In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our seventh article, Erica Smith-Escassut found a way to feed her spirit in France.
Over the past few years of living here I have made a few observations. The most striking one for me was when I arrived in France, December 1999 to live and establish a long-term relationship/partnership with my beau, as I would describe him to my grandmother.
I noticed in a previous visit that Spring that there was something missing in the overall air of the environment, but without fully understanding the language I could only feel that something was missing. I could not hear, nor read about what it was until several months later. Upon my return and further investigation, the gig was up. I tired to understand if it was just local, or generational, or just by household, which is a discussion for a whole ‘nother day. May be it was just a fluke in the media: tv, newspapers, films, radio. What was it that I felt was lacking? What did I notice? Other than the lack of brown peoples in the media–people that represented the French population that I saw on the streets every day in Toulouse and Paris, what was it?
A Spiritual connection of the God/Creator kind.
It seemed as if the grandiose cathedral-like local churches were only attended by a handful who were 70 and over, walking that fine line between life and the thereafter. However, there were exceptions like the sprightly, elderly gentleman who would tip his hat when we greet each other in the street and a large devout Vietnamese family. They had enough children to sing in the 5 person choir and play various accompanying instruments. The two youngest in the family are still on to lead the church in song and at least one of them still plays a flute to accompany the organist. They seem to have it, but what happened to the rest of the people?
My soul became hungry. I wondered did others have this same hunger. Did they even feel hungry for something greater, for the intangible, the unexplainable? Was it from their lack of solid educational programming like Sesame Street? And why was their second national anthem O Happy Day? Did they even know what that song was really about?
I was not going to let my soul starve on the account of others lack of interest or disregard or the feeling that this subject was irreverent and more taboo than sex and open drug usage.
Finding love in a hopeless place, in pop culture, is easier and less confusing than finding God or even one’s soul in a laïque country such as France. Even the definition of laïque is contradictory, so it would only be normal that the population would be just as intellectually confused about it all and capable of spiritually starving to death without even knowing it, and opening doors to all sorts of other kinds of mayhem.
Laïcite established in France in 1958 is “simply” the separation of church and state in which the church cannot be involved in administrative or political roles. However when looking at the word Laïque, in the church, from what I understand is faithful follower of Christ , through their baptism, incorporated into the body of Christ and becomes a member of the household of God, by also being members of the church, which represents the lifeline of the world. Or at least that’s how I translated it from a religious website. Simply put, they are the lay members of the church.
But with the first reference to Laïcite it removes religious expression and even discussion of from the classroom. So it wasn’t just the teachers who were not allowed to discuss religious practices to a certain extent, but students were stripped of their freedom to wear veils, crosses, yarmulkes or any religious paraphernalia, in the 2000’s. To me it felt as an unnecessary removal of otherness from every vestige of French society that could remind the majority of the minorities ability to be French and something else. As if taking away the ability for immigrants to practice their professions here weren’t enough they also took a freedom of religious expression, in the administrative workplace and school yard. This only could have lead to the fanaticism that is seen among teens today. No religious expression at school but they can wear caps, t-shirts and jackets with the brand Comme da Fuckdown embroidered across the front in gold lettering.
Oh, but I’m sure you’re wondering how I kept my soul from going hungry? Well, I had the opportunity to host a gospel radio program in French from 2003-2007. Music has an amazing way of maintaining spiritual connections and develop relationships…
NB: By the way that reference to Sesame Street is not far off in dealing with other aspects of society that involve innovation, creativity and independence as one may think. But that’s a thought for another day.
Erica Smith-Escassut was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. She moved to France 14 years ago. She’s married and has two children. She has been dabbling in radio broadcasting, writing, and figuring out ways to get paid to be herself & help others along the way.
Next month Laura Bazile examines business networking as an entrepreneur in Europe.