France’s new education minister sparks surprise and controversy

During his swearing in, the new Minister of Education, Pap Ndiaye, paid tribute to the country’s teachers, evoking Samuel Paty, killed by an Islamist extremist in 2020.

Ndiaye has described himself as a symbol of meritocracy and diversity. Rather than feeling proud, he said, he took on his new job with a sense of duty and responsibility.

Ndiaye, 57, is a longtime college professor and expert on the history of minorities and rights movements in France and the United States. Last year, he was appointed head of the French National Museum of the History of Immigration.

“It was unexpected, obviously, but it was very good news.”

Louis-Georges Tin is a black rights activist and former head of the Representative Council of Black Associations, or CRAN. He greets the new Minister of Education.

“He’s a brilliant person,” Tin said. “He is respected in the academy. He has done a lot of things in the fight against racism in the country as well.

While Tin is not alone in praising Ndiaye’s appointment, some right-wing politicians criticize her.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who came second in last month’s presidential election, described Ndiaye’s appointment as an alarming signal for the future. She called him an advocate of so-called “racism” and revivalism, which critics see as a left-wing protest ideology. Other critics describe Ndiaye as anti-police.

Interviewed on French radio, Ndiaye’s sister, award-winning author Marie Ndiaye, said she was not surprised by the criticism, but called it absurd and stupid.

Some observers say the controversy over Ndiaye’s nomination reflects simmering discrimination in France, as the 2020 death of African American George Floyd in police custody in the United States sparked similar protests for children’s rights. Blacks here.

In interviews over the years, Pap Ndiaye said France was reluctant to fully examine its history of colonialism and slavery. He praised the French police, but also said police brutality should be discussed.

Activist Louis-Georges Tin said much more needed to be done to teach French students about discrimination. Tin said he feared Ndiaye’s efforts to change things during his tenure could lead to backsliding.

“Having a black minister in France is nothing new,” Tin said. “And having racist attacks isn’t new either. It’s always the same story…that’s why we’re in a situation of state racism, systemic racism. People don’t want black ministers in this country.

Ndiaye is certainly different from his predecessor, Jean-Michel Blanquer, who criticized both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the so-called woke culture. Education unions, which opposed Blanquer, reacted positively to the country’s new education chief.

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