C onclusion
Reckoning, Reparation, and
the Value of Fictions
Ioutboth
t is usual and imperative to end studies of the slave trade by pointing
that slavery and human trafficking persist in the modern and post-
modern world. At the end of part 3 of this book I indicated briefly how sys-
tems of forced labor and coerced migration morphed, but did not disappear,
with the end of the French Atlantic slave trade. In our times uncounted
numbers of people around the globe remain in various forms of servitude.1
As I worked to conclude this book, a “memory war” about the slave trade
and colonialism simmered in France. Right-wing politicians had passed a
law in 2004 that mandated a “positive” representation of French colonial-
ism in schoolbooks. An attempt by the socialists to repeal this law failed in
the fall of 2005; a poll found that two out of three French citizens approved
of it.2 The debate was renewed for a time. Arguments made by the neocon-
servative writer and politician Max Gallo shed light on the ideas behind this
law. In an essay published in Le Figaro he contended that history and mem-
ory are not the same; that identity politics based on a revival of colonial
memory threatens the very substance of the Republic and the integrity of
“national history.” Bad memories should not be revived because they might
“establish communities hostile to the Republic in function of [the] colonial
past.” Forget memories, he implies, if they are not good for the universal,
unitary state. Why wallow in “penitence”?3 This was written after Paris (the
suburbs, that is) had already burned in the riots of 2005; the colonial past
had already come home to roost. The bankruptcy of Gallo’s argument—
which is merely the old wine of colonial assimilationism in new bottles—is
now more evident than ever.
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