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Black in Paris: My Study Abroad Story

November 12, 2021
by CEA MOJO
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Hello! My name is Pallas-Amenah. I studied abroad in Paris, France with CEA in 2018. I loved my time in the city so much that after graduating from undergrad in the United States, I returned to Paris to pursue my master’s degree! Paris is a city rich with culture, history, and art, and the people of Paris match that vibrant and diverse atmosphere. And so, it is easy to get swept up in the colors of Paris, especially as a foreign student! You’ll have to learn how to navigate a new city, learn where to shop, where and what to eat, down to which neighborhoods offer the best nightlife. And as a student of color, I found that there is an added layer of adjustment...

I traveled outside the North American continent for the first time in my junior year of college. Solo. No friends, no family — just me, a suitcase that was five pounds overweight, and my giant plush seal (his name’s Cove). I was inspired by the many Black writers and artists who traveled to the city to find inspiration and freedom from America’s oppressive Jim Crow laws (not to say that France isn’t free of racism). One of my favorite authors, James Baldwin, was only 24 when he arrived in Paris in 1948 with only $40 in his pocket.

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Traveling while Black can be exhausting, especially if you are traveling to a country that is predominantly white. But France (Paris in particular) has a refreshingly large Black population, with neighborhoods, cuisines, literature, music, and so much more being greatly influenced by both Black Americans and African migrants who came to the country. And while I still sometimes experienced microaggressions as a Black woman, the fact that I am American proved to be a privilege in terms of others’ perceptions of me. Racism toward African migrants in France and brown Muslims tended to be much more prevalent from what I observed, and it was a bit of a culture shock internalizing that my presence as a Black American in France came with certain privileges. I was able to discuss this with my professor and classmates in CEA’s Human Rights course, which I found to be one of the most beneficial and interesting classes I took while at CEA! Particularly as a student of color in Paris, you may find it helpful to have a space to explore your identity as a foreigner living in Paris, and you will learn about others as well -- how they differ, and how they are similar.

As time went on, I learned how to best navigate Paris while taking into account how my identity may have different influences here versus in the United States. I also found some amazing spaces in Paris that showed off the country’s rich and diverse Black culture! Here are some of my favorites:

SAINT GERMAIN

Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the four administrative quarters of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, and is the meeting point for many existentialists, painters and writers.

This neighborhood is best known for the literary and artistic celebrities who lived and worked here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (including James Baldwin!).

I love this area of Paris because everything is at your doorstep — cafes, brasseries, bars, and restaurants flourish, including the famous Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp. You'll also find art galleries, antique stores, theaters and cinemas, street markets, Jardin du Luxembourg, clothing retailers, and the upscale department store, Le Bon Marché.

MONTMARTRE

My absolute FAVORITE place in Paris! Set in the 18th arrondissement, the charming hilltop Montmartre district (also known as "La Butte") is a former artists' village once inhabited by Picasso and Dalí, and home to the domed Sacré-Cœur basilica.

If you're looking for amazing views of Paris, this place is it. Climb the steps of the basilica, turn around, and let your mouth drop open! You'll get views of the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Panthéon, and so much more from this vantage point. There are sweeping views of the city all over Montmartre from its steep, winding streets. I would wander through the corridors and down the cobbled streets all day, waving to artists along the sidewalks and stopping by crepe cafes and small shops. The iconic Moulin Rouge cabaret below draws many nightclubbers, and retro-cool bars and eateries dot the edgy Lamarck area.

Montmartre is also home to "Little Africa." Ever heard of La Goutte d’Or? It’s a neighborhood to the east of Montmartre, and its name literally translates to “The Drop of Gold.” The eateries, shops, and market in this area are full of sights, sounds and smells native to places like Accra, Dakar and Abidjan. It is a gathering place for Europe's largest population of African immigrants who frequent the neighborhood for shopping, fellowship and food. Oh, gosh, the FOOD! There are so many choices, but many will tell you that the best African meal in Paris is served from one of the many food trucks.

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LE MAQUIS

A small French-African restaurant located on the far side of Montmartre boasting small portions of impeccable, contemporary bistro fare and a small, all-natural wine list. A slight Italian leaning pervades the menu, which also includes more classic French dishes. The atmosphere is intimate, and it's a great way to connect with Afro Parisians!

Paris is steeped in Black culture and history. There's a huge impact on the city's art, food, and music due to the large population of African immigrants as well as Black Americans like Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes.

I'd highly recommend taking a Black Paris Tour to explore some pretty amazing places and learn some Black Parisian history. If you're hungry for some jollaf rice, plantains, and much more, look no further than:

O'MAKI PARIS

This place is a vibe. From a live DJ, to food and cocktails to die for, I loved dining here with my friends for our first night out. The staff is friendly, the outdoor seating is comfortable, and the atmosphere is fun and energetic.

While travel has many economic privileges, we have to acknowledge what a radical act it is to walk the world in this skin. As a Black woman, traveling overseas (on my own free will) is a joyous act of resistance.

There’s racism everywhere, internationally, and right next door. Don’t let that stop you. Be safe, be vigilant — and go wherever you want to! Forever chase your freedom, by any means necessary. And Paris is always a good idea.


Pallas-Amenah Morgan is a CEA alumna who studied abroad in Paris, France, during the Fall 2018 semester. She is a graduate of Ithaca College.


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