This essay presents and studies five different words used in French to express the notion of Blackness. The five words analyzed—nègre, noir, black, renoi, and négro—entered the French language between the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century and the 1980s and were often borrowed from other languages. The way the terms have been and continue to be used illustrates France’s complicated and shifting relation to people of African descent, notably within its own population. In the context of culture wars that have been shaking the country in the past decades and have seen the rise of organized Black political groups on the French public stage, how one speaks Blackness in France has become especially fraught.

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