Here's Why People Are Furious About the French President's Comments About African Women

July 10th 2017

On Saturday, during a press conference at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron made some controversial comments about the challenges that African nations face today.

In his response to a question from a journalist from the Ivory Coast, Macron described the problems Africa faces as "civilizational" and seeming to imply that African women with "seven to eight children" were a significant obstacle to progress. 

“The challenge of Africa is completely different, it is much deeper," he reportedly said, and added, "it is civilizational today." In his three and a half minute answer, transcribed on Media Guinee, Macron also added that when "countries still have seven to eight children per woman, you can decide to spend billions of euros, you will not stabilize anything."

Macron scored a decisive victory in the French election in May, after running a centrist campaign against Marine Le Pen, the former president of the far-right National Front.

People on Twitter said Macron's remarks were "dumb" and exhibited "clear racism." 

Other people supported the comments. 

So why are people angry with Macron?

Well, for starters, African countries have a history of oppression, slavery, and colonialism at the hands of European countries, including France, that greatly contributed to current conditions of instability and poverty. According to the University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center, France not only participated in the slave trade, but spent over two hundred of years removing valuable raw materials from West Africa and controlling present-day Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Niger.

There is historical tendency for countries that benefited from colonialism and slavery to talk about Africans as uncivilized or savages. 

Some Twitter users implied that Macron's comments are a part of this phenomenon, which places blame on the African people for the problems in African countries, while ignoring the history of colonialization that helped create and foster these problems. 

In 2014, Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne wrote a piece for The Washington Post, which examined the ways Western countries continued to use stereotypes to justify their history with the African continent. One example they cited was the discredited "science" of "phrenology" that developed from scientist Frederick Coomb's theory that the size and shape of a person's skull affects their intelligence, which was used to justify the colonialization and slavery of Africans. 

"While Coombs’s book may be the best-known of the works of Victorian phrenology, the racism that his conjectures embodied was deeply embedded in the culture of most colonizing states," they wrote. "Most Westerners of the time believed that people of color were 'savages,' desperately in need of the benefits of modernity, Christianity and intelligence the colonists believed they were well-suited to bring to Africa."

Seay and Dionne also noted that the racist stereotype of Africans as sub-human, animalistic, and belonging to inferior civilizations has persisted into modern times, including media representations of Africa. They pointed to a 2014 Newsweek cover about Ebola that featured a chimpanzee. 

"Far from presenting a legitimate public health concern, the authors of the piece and the editorial decision to use chimpanzee imagery on the cover have placed Newsweek squarely in the center of a long and ugly tradition of treating Africans as savage animals and the African continent as a dirty, diseased place to be feared," they wrote. 

Share your opinion

Did you find Emmanuel Macron's comments problematic?

No 35%Yes 65%

RELATED: What Trump's Handshake with France's President was All About