In late March, E&M author Salomé Melchior spoke to renowned French football player Lilian Thuram. They talked about global inequality, the power of solidarity and his anti-racist activism with the ‘Fondation Lilian Thuram’.
Salomé : One is not born racist. One becomes racist.” This seems to be the guiding thought of your foundation. Could you please develop this idea?
Lilian Thuram: No child is born with racist prejudices. It is with time that prejudices arise. Racism is to categorise people as linked to their skin colour, and to discriminate some of them because of it. A lot of people do not know the history that created these categories. That is why I say: we are not born racist, but it is a matter of becoming. We are put into categories, and as we get older, these categories are amplified. Racism is tied to a feeling of white supremacy, which has been legitimised in the course of history. Racism is everywhere, on a global scale.
Salomé : On the website of your foundation, it is said that “history has conditioned us”, that history has somehow made us “become” racist. Why history and not, more specifically, politics?
Lilian Thuram: I think of history with a capital “H”. The idea of race has inscribed itself in our societies alongside the economic system, which needed to categorise people in order to exploit a couple of them more easily. Pseudo-scientists constructed a hierarchy of so-called races. We often hear that racism is a way of subordinating one another, whilst it is actually a way of reinforcing oneself. It is the same with sexism. Sexist men produce a certain discourse in order to reinforce themselves. Sexism may be understood as the construct of male domination.
Depending on the country you live in, you may feel a cultural conditioning, a sort of cultural weight. I am from the Antilles, from Guadeloupe, and these are colonies that became French. Many people do not want to talk about certain historical subjects, which are still somehow a taboo. When I talk about racism, people often become angry, as if they were being blamed for something. When we talk about these topics, we have to go beyond one’s personal case. We should try to take some distance with regards to these subjects. Misunderstandings often arise. My foundation seeks to bring insights with regards to these complex issues. When one talks about racism, one must understand that racism is a construct, and that it is not natural.
Salomé : What are your thoughts on the so-called ‘migration crisis’?
Lilian Thuram: The ‘migration crisis’ calls into question the economic system in which we live. This crisis recalls the world’s inequality and unfairness. My foundation seeks to teach children that there have always been struggles in order to obtain equality. Equality is something you must win; it is unfortunately not a given. Solidarity can serve as a driving force. In my foundation, we make children think about solidarity. It is through an unlimited form of solidarity that we can change situations. Children are not told this enough: solidarity can be a very powerful force! There is a violent tendency to break solidarities rather than reinforce them.
Salomé : What are, in your opinion, the pros and cons of Europe today? How will Europe evolve?
Lilian Thuram: The idea of Europe is very appealing because it reaches beyond national frameworks. I am in favour of opening categories. The idea of fighting against racism implies to perceive oneself as human beings first and foremost. The human being as such has to be respected first and foremost. We live in a world in which people tend to enclose themselves in identities that are increasingly narrow, and this is dangerous. I hope that this inclusive notion of Europe will grow.
This interview was conducted as part of Salomé’s coursework for her Master in ‘Culture and Conflict in a global Europe’ at the LSE. She translated the conversation from French into English. We thank both Mr Lilian Thuram and his manager Mr Lionel Gauthier for allowing us to publish a shortened excerpt of the complete interview.