The artist has received criticism from across France’s political spectrum and may soon face charges under the country’s strict hate speech regulations.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the Paris prosecutor confirmed to The Washington Post that a formal investigation has been launched, specifically with regard to whether Conrad’s video constitutes an incitement to a crime.
“I condemn without reservation these abject remarks and ignominious attacks,” Gerard Collomb, France’s Interior Minister, wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.
Activists, however, fear the focus on hate speech and “anti-white” racism distracts from the very real racism against blacks and immigrants French society tries to ignore.
“If you ask me, does anti-white racism exist? I can say yes, and this is a very good example of it. However, if you ask me is there anti-white discrimination in France? The answer is no,” said Louis-Georges Tin, a representative of black organizations in France. “I don’t think there is anyone in France who didn’t find a job or an apartment because he or she is white.”
The real problem with the conversation that has ensued, Tin said, is false equivalence. “Many conservative people speak of anti-white racism just to put anti-white and anti-black racism on the same level and on the same stage, which is impossible.”
Conrad’s lyrics have also struck a nerve in the country that has borne the brunt of Europe’s recent struggle with terrorist violence. By far the most controversial portion was a passage about entering a school and indiscriminately murdering white children.
“I go to nurseries and kill white babies,” the lyrics of “PLB” go. “Catch them quickly and hang their parents, tear them up to entertain black kids of all ages big and small. Whip them hard — frankly, it stinks of death as blood is gushing.”
Those words recall the 2012 assault on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, in which Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old petty criminal of Algerian descent, shot and killed four people, including three children under the age of 10.
Conrad insisted in a late Wednesday interview on France’s RTL radio network that his music was not intended as a “call to hate” but rather as “a fiction that shows things that, from beginning to end, really happened to black people.”
“All the elements that are cited in the piece, one by one, really touched and marked black people in the flesh,” he said. The essential idea, Conrad continued, was to “invert the roles” of power socially assigned to whites and blacks.
He emphasized one scene in the “PLB” video in which his character and another black man attack a white man on the sidewalk, crushing his skull. This, Conrad noted, was an allusion to “American History X,” the 1998 American drama in which a neo-Nazi character attacks a black man in precisely the same way.
The government seems unconvinced, as does the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), France’s leading anti-hate speech organization.
“The call for racist killing in Nick Conrad’s video is abject and incredibly violent,” a LICRA statement read. “The freedom of creation does not mean the freedom to call for the hanging of white people because of the color of their skin.”
The controversy was further inflamed when one of the country’s most controversial figures, black comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who has been convicted of hate speech for anti-Semitic remarks and gestures, voiced his support and posted “PLB” on his Facebook page.
The debate comes days after Medine, another French rapper with divisive lyrics, albeit much better known, succumbed to pressure by far-right activists to cancel two scheduled concerts at the Bataclan, a venue where 89 people were killed by Islamic State terrorists in November 2015.
In the Conrad case, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally, whose message often relies on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, was quick to attack what she called “an anti-white racism that no self-proclaimed expert or media person speaks of.”
Others objected that “anti-white racism” should not be the focus of concern in a society that officially refuses to recognize racial difference of any kind and yet whose leadership class is still predominantly white.
“I find the video absolutely disgusting and was not able to watch it to the end,” said Rokhaya Diallo, a French television journalist and writer whose remarks on “state racism” saw her dismissed from a government panel late last year. “But the polemic launched in response to it has given a real impression that there is a real problem with anti-white racism in France, which is not the case.”
“White people in France are not in danger,” Diallo said, referencing the issue of police brutality. In 2016, for instance, a 24-year-old black man named Adama Traore was trampled and killed by police in the town of Beaumont-sur-Oise, but his death did not elicit widespread condemnation from within the French government.
“The same people who are so upset about a rapper who had no real audience before this incident are never so upset about the real people who are killed in France, the Arabs and the blacks,” Diallo said.