Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Little Racism with that Champagne?: Gallas Tackles Covert Racism of Everyday France

Remember that old Saturday Night Live skit in which Eddie Murphy goes about in white face, and gets free coffee & newspapers? ("Slowly I began to realize that when white people are alone, they give things to each other for free!") It's absolute genius - when the one black man on a bus gets off, the white folks play a little Lawrence Welk, sing and clap their hands, and start sipping champagne. He goes to a bank for a loan - with no collateral, no credit. The black bank manager is about to turn him down when a white colleague takes over - "Silly Negro!" he says of his colleague, handing the money over to Murphy. Sad thing is this sort of thing isn't so far from the truth (witness: CEO's raking in millions of dollars off of their own bad loans).

The French national team player and Arsenal captain William Gallas just got a nasty taste of it. Not the overt racism of people in the stands unfurling their biggotry in hateful fan chants, but the subtle, insidious, covert racism of everyday interaction in which one's presence is greeted with the cold breeze suspicion.

The story: Gallas set out with his driver to buy eight bottles of Dom Perignon for a dinner party with his family and friends. He went to a store in the 16th arrondissement (the richest part of Paris) that specializes in champagne. When he asked for eight bottles of Dom, the store clerk looked at him askance and said he could only buy two - that it was against store policy to sell so many bottles to one client (!). He bought two of Dom, and two of another brand - and then sent in his white chauffeur to see if he could buy four bottles of Dom Perignon. Pas de problème.

When Gallas went back into the store to confront the clerk about his racist behavior, the clerk said "But you should have told me you were William Gallas!"

I am eager to see where this goes. I can't imagine a person more up to the challenge of defending of one's right to be treated with dignity and respect. Allez Les Bleus!


  1. Hey
    I was at your lecture today at Saint Martini's.
    Refreshing to hear a realistic approach to modern feminism.
    Cheers for a thought provoking lecture

  2. hi hi just wanted to let you know i really loved your talk tonight. i was there too. and to tell you the truth, i'm not much of a sports fan, not even football, but your story telling can really get anyone (ok me) going, can bring me there. but you talk about football in this way that's like so much more than sport ok maybe it's still sport but i think it's more of an opportunity to talk about say, race and class in this well, unbrassy but classy way. thank you.

  3. julie & xta, thanks for your comments. i also enjoyed the central saint martin lecture - you guys were a great audience! i will try to organize a london reading of my football writing , check in here or e-mail me if you want to know when that happens.

  4. I somehow missed this story, how horrendous.

    What it reminds me of, though, is a story from 2002. Wayne Rooney, before *that* goal against Arsenal, and Everton team-mate Alan Stubbs were taking a wander one Saturday afternoon around Fulham prior to their evening game against Chelsea. They wandered into an estate agent: two Scousers, dressed in tracksuits, and started to ask questions about property in the area. The estate agent... called the police!! assuming that they were casing prospective buglary victims.

    sorry, this is a bit tangential.


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