The book, entitled Dialogue improbable, comes out this May 10, on the occasion of the National Day of Memories of the Slave Trade, Slavery and their Abolition, in mainland France, which will be celebrated, as every year now, in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. Like eight other presidential candidates out of twelve, Emmanuel Macron answered questions from the Foundation for the Memory of Slavery. In the spotlight this year, youth and women and, among them, the historical figure of Solitude, a former Guadeloupean slave who fought against the reestablishment of slavery by Napoleon, whose novel André Schwarz-Bart wrote, La Mulâtresse Solitude, which has become a classic.

From the Palais de la Porte Dorée for an evening of artistic performance to the symposium on thirty years of historical research in Nantes, from meetings in Bordeaux to the one not to be missed with Jacques Martial, who takes up his powerful interpretation of the Notebook of the return to the native land of Aimé Césaire (go to the Wooden Sword to hear these words and see the performance of the Guadeloupean actor until May 15), without forgetting the evening of the Institut du Tout-Monde d’Édouard Slipping into the House of Latin America, on the eve of the inauguration, in this same place, of the exhibition entitled “Marronnage, the art of breaking one’s chains”, the period of the “time of memories”, is rich in events listed on the site of the Memory of Slavery Foundation, in France and overseas.

Let’s look at this question of the memory of slavery – which innervates contemporary society much more deeply than we think in its problems of living together – from Martinique, with the two authors of this Dialogue published by Caraïbéditions. One is called Emmanuel de Reynal, he is béké, in other words, a descendant of settlers on the island, from a family of doctors, he is the founder of Havas publicom Antilles. The other is called Steve Gadet, alias Fola, Guadeloupean presenting himself as Afro-descendant, lecturer at the University of the West Indies, writer and rapper, living in Martinique. Both are heirs to the history of slavery, which is discussed in this two-part book. Each of them is already the author of several books, including Ubuntu by Emmanuel de Reynal and The Discourse on Neocolonialism by Steve Gadet. And not really on the same side… If throughout their exchanges (once a week on a bench), they congratulate each other without moderation on their approach and the openness that each one shows, it is necessary, for non-Martiniquais, to explain that publishing such an exchange is not trivial in a society where fixations on representations are the source of many problems.

Le Point: What does it mean today in Martinique to be béké and Afro-descendant in the face of the question of the memory of slavery?

Emmanuel de Reynal: Béké or not, we all descend from slavery and each of us has been able to measure it. But since the abolition in 1848, silence has dominated, in the schools, between us, and in the different communities, and until 1998, when the question came into public debate. We grew up around a kind of pot with a closed lid. Without frankly approaching the subject, while keeping silent about its historical consequences on our relations. I consider that the béké community does not really exist, we cannot speak of a single point of view. Let’s say that the point of convergence would be the taboo. Perhaps because a shame overwhelms the members of Béké society. Perhaps so as not to risk, speaking of this subject, waking up pain. That said, the béké commemoration began in 1998 in Fort-de-France, the initiative goes to Roger de Jaham, who had publicly declared that slavery was a crime against humanity – two years before the Taubira law; it was revolutionary, it broke the silence, and I place myself in its wake.

You talk about the consequences of your dialogue as if you were really risking trouble: is it that bold, and why?

How do you analyze Marine Le Pen’s scores in the West Indies?

Steve Gadet: A lock has been lifted, the demonization has worked, everyone knows the history of this party, but it is less scary and, in the midst of this strong abstention, those who voted for Marine Le Pen felt heard on the themes of the vaccination pass, returning to the hospital to work, certain key themes related to the Covid crisis, very strongly experienced here.

Improbable dialogue between an Afro-descendant and a béké, by Steve Fola Gadet and Emmanuel de Reynal, Caraïbéditions.

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