After Coquerel won the competition earlier this month, a firestorm emerged on Facebook and Twitter. Commenters referred to Coquerel, whose mother is from Benin, as a “n*gger” as well as one poster reportedly asking for “death to foreigners.” Another poster remarked, “It would be good to see a bit of White in our country.”
“I’m not a racist but shouldn’t the Miss France contest only be open to White girls?” one commenter posted at Elle.
Per French media outlets, the most-used hashtags the night Coquerel won included “#shame” and “#Blackn*gger.” Some articles in the country even went as far as saying Coquerel was riding the death of Nelson Mandela to her victory. Another alleged her win was because of President Francois Hollande’s “Black agenda” (Hollande has worked to create a more multicultural government recently).
Still, Coquerel brushed off the comments during her first press conference as Miss France, ”I am mixed race and proud to be so. Many people can identify with me. I am proof of a multicultural France.”
The response to Coquerel mirrors Sonia Rolland’s (pictured below) experience: Back in 2000, Rolland because the first Miss France of African descent. The Rwandan-born woman received a flurry of racist hate mail stemming from her victory.
“After I was voted in, I received 2,700 insulting letters, some of which I published in my book ‘Les Gazelles N’ont Pas Peur du Noir’ (The Gazelles Aren’t Afraid of Black),” Rolland told Elle.
“At the time, I opted not to speak about it. I didn’t want to give any importance to a small group of ignorant racists when those who had voted for me were open enough to choose a French-Rwandan mulatto woman.”
One of the letters Rolland received actually had fecal matter, with a note reportedly saying, “This is what your face reminds me off when I see you on television.”
According to Carol Mann, a sociology and gender studies professor at Paris’ Sciences Po University, this racism is heavily rooted in French culture.
“France has a deeply ingrained colonialist culture and still believes in a form of racial hierarchy and Gallic supremacy,” Mann said. That bias especially harms women, Mann argues, “The situation is especially touchy with women: ‘la petite française,’ ‘la parisienne’ are highly exportable and marketable myths that the French work hard at maintaining. And those expressions are usually synonymous with fair, European features such as Brigitte Bardot or Marion Cotillard,”