Carmen Diop. Indeed, she argues that in order to fight racism it is necessary to put in place collective strategies. “Denial leaves you isolated at work,” she insists. “The solution is to create black women’s collectives. The exchange helps us become aware of a shared situation and to reflect on collective strategies of struggle.”
As such, she notes some of the initiatives that are emerging in France. But she deplores that they are accused of being « communitarian or racialist. » According to Carmen Diop, this demonstrates the refusal « of whites to recognize that there is racism in France » – which has nevertheless been made
evident since videos testifying to police violence suffered by black people went viral.
To say that these groups are « communitarian » is to forget how important it was for women to come together to realize that they were going through the same things. Feminists started to gain weight when women started marching in the streets. As long as they were cleaning the kitchen, as long as they were in the private space, nothing was happening. «
It is precisely for the purpose of “building collective knowledge” that Carmen Diop decided to push her research further by writing a doctoral thesis in 2013. This time she studied the journeys of 50 women – from whom she drew more than 2,500 pages of testimonies. “The day people start telling each other their
stories, their experiences, their suffering, we’ll no longer be able to pretend that they do not exist. We will no longer be able to tell the millions of people with the same skin colour that they are too sensitive.” And when will that day come? “That depends on you, the young people,” she says, a bit sarcastically.
The Racial Equity Index for the international development sector
Uma Mishra, Former Director of Women’s March Global and initiator of the Racial Equity Index
Why did you initiate the Racial Equity Index?
The purpose of the Racial Equity Index is to score the racial equity of organisations, foundations, NGOs, etc. I decided to launch this initiative in June 2020 for two reasons. Firstly, because following the murder of George Floyd, the #Blacklivesmatter movement made it possible to break the silence on racism within
organizations working for international development (INGOs, foundations, organizations, the philanthropy sector, etc.) when they are supposed to fight it.
Indeed, these were built on colonialist structures and cultures, which produce work organizations that exclude, oppress, and silence racial minority people in the sector. This has been brought to light recently, with accusations of racism targeting Women Deliver, International Women’s Health Coalition and Médecins Sans Frontières. In addition, in recent years the international development sector has become aware of the sexism that inhabited it, thanks to indexes that measure gender equality such as that of the World Economic Forum. However, nothing has been done on racism.
What is the index?
What is very innovative is that this index is created by racial minority people – all volunteers – who have held different roles in the development sector. We therefore ask questions that come from our experience. We are at the very first stage of building the index. Currently, we are conducting a study that aims to define the five main indicators that are important for assessing racial equity in an organization. These indicators relate to human resource management, workplace culture, funding structures and allocation of funds, program management, salary policy, etc. Once these indicators have been identified, we will develop focus groups on each of them in order to create sub-categories for each indicator. This whole process is peer reviewed and will therefore take time.
What will its impact be?
I think there are several levels of impact here. From an internal perspective, this initiative has already enabled us [racial minority people] to address these issues without being judged. From an external point of view, we hope that this index will make it possible to recognise the existence of racist structures in the sector and to dismantle them. Having said that, it will take time. It’s not in a mere few weeks, as some may argue, that we will defeat racism.
Interview with Carmen Diop on pay inequalities between white and racial minority women, by Rebecca Amsellem
This interview was conducted in 2019 and it’s full version in French is accessible here.
(Many thanks to journalist Dolores Bakèla without whom this interview would not have been possible.)
RA: When we talk about wage inequalities, we think first and foremost of inequalities between women and men.Not of those between white and racial minority women. Why is it important to focus more specifically on the issue of black women in the workplace?
CD: When I started working on these issues, my white friends said there was no particular problem for black women. They were aware of discrimination related to age, disability, level of qualification. But they had this kind of veil that prevented them from seeing racism. This is why people who mention these subjects are called « paranoid » or « hypersensitive ». However, we cannot consider or comprehend the issue of pay inequalities without taking into account the issue of racial discrimination. The experience of white women is not representative of all women. Furthermore, I am aware that my feminism is representative of only some women – those who live in complex and intricate situations.
RA: Why do we speak almost exclusively of pay inequalities between women and men
and not pay inequalities between white women and racial minority women?
CD: At all levels of the chain of command, racial minority women and especially black women I work with are paid less and do not have the same level of career progression. One of the reasons for this difference in interest is universality.Thus, we tend to consider that all women are the same woman. Or that racism doesn’t exist. We tend to think that everyone’s life is the same. This is not true: there is discrimination.
RA: Why do black women earn less than white women with an equivalent level of education?
CD: Racial discrimination; this discrimination is
institutional, structural. It goes beyond the perception or the preferences of the individual who recruits, manages the career, enforces the laws. It is a system – I wouldn’t say it is state racism – that perpetuates discrimination without calling it into question. By questioning wage inequalities solely in terms of gender, we forget other aggravating factors: age, class, race or disability. These discriminations reinforce each other. When a woman combines the fact of being young or older with being disabled, she suffers a shameful amount of discrimination. Based on my own experience, racial minorities are relegated to a social class that is not their own in order to – in terms of human relationships– keep them at the bottom of the hierarchy. An elderly, disabled racial minority woman will be sent down to the bottom of the career ladder although no-one will hesitate to
monopolize her skills. This structural discrimination combines with individual, unconscious racism.
RA: It is often said to white women that if they do not earn as much as men, it is because they don’t dare to negotiate, ask for a raise or a promotion. Is it the same with black women?
CD: Women don’t dare. Racial minority women dare even less. I temper this by saying that young people tend to demand what they need: those who are in their thirties. For example, I heard from a young woman who struggled because she was being overtaken by people recruited more recently than herself – people she had herself trained. She fought and she succeeded in earning an equivalent salary.
RA: What are the political solutions to put in place?
CD: I have identified several personal strategies put in place by black female graduates. The first is independence. Most of the women in my field have become independent because they realised that they could not have the careers they wanted neither in terms of responsibility nor in terms of salary. So they created their own businesses. A second strategy is to go to Africa, England or even the United States. During my most recent fieldwork I met a woman who, upon graduation from HEC, had difficulty finding work. She finally found it but her first two positions were very problematic.She then went to Senegal. France lost her.
The Universalist Republican Colour Blind Model
The collection and use of statistics on skin colour is a controversial subject in France. Unlike in English-speaking countries, their use is prohibited by the “Informatique et Libertés” law of January 1978, with some exceptions.
It is considered that the establishment of such statistics would amount to recognising that these “categories” are not only an object of study, but that they actually exist within the population, which would go against the universalist French culture. Indeed, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Minister of National Education has notably accused the “intersectional theses which are winning over French universities” of “essentialising communities and identities, a move that is at odds with our republican model which postulates the
equality between human beings, regardless of their characteristics of origin, sex or religion.”
Nevertheless, for some social science researchers, these statistics are essential for measuring the extent of discrimination. According to Carmen Diop, « not only is this an obstacle for research, but continuing to refuse the statistics contributes to the continuation of the denial of racism and discrimination in France. »
A decision made by the Constitutional Council of 2007, however, authorized the processing of « objective » data such as « name, geographical origin, nationality prior to French nationality » (not skin colour) and « subjective data, for example based on the « feeling of belonging ». Thus, a study (TEO Trajectories and Origin) was carried
out by the INED and INSEE to measure discrimination based on people’s origins. Published in 2016, it reveals that racism does exist in France:
55% of immigrants from countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea or Central Africa said they had been “the target of openly racist insults, words or attitudes” in their lifetime.
More than 50% of immigrants from Africa who have obtained French nationality believe that they are not perceived as French.
The employment rate of descendants of immigrants remains 9 points lower than the general average for men (61% versus 70%). These inequalities are also observed in the majority population, but with higher employment rates (72% of women are employed compared to 80% of men).
A second survey was carried out between 2018 and 2020 and will be published at the end of 2022.
Les dernières newsletters Gloria Media
“Ce n’est pas de l’art, c’est un en-cas“, Les Glorieuses, 13 janvier 2021.
L’acte radical de créer un monde à soi, Les Glorieuses, 6 janvier 2021.
Génération intranquille, consciente et indignée, Les Petites Glo, 5 janvier 2021.
Petit, mignon et rose, Economie, 27 décembre 2020.
La parole étudiante se libère enfin
#VousAussi, Les Petites Glo, 22 décembre 2020.
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