Why Christiane Taubira is Exactly What Democracy Should Look Like


Characterized by tight cornrows and a stern look that erupts in a brilliant smile without warning, Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira has quickly become an iconic politician in France. Taubira was born and raised in French Guiana and, after spending some time studying in Paris, she returned to her native country to begin a career in politics. Her political involvements in France began in the early 1990s, although she has decidedly remained unaffiliated with political parties — always positioning herself to the left on the political spectrum but never tied down to party politics. Taubira, both who she is and who she represents, marks an anomaly in the convoluted and inefficient world of politics.

In other words, she is exactly what a politician should be.

Taubira, unlike other politicians who attempt to "normalize" their backgrounds when entering the political arena, embraces her otherness. She is a divorced mother of four who is a proud proponent of Négritude, a literary and ideological movement that embraces the shared experience of racism faced by black francophones who have emerged from previous French colonies. She often quotes intellectuals of this movement such as Léon-Gontran Damas of French Guiana, Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, and Aimé Césaire of Martinique. This open embrace of her otherness in French society has fueled her unapologetic and determined stance in French politics. However, her appreciation for Négritude does not mean that this identity is in any way a full representation of her. Just as she refuses to identify with a particular political party, so too does she refuse to box herself into a particular racial identity. She thus refuses to limit herself by categorizing herself as one or the other.

Instead, she governs her decisions and political principles with a strong moral compass. To quote Taubira on her poetic, political disposition: "My conscience is my boss, and my conscience dictates rules that are extremely, I'd say, grand — they're rough but beautiful." Indeed, this dogged pursuit of the "rough but beautiful" is responsible for the great acclaim attributed to her. In January of 2013, she championed and ultimately helped pass controversial legislation in France that legalized marriage and adoption for same-sex couples. Her latest cause is to reform the French penitentiary system. She is a proponent of incorporating a rehabilitative system rather than strict sentencing.

She is a proud voice for the voiceless, as well as a proponent of dissecting the meaning of equality and reforming society accordingly. Her moving speech after the passage of the historic legislation in favor of same-sex couples is but a glimpse into the deep appreciation and understanding this politician has for the democratic system.

And this is what sets her apart from the great sea of politicians that have frustrated the constituents they allegedly represent. Taubira is a refreshing paragon of what a democracy has the potential to be. Democracy should fundamentally be about the people for whom the system was constructed. Too often, politicians vote with self-promoting agendas. Too often, justice systems fail to restore justice to wronged individuals. Too often, democracies are caught in a fight between political parties with no real discussion of the people affected by the legislation in question. Take, for example, the great many standstills that have plagued the American political processes simply because the Democrats and Republicans refuse to comply with one another.

Minister Taubira concluded her historic speech applauding the legislation supporting same-sex couples with a quote from Nietzsche: "Truth kills. And if you repress it, it will kill you." After all, at the core of it, democracy is about the constant discovery and rediscovery of the truth.