A movement of undocumented migrants is seizing public spaces in France with the explicit goal of achieving full documentation for all migrants in the country. So far, they’ve occupied the Comédie-Française national theatre last December, Charles de Gaulle airport in May and, most recently in July, the Panthéon, a mausoleum where many of France’s most celebrated historical figures are buried. The movement calls itself the “Gilets Noirs,” or “Black Vests,” as a deliberate reference to the “Gilets Jaunes” or Yellow Vests movement which saw waves of working-class popular protest shut down cities across France last year. In contrast to the Gilets Jaunes’ donning of yellow traffic vests, the Gilets Noirs argue that the vest is their skin - they’re either black, otherwise racialized or “blackened by anger,” as one Moroccan member of the movement described to the French newspaper L’Express. Their outrage is directed France’s migration policies, which they describe as racist and a direct product of French colonialism. Many of the movement’s members are from countries that were colonized by France. In recent years, France has dismantled refugee camps such as the Calais “Jungle” and taken steps to reduce the amount of time that asylum seekers spend in the country before either achieving asylum or being deported.
Joining us for more information on the movement is Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research. She is the author of Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France, and has done fieldwork studying the Gilets Noirs and other antiracist movements in the country. We’ll also hear from a member of the movement, who is undocumented and speaks under the name Diak.