French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday defended his choice of education minister, a Black academic whose appointment has triggered debate over “wokeism” and racism in France.
A specialist in African-American history and minority rights, Pap Ndiaye, the son of a Senegalese father and French mother, is only the second Black person to lead a key ministry in France.
His appointment on May 20, seen by analysts partly as a tactic to woo woke voters from the left ahead of this month’s legislative elections, has made waves.
Ndiaye’s work on minority rights and comments, including saying France was in “denial” about police violence and discrimination, have irked many in a country where some – including Ndiaye’s predecessor at the education ministry – fear the impact of wokeism.
The far-right and staunch conservatives see wokeism as a US import that seeks to rewrite French history.
The far-right’s Marine Le Pen called Ndiaye’s appointment a “terrifying choice”. She said she “could not care less about the colour of his skin”, but that she rejected his ideas, accusing him, without giving any evidence, of wanting to “deconstruct” France.
Macron brushed off this criticism as he and Ndiaye visited a school in the southern port of Marseille.
“When I chose to appoint Mr. Pap Ndiaye, I chose to appoint a man who, through his life, his career, shows what I believe the (product of schools) of the republic should be,” he told reporters.
“He showed it through his studies, his academic career, his concern for equal opportunity,” Macron said, adding that giving children equal opportunity in France also meant “building unity while respecting diversity”.
Le Monde newspaper said in an editorial this week France still had a struggle with racism.
“That the nomination of a Black man to a top ministerial post should have fuelled so much controversy shows that, beyond the political use the president of the Republic himself has made of it, France still has a long way to go before being truly ‘blind to skin colour’ as it claims to be,” it said.
When he was appointed, Ndiaye said: “I am a pure product of Republican meritocracy, of which the school system is the pillar.
“…I may be a symbol of meritocracy, but perhaps also of diversity. I take no pride in it, but rather a sense of duty and the responsibilities that are now mine.”