PARIS (AFP) – Pap Rivers, a historian specializing in race relations, emerged on Friday as a surprising choice for the French education minister and came under immediate attack from the far-right.
While most of the top ministerial posts announced on Friday in President Emmanuel Macron’s new cabinet went according to script, Nadia’s nomination blinded most observers.
His appointment follows on Macron’s tradition of taking on prominent French figures from outside politics to head key ministries.
Ndiaye is a respected academic with an international profile, specializing in the social history of the United States and minorities, who was named last year to head the Museum of the History of Immigration.
In his first public comments, the child of French and Senegalese parents called himself a “pure product of republican competence”, of which the school is the main pillar.
He acknowledged that he was “perhaps a symbol, one of merit, but perhaps also of diversity”.
“I don’t take pride in it, but have a sense of duty and responsibilities that are mine now,” he said.
break from predecessor
As a leftist, Ndiaye represents a decisive break with his right-wing predecessor Jean-Michel Blancar and the two men’s views on race and discrimination are sharply opposite.
Blanker has criticized the import of increasingly popular social science theories from the United States that seek to explain the effects of race and gender on poverty.
Blanker has also been an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement and so-called “voicism”, which he calls a threat to French democracy.
Ndiaye said he would begin his new job “with humility, with humility, and with all his energy and intelligent goodwill”.
But he has come under immediate attack from far-right politicians who see anti-racism activists as tarnishing France’s image by trying to highlight colonial crimes or discrimination.
Veteran anti-immigration politician Marine Le Pen called his rise “the final step in rebuilding our country, its values and its future”.
The head of his party, Jordan Bardella, called him “a racial activist and anti-police”.
“Emmanuel Macron said he was going to rebuild French history. Pap Rivers would take care of it,” commented fellow far-right politician Eric Zemour.
Born outside Paris, Rivers was a professor at the University of Paris’s Elite Sciences PO for many years.
Historian Pascal Blanchard said, “In the field of history, he is someone who has been innovative and has been able to show a new way of understanding the past.”
“He’s a teacher who knows what it’s like to be in front of a class of students,” he told AFP.
“In a diverse society, it is important to have someone who is attentive to diversity.”
Ndiaye first gained national fame with his 2008 work “The Black Condition, an Essay on a French Minority”.
“My aim was to provide logic and knowledge to young people who do not have concrete context,” he told AFP in March 2021, when he took over at the immigration museum.
“I felt like it was part of my role as a teacher to offer these foundations,” he said.
He said at the time that his appointment to the museum should open up a “field of possibilities” for young “non-whites”, while emphasizing that his appointment was due to a long career as an academic.
“I’m not blind, and don’t shy away from Prateik’s questions. I apply the same to my skin color.”
In 2019, he was a consultant for an exhibition on black models at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and in 2020 he co-authored a report on diversity at the Paris Opera.
His sister is the prominent French novelist and playwright Marie Rivers.
Some in the French left reacted with surprise that the famous historian of social change is now in government.
“I’m amazed. I didn’t see him there at all,” said Alexis Corbier of the far-left France Unboyed Party.
He said the “media stunt” would not quell anger within the French education system.
SNES-FSU, the main secondary school teachers’ union, welcomed Nadia’s appointment “as a break with Jean-Michel Blanquer in more ways than one”.
But it also warned that education “is not governed by symbols alone” and that a rapid response was needed “particularly in terms of wages”.
© 2022 AFP