Mixed-race teen plays Joan of Arc despite racist attacks

Mathilde Edey Gamassou was chosen to be Joan of Arc in a traditional re-enactment of the liberation of the city of Orléans, but the color of her skin prompted a wave of racist abuse.

Roxanne D'Arco
Roxanne D'Arco NewsMavens, France
Mixed-race teen plays Joan of Arc despite racist attacks - NewsMavens
Joan at the coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1854. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

In Orléans, every spring a young woman rides a horse inside the city to commemorate Joan of Arc's victory.

But this year, the organizing committee unleashed a wave of racist fury by choosing a teenager of African and Polish origin.

Part of the population was appalled at the online hate directed at the young woman, and an investigation for "public provocation to discrimination and racial hate" was opened.

But despite the attacks, Edey Gamassou played her role during the traditional celebrations on April 29. She says racist comments did not affect her:

I was not that affected, because Joan of Arc was also insulted, called a foreigner and a witch by her enemies and the French themselves, who didn't want to be defended by a young girl and didn't take her seriously. So I told myself I was going through the same thing.

The lesson here is twofold. First, racism is still an issue in France if some can't accept that a black person would represent a French symbol. And second, when Mathilde Edey Gamassou refused to step down, she gave all of France an example of what we should strive to become. 

Details from the story:

  • Mathilde Edey Gamassou, whose parents are of Polish and Beninese origin, was chosen to personify Joan of Arc for the annual festivities of Orléans.
  • The 17 year-old teenager had to face racist comments because of the color of her skin.
  • Called "fêtes johanniques" in French, the festival celebrates Joan of Arc's victory against England in April 1429.
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