“Black hole” justice needs cleaning up by…yes, Le Temps said it.

A Geneva newspaper headline suggests that insensitive but well-meaning pro-black racism abroad may be just what the U.S. needs.

In a losing battle to keep up my French, I make the Geneva newspaper Le Temps my home page. Usually the headlines are nothing special. But this afternoon and evening (Thursday morning Geneva time), I got this. Since that front-page link will expire soon, I’ll preserve the headline for posterity: “Un Noir à la tête de la justice aux Etats-Unis.” Yes, that means what it sounds like: “A Black Man at the Head of Justice in United States.”

Clicking through to the main story one loses the less than P.C. headline in favor of one that says “Un favori pour sortir du «trou noir» judiciaire”: “A favorite to get out of the judicial ‘black hole.'” (the subhead and story specify what’s meant: Guantanamo, emergency justice, secret prisons). The main article makes no direct reference to Eric Holder’s being “noir”–though “trou noir” does appear next to a big picture of him and a caption identifying him as “of Afro-American origin.” Regardless, I don’t think I’m crazy to think that somebody at Le Temps intended an unsubtle message: it takes a black guy to lead us out of a black hole.

I’m glad that most American publications aren’t headlining their stories on Holder with “a black guy will be Attorney General.” And the Swiss are pretty clueless when it comes to race relations. (Le Monde’s headline was much classier.) Still, I can’t get too angry at the remark in this particular context. A lot was said during the campaign about how Obama’s election would rebuild America’s message abroad–but the propaganda benefits of racial diversity don’t stop there. If insensitive but well-meaning European journalists think that putting the Wretched of the Earth in charge of the Justice Department heralds a return to the rule of law in America, this anglo-américain (as the French call all us white Americans, just as Latinos in California call me “Anglo”) is inclined to take the compliment.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.