Learning a language means to learn its culture and to know its context. In France, a very important aspect of our culture is « political correctness ». A question that I’m often asked is « how do French people name Black people ? » And it’s not so easy to answer. Why?
We often use a euphemism to refer to Black people : « des personnes de couleur«
It corresponds to « Coloured people » in English, but notice that the old-fashioned English term is now considered offensive and is no longer used whereas in French « des personnes de couleur » remains a polite way to refer to Black people.
Example : « Un homme de couleur, jeune et à capuche a plus de risque d’être arrêté par la police. »
(Meaning: A young black man wearing hoodies is more likely to be arrested by the police)
Typical of political correctness : « des personnes issues de la diversité«
In English « people from diverse social and ethnical backgrounds », or « persons reflecting France’s ethnic diversity ». Obviously, it’s a euphemism, which is both difficult to pronounce…and to remember.
Example : »Depuis quelques années, nous favorisons la représentation dans les médias des personnes issues de la diversité »
(Meaning: For several years, we have been promoting the representation of people from diverse backgrounds in the media).
Inspired by the American word, we also use the word « black«
A Black woman would be called « une black« . French people prefer this term to the French word « noir » (litterally meaning « Black ») because as it comes from a foreign language, there isn’t the same connotation. Indeed, referring to French Black people using an English word is like saying denying their French nationality, their history or their roots. It’s a sign that we, in France, are not very comfortable with our history in some way.
So the word « black » is very used but still, be careful with the context when you use it, it’s a bit colloquial.
Example : « Mon voisin est un black très sympa. Je le croise tous les matins »
(Meaning: My neighbour is a Black guy and he’s very nice. I meet him every day)
Slang & very common word : « un renoi »
French slang called « verlan », created in the suburbs, inverts syllables. It has its own word to refer to black people : « un renoi« . Its the equivalent of « nigga ».
« Renoi » is the reverse word for « noir« .
Of course,as it’s informal , be careful with whom you’re using it!
*The word « un Noir » is neutral but not very used.
*Some peaple say « des africains« ( African people) : it’s most of the time wrong. Many Black people are not from African origin, they can be French people from the Antilles, from South America (Guyana…)
*Forget about the word « nègre » : it’s very derogatory!
Want to lear more about this topic? I recommend you to read this (in French):