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Article published the Saturday 16 October 2010 - Latest update : Friday 22 October 2010

Guerlain heir in racism storm

SOS-Racisme's logo
www.sos-racisme.org

By RFI

French perfume-maker Jean-Paul Guerlain faces prosecution by anti-racist groups after telling a television interviewer that he “worked like a nigger” to produce one of his most successful scents.

Guerlain, who is a descendant of the parfumier’s founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, apologised for the remarks on Saturday.

But anti-racist campaigns, SOS Racisme and Le Cran, say they will press ahead with a court case, saying that they believe a trial will have great educational value. And they called on LVMH, the company which now owns Guerlain, to dissociate itself from the outburst.

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde on Saturday dubbed Guerlain’s remarks “pathetic”.

“I just hope that this is senile and crude and that the apology is really sincere and gracious,” she said on Saturday.

Guerlain’s used the N word – nègre in French -  during a midday news bulletin on Thursday, when he described the creation of the Samsara perfume - blend of sandalwood and jasmin inspired by his first wife.

“For once, I worked like a nigger,” he told the interviewer. “I don’t know if niggers really worked that much.”

Guerlain’s apology, in the form of an email, expressed regret that his words might damage the company’s image and pointed out that he is no longer a shareholder or employee of the company.

He is, however, a consultant to the company’s chief olfactory technician, or “nose”, Thierry Wasser.
 

tags: Christine Lagarde - Cosmetics - Guerlain - Perfume - Racism
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Comments (38)

"nègrier"

the term "nègrier" as well as slave-trader means owner of a sweat shop as well as slave-driver. Food for thought especially as this debate is largely about the mouth that said this word (nègre). There are also instances of this word not being offensive in french as well such as petit nègre which is used to denote the language Pidgin (French). We also have a word in english, which I like very much niggard, which I think has fallen out of use, partly thru people's associating it with that awful word "nigger", which I definately do not like seeing being used in a derogatory sense. Niggard is etymologycally separate from that other worth(I am loath to write it more than once)and comes from middle english (first recorded in 1384)from nig stingy.
What is important folks, whether we be black, white, brown, yellow, pink, gay, however we identify ourselves is that no matter that colour, we are all the same colour inside. WE ALL BLEED RED. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can all come together and start fixing the mess that we have been making of this planet, of which we are only tenants and making the wrongs done into rights. peace...

Next time you happen to be in

Next time you happen to be in Paris. Catch the subway before 6am.....you will be shocked to see that most of the people on that train are black. Catch it after 8 and most people will be white...

This is an observation after many months working in France...

As a gay man you should know better

Well, I have witness several times some gay people using very offensive gay slurs while referring to each others, I am dead serious, does it make it less offensive? No. NOT ALL BLACK PEOPLE USE THE N WORD, and even if they did, why could not they? You do not have to be a Nobel Prize of Physics to understand that if one use a word that is demeaning towards oneself's, the word would have a different sense in one's mouth than it would have in the mouths of those who use that word to oppress for centuries.

WHITE PEOPLE CAN NOT USE THE N- WORD BECAUSE OF THEIR EVIL HISTORICAL AND PRESENT DEEDS !

BTW, your attitude is the reason why so few blacks want to side with gay people. When blacks were out there dying (and still are) for their rights, gays were safely closeted, now suddenly they think that Blacks owe them sh.t.

IF YOU ARE READY TO DEFEND THE RACIST COMMENT OF MR GUERLAIN, WELL YOU SHOULD ALSO BE READY TO BEAR THE CURRENT HOMOPHOBIC STATE OF AFFAIRS.Dont start crying for gay marriage.

YOU ARE EITHER AGAINST HATE/DISCRIMINATION OF ANY KIND OR FOR IT.

I'm african american

I'm not here to defend slaves or my forefathers. The comment was just plain wrong. I'm sorry a lot of people have gotten offended to the point of writing obscenities to each other but at the end of the day Guerlain apologized because he felt the need to. Last time I checked grown men don't apologize for things they did not do. HE, realized his error and apologized...end of story. It is now up to individuals to either accept it or not. Either way this argument has become pointless and redundant. May you all find peace in a time of anger and misunderstanding. I love you even if you don't like the color of my beautiful skin. That is all.

racisim in the world

"Other" Jewel, I know what ur tying to say, but the fact is he never apolgized until it became an issue, meaning until someone cried foul. Why couldn't he have said he worked like an asian, an Indian, a dutch person, an Iranian, a Mexican, or any other ethnic group. Why did he try to invoke the image of a black person working like a slave. True the N-word really refers to an ignorant person, so I guess he really did work like a N-word. Because there were a lot of comparisons he could have made in that instance, but he chose what he chose, showing his true nature and now there's a stink about it. Yes, he really is sorry now. I used to buy a lot of the perfume made by that company and I've loved it for so long, but not anymore. I'm sure I'm not the only person who will take that stance. In most of the world we are looked down on because of our skin color. It would be nice to live in a fantasy world where Africans & African Americans are accepted just for being brown people, but as long as people don't see our beauty & intellect they will remain narrow minded and treat us the way they do. I'm just sayin....

negre

Several persons said that the word "negre" means negro and not nigger.

As a french speaking person i can tell you that this is totally wrong.
This word is the closest translation of the n-word existing in french.
Yes it cna be ambiguous sometimes.But,believe me, it is rare nowadays.

Actually the use of racist words in france is a less serious matter than it can be elsewhere.Especially against blacks.It will remain so as long as french blacks accept this situation.

Racism

It's difficult to understand Humain's comment, since the article uses the n-word exclusively in quoting Guerlain. It is not our intention to gratuitously offend anyone or to give any credence to racism but itt makes no sense to report that certain remarks haave proved controversial and not translate them in their totality. It is not our policy to delete parts of words which might be deemed offensive, since presumably readers know what words are being referred to. We have explained our choice of translation in an earlier comment. Numerous dictionaries define the word "nègre" as offensive and, in our experience, it is always used pejoratively in France. The association with slavery is clear if one remembers that the word "nègrier" means slave trader.

In your opinion

Thank you for your reply. I do hope you will understand. If not I do realize that you still mean well. The main problem is your stance that your translation is correct. Had it been so, I would agree with your reply and in fact not had any complaint from the beginning. However, since it is not a correct translation, this is not a question of hiding words and your reply is irrelevant. I had seen your previous comment on the translation which frankly also is irrelevant. Please look up the correct word in a dictionary and you will see that it is also offensive. Actually even that word is so offensive that I will not write it, but I do think you should write it to show what Mr Guerlain said. What he said was very wrong and frankly it is difficult to understand why you need to twist his statement. Do you not see how bad it is anyway? Right now your stubborness only serves to cloud his error. Please understand that you are keeping an overly insulting word for no other reason than a stubborn defence of an incorrect translation when you could easily change it to a correct and less insulting wording without any effect to your article. I hope you can understand and respect this. Anyway, thanks for listening.

Racist article

The repeated use of the n-word in the article above and in some comments is highly racist and should be edited away. Not to mention that it takes away the focus from the racist comments of Mr Guerlain, extra much so as it is in fact an incorrect translation.

Institutional Racism at Guerlain?

On the back of his comment, I would propose that if we were made aware of the number of Black people employed by Guerlain, this would open our eyes to inherent institutional racism, whereby the comment of one ignorant man serves as an insight to a bigger issue.

Rebuttal

UpMy suggestion about the perfume was a jest. Sorry it flew over your heads. My point is it is a word. As a gay man I get called alot of things and hear " That is so gay." in the office among other things. Blacks can now marry white people but I can't marry. Blacks can serve in the military. I cannot. I have lost a job for being gay and was told so by the employer that was why although I had never missed a day and had recieved an award from the boss before him. I had no legal recourse because there are no laws to protect me.
So before you spout the tired old spiel about "the white guy" remember I am on the bottom rung not you.
Also my ancestors were slaves for a lot longer than yours. Rome enslaved Europe for thousands not hundreds of years. We got over it.
There was an episode in the original Star Trek where President Lincoln came back and said to Uhura "Oh a little colored girl." He paused and said "I'm sorry." She smiles at him and said "In our century words don't bother us." They don't bother me either.

God made black people black

God made black people black and all other races. YOU decided to be gay. God isn't in agreement with the gay thing. Read his Word on that. Being gay and being black is in two totally different worlds. You can wake up tomorrow and decide you no longer want to be gay, but if I'm black today, I'll wake up tomorrow and no matter what color or race I want to be, I'll still be black. On the marrying issue, God made Adam & Eve not Adam & Steve. I'm just sayin....

About "Blacks can now marry white people but I can't marry"

How dare you try to compare the marriage between a black man and a white woman, or vice-versa, to gays wanting to marry. To think you would be intelligent to know the difference, being that heterosexual interracial couples can naturally give birth to children, while gays cannot. I am so tired of you folks always trying to make such asinine comparisons!

come on

you are born black and you can't chose to not be black. no one really cares abt homo's crying equal rights. beast humpers can't marry either and i'm sure their love is just as valid. or are you saying that you can't have real love w an animal? tru racism. ps niggers need to stop complaining. we live in the information age. stop whining like a rape victim abt stuff that is so futile people. embarassing

THE problem

Mr Guerlain used the word "Negre" in French, this is as Sammie said an ambiguous word in French and can easily sound rude.
He really meant "Negro". "Nigger" does not have the history and the impact on France as it has in the US for instance. I learnt the difference not a long time ago from reading and talking with friends about the history of the south east of the US.
anyway.
The most unambiguous part is what he says next, and that is why you should all be revolted !
He actually said that the negros on his opinion didn't ever work as hard as he did! he tried to make a play on word after realizing that he used to work negro and carried on his thought that no maybe negros don't work very hard...
that is a shame, I know France is suffering of a lack of ambition at work of the young population, but people like Guerlain participate in showing a lack of respect of French: white, black, grey, yellow... we're all in there ! they have to accept that no, France is not any more a white catholic country and that it is now rich or cultures and colors.

Accept His Apology And Move On

This incident doesn't belong in the courts. Guerlain apologized and that should be end of the matter. Insisting on pilloring Guerlain, to make an example of him, will only lead to more anger, more resentment and solve nothing. He's big enough to apologize, be big enough to accept it.

Racist

I agree with AnonymeBlack Woman in NY. Get over yourselves & move on. You aren't going to change this mans opinion of blacks. There are many, many blacks that don't like white people. So what? Now he has many people that don't like his comments & how he thinks. Everyone isn't going to like you & that's ok too.

Au XiXème, fin du XiXème

Au XiXème, fin du XiXème siècle, le « nègre » désignait celui qui travaillait dur, mieux et plus que les autres, à la place d’un autre (a ghoswriter).
Nous ne sommes plus au XIXème siècle ! La société a changé ! En 2010, le terme « nègre » est fortement ambigu en français, perçu par TOUS les français comme un terme équivoque, à double entente. Arrêtons l’hypocrisie ! Je suis une french-born algerian, et ma mère me racontait que dans les années 60, en France, on utilisait le terme « négresse » pour humilier les algériennes ! C’est donc bien un terme chargé d’histoire, et à forte connotation raciste. Peu importe le contexte, littéraire ou familier, ce terme est encore plus douteux aujourd’hui. D’ailleurs, l’expression « écrivain privé » devait remplacer le « nègre » en littérature ; Hors, je constate que certains journalistes, écrivains français s’obstinent et continuent de l’employer au nom du respect de la langue française. Ce sont bien souvent des réactionnaires, des nostalgiques de la France blanche et coloniale. Cette fameuse France phantasmée par des vieux cons.

« eh bien la négresse, elle t’em-merde ! »
link "Audrey Pulvar" http://sites.radiofrance.fr/franceinter/chro/a-rebousse-poil/index.php?id=96625

translation

A Google search for the translation of "nigger" shows several online dictionaries providing "nègre" (eg http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/anglais-francais/nigger which comments "offensive"). The hard copy Collins-Robert gives the same translation.
It is obviously never possible to give an exact translation of any word, given differing cultural contexts between and even within language groups which lead to words having differing associations.
However, in our opinion, the English expression "work like a nigger" has the same connotations as "travailler comme un nègre", notably an indirect reference to slavery and an implication that hard, physical labour is black people's natural lot.
For the cultural context, see for example Claude Chabrol's L'Ivresse du pouvoir (Comedy of power), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0463486/. When a character not dissimilar to former minister Charles Pasqua (http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/118/article_5642.asp) says "Les nègres sont furibonds" the script writer is trying to show the contempt in which many French politicians hold the African leaders they deal with in the context of Françafrique http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20100216-50-years-later-francafrique-alive-and-well.

A french homonym of "nègre"

I've heard the interview. In it, he's talking about making a perfume for an order, and after that he says "j'ai travailler comme un nègre" but in french, the word "nègre" means in english "negro" but also means "ghostwriter". And what does a ghostwriter do ? he writes book for an order.

“For once, I worked like a ghostwriter, I don’t know if ghostwriters really worked that much.”

Mistranslation of the expression "travailler comme un negre"

The expression "travailler comme un negre" is translated literally in English as "to work like a Negro" not nigger. Nigger would be translated as "sale negre" which suggests a heinous attitude, which is not what the expression means. In fact the term does not have a racial parallel in English, one would said "I worked like hell" or "I worked like a brute" rather than use any ethnic connotation. I am not suggesting in anyway that the expression is not insensitive and should remain in use. I am only stating that the translation to nigger is not correct and exacerbates to the English reader who does not read French, the inappropriateness of the term.

Slang

Blacks can call whites "Cracker/Cracka" "Honky" "Hillbilly" or any other slang word for people of European ancestry and get away with it. But let a white person call a black person a nigger, they must be sued or have their careers and reputation ruined.It's an ugly word, I agree, but blacks call themselves niggers all the time. Political correctness is getting out of hand. I'll still buy this guy's perfum.

Response to Comment

It's not the same. Some Caucasians in the US (particularly in the South) refer to themselves as crackers and hillbillies. I was shocked by a bumper sticker on a Florida mailbox promoting "Cracker Day" which was a local festival. This was in 2000. There are lots of country music songs that refer to hillbilly and it's not being used as a form of self-hate.

Patricia, that is BS. I am

Patricia, that is BS. I am black, the overwhelming majority of my extended family is black, and I have had many black associates, friends and co-workers and casual acquaintances. Every single one of us considers those words (Cracker, Honky, Hillbilly, Nigger) as degrading, inappropriate, crude, crass and low class. We would never use those words in public or private to refer to another human being. Wrong is wrong. What you refer to as political correctness we refer to as common decency, decorum and respect for others. I don't support people who use such filth regardless of whether they look like me or not. If you are around so many people who degrade others in that way perhaps you should find a new group of friends.

perhaps allison

should get some new friends who aren't sensitive like a babies bottom? sometimes i whine about words. oh wait. i don't. the word nigger has had a firmer grip on black americans than slavery ever did LOLO

The comments here certainly

The comments here certainly show France in a positive light...

Get a life!

These groups need to do something useful like save the Honeybee.
All one has to do is say they disagree with an opinion. To go to court over a word is beyond stupid.
If I were him I would create a perfume and call it Nigger. When blacks stop using the word as an adjective, noun and a verb then people can get upset about it.

As a gay man you should know better

Well, I have witness several times some gay people using very offensive gay slurs while referring to each others, I am dead serious, does it make it less offensive? No. NOT ALL BLACK PEOPLE USE THE N WORD, and even if they did, why could not they? You do not have to be a Nobel Prize of Physics to understand that if one use a word that is demeaning towards oneself's, the word would have a different sense in one's mouth than it would have in the mouths of those who use that word to oppress for centuries.

WHITE PEOPLE CAN NOT USE THE N- WORD BECAUSE OF THEIR EVIL HISTORICAL AND PRESENT DEEDS !

BTW, your attitude is the reason why so few blacks want to side with gay people. When blacks were out there dying (and still are) for their rights, gays were safely closeted, now suddenly they think that Blacks owe them sh.t.

IF YOU ARE READY TO DEFEND THE RACIST COMMENT OF MR GUERLAIN, WELL YOU SHOULD ALSO BE READY TO BEAR THE CURRENT HOMOPHOBIC STATE OF AFFAIRS.Dont start crying for gay marriage.

YOU ARE EITHER AGAINST HATE/DISCRIMINATION OF ANY KIND OR FOR IT.

I agree with your overall

I agree with your overall premise regarding other issues that may be viewed as more important. J-P Guerlain is clearly from another time. Perhaps it would be more useful to talk about why these kinds of expressions need to be extracted once and for all from use in this postcolonial era.

Having said that, I disagree that a perfume called "Nigger" should be created. Why incite the tension? And why would Guerlain employ the word Nigger? Which by the way, as I stated in my post to this discussion, is a mistranslation of negre in this context: The expression "travailler comme un negre" is translated literally in English as "to work like a Negro" not nigger. Nigger would be translated as "sale negre". In English one would said "I worked like hell" or "I worked like a brute" rather than use any ethnic connotation.

This issue has remained pretty much a French one and has not been taken on by African-Americans in the United States, which is where the N-word is so heavily debated. I think that if J-P Guerlain had merely stated "travailler comme un negre" there would have been little backlash. Perhaps eyebrows raised that such an expression is still being used. When Senator Reid in the United States referred to President Obama as not having a Negro accent or when then Senator now VP Biden referred to the then candidate Obama as being clean and articulate he was suggesting that Obama did not meet the stereotypes that Guerlain so blatantly made. My point being, that whether they are muttered for all to hear as Guerlain stated so explicitly, or as Reid suggested or as Biden insinuated, there is a list of racialized gaffes and slurs uttered on a regular basis--I am thinking of Don Emus's "nappy-headed ho". So I can go on and on...

I don't know if you are just

I don't know if you are just ignorant or a complete racists (not much difference). Why are white people always going on about Black using the n-word. We all don't use it. It seems to me that whites just miss being able to insult and degrade black people at will.

Get over it. You cant call a black person a n-word and expect others to be ok with it. You can be a racist all you want. But we don't have to give you permission to dehumanize us. So crawl back into that racist whole you scurried out of.

Theophilus Ghos

Would you please you the word *some* when you talk about blacks - not all blacks think, act, and talk alike. I am sure not all white people think like you. Geez

The only reason black people

The only reason black people started to adopt that word is because for over 300 years here in America while we were slaves, it was a word meant to put down black people while treating us less than human, and because we were taught by white people to hate everything about ourselves for so long that we ended up internalizing that self-hate---which is only reason we started calling each other the n-word in the first place---it was what white people who couldn't pronounce the word "negro" properly started calling us. I personally hate the word and always have---I especially hate when black people use it, because it is and will always be nothing but a nasty,hateful name white people dumped upon us.

Theophilus---even if black people stopped using the word today, white people would STILL be racist as hell against us,or find an excuse to be--that's how it's ALWAYS been in American society. It's not just the responsibility of black people to stop racism---as long as white people keep being racist as hell and disrespectful toward black people, we will continue to call them out on their racist BS.

Easy for you to be so damn cavalier about the use of the word---it's just the word itself, but what it represented---less than 50 years ago a white person could not only get away with calling a black perosn the n-word, but due to the racist segregation laws in the South, they could beat up, kill or lynch a black person whenever the hell they felt like it, AND get away with it. How dare you sit there and say it's no big deal--just because it dosen't affect YOU, there is no need to dismiss this incident. And your suggestion is just plain ignorant and racist---why the hell would ANYBODY call a perfume that? Believe me, if your ancestors were slaves, you would not be talking this ignorant BS. Typical of a white male to sit there and claim that racism is no big deal, or that it's NO big deal when a prominent person makes a bigoted comment.

awe

somebody git this poor whiney baby a tissue. until you've been white and had to listen to black american cry and blame all their problems on their fathers fathers fathers i don't wanna hear it. besides. it was blacks selling blacks and nigger is from africa's french colonilization. i'm glad this kidd above me is showing how much emotion, but little reason he has :( poor little darkie lol

The phrase "travailler comme un nègre"

The phrase is in no way racist or demeaning - bien au contraire! Just check le Petit Robert de la langue française! It means "travailler très durement, sans relâche". You could say "work through the nose", which here would sound doubly appropriate. The reactions of SOS-racisme and "LeCran" are simply ignorant and stupid.

AND who wrote "Le Petit

AND who wrote "Le Petit Robert", and for what purpose? Before you can come here and open your ignorant mouth, read some history books. G's racist language didn't stop there. Listen to it, and you'll see that G didn't read your Petit Robert, but had his heart full of prejudices about black people. It is said: "C'est de l'abondance du coeur que la bouche parle"

no stupid

He said "worked like a nigger" and then further more he said " I dont know that niggers really work that hard". Thats the reason he is apologizing now.

Guerlain

This comment is not racist, it is a complement to blacks, it implys that they work hard, which we know is not true!

The n-word

Excuse, I am an American black woman and NO, I do not consider what the perfume creator said as a compliment---black people work just as damn hard as anybody else to get anywhere in this world, and to say that they don't is just gross oversiplification, plus it also seems to imply that lazy,ignorant,stupid white people don't exist--which they do-the Tea Party here in the U.S. is living proof of that! The perfume creator obviously has not spent ANY time at all with black people anywhere or he would not have made that stupid,backwards racist statement. But then that's typical of racists---they want to stick all black people in the same boat as if we ALL think the same way AND do the same exact things. White people aren't all the same, so why are non-black folks always so always quick to assume that ALL black people are the same, regardless or culture? That is SO ignorant in itself!

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