Why I Left Paris
1 year ago
After years of living in France, an American expat realizes race relations are better here
Weeks ago, I sat through movie previews in Paris—my adopted city since 2004—waiting patiently on Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." A trailer for another film called "Case Départ" ran for a full minute before I realized what I was watching: a comedy about slavery. Two French Cameroonians were transported to transatlantic slavery time, fighting their way back to the present while shucking and jiving on a plantation. The crowd around me (black and white) was cracking up. The moment made me happy to be leaving France this summer, moving back to my native America for the first time in seven years.
Since the early '00s of the Iraq War and the reelection of Bush II, I fielded lots of questions about my move abroad, but mostly people immediately understood. As a young author at the time, I had my own personal James Baldwin fantasies to live out. The bleak post-9/11 climate of New York City caused plenty of exoduses then—still, most people stuck to this side of the ocean.
My love affair with Paris had a lot to do with my French ex-turned-girlfriend, fiancée and wife, Christine. Yet the lighting of the Eiffel Tower, the aroma of fresh croissants and baguettes in the mornings, even the quaint sirens of speeding police cars conjured almost as much romance as my real romance. My sons (5-year-old Lucas and 3-year-old Kalel) were both born in the 14th arrondissement under the country's best-in-the-world healthcare system; treating them to the childhood pleasures of Luxembourg Gardens was something I knew we'd all treasure forever.
Paris has long meant something special to African-Americans, spanning back to the First World War. Many G.I.s fighting for their country in Europe, and facing a return to second-class status in the United States as the war ended, stayed put in France. Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright and Nina Simone are only a few of the many black Americans who took flight from the racism of pre-civil rights America to flourish instead in the French capital.