September 19, 2021

Pap Ndiaye, a historian in the arena

By Pascale Nivelle

Posted today at 02:19, updated at 20:18

He could have remained this teacher who plays jazz vinyls to his students. Always in jeans, never a tie, fluent in English, hyper-pointed on the social history of the United States. “He gives his lessons an MC side [master of ceremony], testifies her colleague from Sciences Po the historian Emmanuelle Loyer. The students love it. “ A cousin from America, Black but not quite, cool in all circumstances. His models are saxophonists, writers – Aimé Césaire, the poet of negritude, is his idol.

But Pap Ndiaye is not a musician, ” Unfortunately “, nor author of literature – “My sister, Marie, took the job”. He is a historian, whose little story has crossed paths with the big one. “At 25, I realized that I was black”, he said. It was over a quarter of a century ago, on an American campus. His “blackness”, one would say today, no longer left him alone.

In the spring of 2021, he feels the call of duty. Emmanuel Macron calls for new blood at the National Museum of the History of Immigration. Worried about identity tensions that have been mounting in France for several years, he is looking for a place, and a person, to calm the debate. “A year before the presidential election, the president wanted a symbolic change to the museum, explains Mercedes Erra, co-founder of the communication agency BETC and president of the board of directors of the Palais de la Porte-Dorée. A media director, peacemaker, who would come out of the seraglio of the conservatives. ”

“Sorrow box”

According to sociologist Michel Wieviorka, the reality is very political: “The head of state wanted to send a political signal to counterbalance the positions of ministers Jean-Michel Blanquer [éducation], Frederique Vidal [enseignement supérieur] and Gérald Darmanin [intérieur]. » In particular, all three have denounced in recent months the “Ravages of Islamo-leftism”.

Pap Ndiaye at the Palais de la Porte-Dorée, April 30.

Pap Ndiaye, specialist in the history of empires at Sciences Po, volunteers: “At 55, teacher at the institute for five years, it was time for me to switch to some form of action ”, he explains. But his friends alert him. “We immediately saw that it was a big deal, entrusts one. Him, no. He said he had to go, that it was a necessity. ”

Appointed on February 11 to replace Hélène Orain, the historian knows that, under its Art Deco splendor, this Palais de la Porte-Dorée, in Paris, is “A sorrow box”. Museum curators nickname him “The elephant cemetery”, not just because of the defenses ivory found there. Erected “To the glory of colonialist and civilizing France”, in 1931, the building is still the emblem of the Colonial Exhibition held that year in the Bois de Vincennes, with its human zoos and parades of Senegalese riflemen. A propaganda monument which still sits in the middle of palm trees, sixty years after the dismantling of the empire.

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