A controversy has erupted in France over the renovation of a statue of novelist Victor Hugo that portrays him as a black man. The New York Times, always quick to jump on any racial angle, is on the case. And Steve Sailer has an excellent post that pulls it all together.
First, the controversy, as described by the Times:
The statue of Victor Hugo has loomed outside the city hall of his birthplace, situated on the Esplanade for Human Rights, since 2003, his white beard knotty, his black suit rumpled, his face cast down at his pocket watch.
Over the years, the colored bronze began to fade, turning to brown and green, until the mayor’s office recently hired an expert to do a restoration.
And that is when the seemingly unremarkable refurbishment of a statue turned into another controversy in France about race, identity and the importation of American “woke” ideas about racial injustice — what the French call “le wokisme.”
The sculptor was Senegalese, which perhaps contributed to the idea that Hugo should be portrayed as black. But the renovation–colorization, actually–was controversial in Hugo’s home town:
The comments rolled in, some positive, others critical with one focus — the color of Hugo’s skin.
“We’ve gone from Victor Hugo to Morgan Freeman,” wrote one commentator.
Sailer points out that the Times article includes nine photographs, but none that actually shows what the statue’s colorization looks like. This is why Frenchmen are upset:
It looks almost exactly like the Senegalese sculptor, but nothing at all like Hugo. A reporter contacted the sculptor’s widow, who made the mistake of telling the truth:
A reporter from the Besançon newspaper called Béatrice Soulé, Mr. Sow’s widowed partner in Dakar, Senegal’s capital.
She agreed that the restoration was flawed, saying that the statue “looks like a Black Victor Hugo, which was never Ousmane’s intention.”
In a later interview with The New York Times, Ms. Soulé said that perhaps she spoke too freely. “It was a sentence I should never have spoken,” she said. “And it let off a powder keg.”
Because race must, always and everywhere, be the issue.
The Times, on the side of the colorized statue, describes Hugo as a “man of light brown skin.” Well, not really. This is his portrait at age 23:
Sailer offers an interpretation that I think must be correct: the Times, in its characteristic ignorance, has confused Victor Hugo with Alexandre Dumas:
Wasn’t there a famous 19th French bestseller author who was part black from Haiti?
Yes. Yes, there was.
But — and follow me closely here — that writer wasn’t, technically speaking, Victor Hugo, author of the The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was, instead, Hugo’s friend and rival Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers.
The Times goes on to portray a racist controversy driven by “right-wing politicians” that features vandals painting the statue white and writing, on a photo they took of the statue, the words “white power.” In English. At the Times, no other story line is possible.
But the fact remains that Victor Hugo, unlike Alexandre Dumas, was not even a little bit black. Someone should tell the Times’ reporters and editors.