*Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network (NAN), has strongly denounced the use of the N-Word by a cosmetic heir on French television and has accepted an invitation from anti-racism activists in Paris to speak there after the November 2 U.S. elections.
“The fact that Jean-Paul Guerlain felt comfortable enough to use the N-word in public, coupled with a recent United Nations report showing that racism is on the rise in France, illustrates the depth of racism not only in France but throughout Europe and around the world,” Rev. Sharpton stated. While we recognize the company’s effort to distance itself from the comments, we must examine the atmosphere that allowed such attitudes to flourish. “We will be joining with fair-minded people across the Atlantic Ocean to further internationalize the struggle for fairness and respect. We cannot tolerate such brazen affronts to our basic humanity.”
French perfume designer Jean-Paul Guerlain touched off a firestorm recently with remarks he made during a local television interview. He was discussing how the perfume Samsara grew out of a discussion he had with his wife.
“One day I told her – and I still call her Madame – ‘What would seduce you if one was to make a perfume for you?’ and she told me, ‘I love jasmine, rose and sandalwood.'” Guerlain continued, “And for once I started working like a nigger. I don’t know if niggers really worked that hard.”
The N-word – negre in French – is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory slur in English.”
Under fire from anti-racism activists in Paris, Guerlain later issued an apology via-email. He said, “My words do not reflect in any way my profound thoughts but are due to an inopportune misspeaking which I vividly regret.”
Rev. Sharpton said, “Even if the N-word were not used, it still would be an insult. To question whether Blacks work hard, whether in France or anywhere else in the world, is beyond debate. No group has a monopoly on brains or hard work.” Jean-Paul Guerlain headed the fourth generation of family members to lead the House of Guerlain since its founding in 1828. Though Guerlain has not been an employee in the business since 2002, he remains a consultant to LVMH, the company that purchased the cosmetic empire in 1994.
“I have written a letter to Mr. Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of LVMH and I have also requested a face-to-face meeting to discuss this insulting incident and other steps the company should take to make sure this corrosive attitude does not infect his company’s corporate culture.” Rev. Sharpton said he has accepted an invitation from Patrick Lozes, president of the Paris-based Representative Council of Black Associations in France (CRAN), to speak to activists in France.
“I will be flying to Paris as soon as I can after the U.S. elections on November 2nd,” said Rev. Sharpton. “I will be speaking to activists in Paris and meeting with leaders there to develop a strategy for dealing with companies that disrespect us.”
Rev. Sharpton has arranged for Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to go to Paris next week to begin addressing the issue prior to his arrival. Dr. Steele, who traveled internationally as president of SCLC and as an expert in conflict resolution, said he is elated to continue his work with Rev. Sharpton and Patrick Lozes. “Just before Dr. King died, he was planning to broaden his work in the international community,” Dr. Steele said. “I see this as a continuation of Dr. King’s original mission.”
In 2009, LVMH reported revenues of $17.1 billion euros ($23.7 billion, U.S.). It concentrates on high-end wines and spirits; fashion and leather goods; perfumes and cosmetics and watches and jewelry. It has 60 international brands, including Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon, Hennessy, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Fendi, Donna Karan and TAG Heuer watches.
With more than 2,000 retail stores, many of them in the U.S. and Caribbean countries, LVHM’s sales can be easily impacted by a massive consumer-based action against the company. Rev. Sharpton declined to say whether he plans to organize a world-wide boycott against LVMH products.
He explained, “I am not ruling out – or ruling in – what the next steps will be. But we will examine all of our options.”
While in Paris, Rev. Sharpton hopes to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy. A recent United Nations report concluded that racism in France is undergoing “a significant resurgence.”