More than ever, this simple word resonates as the echo of hope in a world rocked by globalisations and refractions. As it undeniably implicates human presence. And yet... This word – and it is one of its paradoxes – is all too often caught up in contradicting Gobineau’s theories or other elaborations of racial purity which have caused mankind so much suffering. Against these attempts at fierce exclusion, the word métissage – interbreeding - has been suggested as though it were a panacea for warding off other Rwandas, Sarajevos, etc.
It originates from the Spanish term mestizo, meaning “mixed,” and concerns processes aimed at improving ovine, vegetal, and animal species. Yet when it determines the human species, its meaning becomes more ambiguous, for different degrees from pure blood, to half-breed, to three-quarter breed, just as they have for third or fourth generation half-caste, not to mention for bastard, have already been assigned by society. Positive and, paradoxically, pejorative prejudices taint this word before it is even considered. Was it not Mirabeau who said that the “métis (mixed) race” was “foreign to nobility, and Charron, who spoke in Sagesse of ambiguous mixed forms “between human and brute” ?
In origin, ‘to interbreed’ refers to a voluntary, organised, and desirable process, especially in the animal and vegetal realms kingdoms. It also integrates the vocabulary of states that advocate multiculturalism or multi-denominationalism, and are thus supposed to oppose racism. Brazil is said to be a mixed-race society, with a certain degree of injustice towards blacks… Some of the worst forms of racism are embedded in people of mixed race if they have had difficulty coming to terms with the fact that they are ‘mixed’. I have had a glimpse of the most beautiful cultural, even psychic half-breeds in Cuba (Castro’s greatest conquest), and in Medellin, Columbia, where violence reigns over the socio-economic order. I have seen a country with a long tradition of métissage, Oman, which for 3000 years has sent its sailing ships to do commerce and trade in India, in China, and along the East African coast. This land of chance encounters and romantic conquests has no official policy on métissage, which it has lived with and practiced for millennia. In other countries where métissage is spoken of, the word awakens vague suspicions, and fears for the loss of self.
With métissage, is it not better to favour the chance encounter, harmony with oneself and thus with others, otherness, creolisation, coolness, all concepts which open paths between men and women, without the necessary complexities arising from the presence of one before the other having to be discarded? It is not possible to plan chance encounters or arrange meetings without surprise. Métissage should be a love story, each one free to follow their own desire and destiny. It must be handled with caution within policies that would oppose the demons of exclusion, even if they are only vague outlines. Above all, it is an adventure, to be left to the individual, but on the condition that he is prepared to see himself within the other, for simple mixed breeding left, right, and centre will not signify the death of racial or cultural or civilisation prejudices.
Senghor had a wonderful saying: “It is our duty to be cultural half-breeds (des métis culturels).” This turn of phase coined by the ‘esprit métis’ should be preliminary to any métissage, since it indicates above all that biological métissage can lead to mixed skin and horrible masks of racism or anxiety. If it is possible to be at peace with a ‘blend’, then the chance encounter will be improved. Cultural métissage is a state of mind; it takes on the dimension of the possible, leaving the lion’s share to the real, to chance, or to the indescribable in a chance human encounter. To understand first of all, said Gandhi, and then, perhaps to love the other, as well in their shadows as in their bursts of light. With all the aspects of humanity that this implies.
It is thus important to empty the word métissage of all its rigorous, scientific, voluntarist, and even cold discourse, especially since its non-stated goal aims to “cross one race with another to improve the one with the lower value” (Littré). It is clear from this that one of the two “races” must bow down under the “qualities” of the other, which amounts to killing the chance encounter where it is at its most disturbing, most unpredictable, and perhaps most beautiful: the unbearable “addition” of beings.