Speaking truth and power


All hail France’s multi-hyphenate advocate leading the charge for equality for all

“All that I do is motivated by my desire to defend ideas of social and gender equality in the public sphere and denounce the systemic institutional racism and sexism in my country,” Rokhaya Diallo tells me of what unites her many endeavours. A household name in France, she’s an acclaimed journalist, community activist, director, researcher and author. And yet, when regularly invited on national TV and radio panels for her incisive analysis, more often than not, her contributions to these debates are met with vitriolic reactions from fellow guests: outraged politicians and intellectuals, and their noisy supporters on social media.

“I genuinely think my existence is unbearable to them,” offers Diallo on her

detractors’ uproar. “They were brought up with the conviction that their ideas and opinions are more important than mine – an educated, dark-skinned, Black French woman. In their eyes I am not qualified to shred their racist, homophobic and misogynist views to pieces. Luckily, I enjoy being combative and do not feel intimidated by the ‘old boys' club’s bravado and lack of etiquette.”

Laruicci triple earrings.


Nothing illustrates this better than the recent legal ordeal Diallo endured after being charged with public defamation and placed under formal investigation following a criminal complaint made by a famous French philosopher. The reason? The philosopher found it unacceptable that Diallo referred to him as ‘a bully’ in a tweet - despite him mentioning her name 478 times on Twitter between September 2017 and January 2022 in a bid to discredit her. Thankfully, the judge dismissed the case. And while her family and friends remain her constant pillar of support, Diallo also has her own ever-growing online community which cheers her on for her unflinching activism. “I am very grateful for all the encouragement I receive,” she adds.

Diallo’s experiences of public speaking compelled her to establish the coaching school W.O.R.D with Benjamin Gourmel in 2023 in order to help other activists and feminists to communicate effectively. “W.O.R.D is a way to share the cultural capital I learnt – the hard way sometimes – when navigating the media industry. There are so many unsaid codes of expression that can set you up for failure if you do not know them. It can be intimidating for people coming from a modest background, especially women who are not used to taking up space. The good thing is that these techniques can be learned. We selected amazing coaches who run workshops on body language, breathing exercise, fashion style and many other aspects.”


 Laruicci Black eyelet top 


This powerhouse speaks from experience having had a working-class upbringing in Paris in a multicultural setting. She went on to study International and European law before gaining a masters in marketing and distribution in the audiovisual industry at Sorbonne-Pantheon in the noughties. “I feel privileged to have gained access to a great education thanks to the bursary system at a time when they were less available to ethnic minorities,” she reflects. “However, it is also in these predominantly white and privileged environments that my Frenchness was regularly questioned and doubted. That’s when I started to educate myself, got involved in local politics and joined feminist and antiracist associations.”

“I speak up to defend ideas of social and gender equality in the public sphere and denounce systemic institutional racism”

After a stint into the corporate world, Diallo worked in youth TV for almost a decade. A diehard anime fan, she also co-founded Japan Expo, the world’s largest convention on Japanese popular culture. Nevertheless, it was her staunch activism that truly revealed Diallo to the public eye. In 2007, irritated by the daily racism they were subjected to, Diallo and her peers founded The Indivisibles; a self-proclaimed group of activists whose goal was “to deconstruct, notably through humour and irony, ethno-racial prejudices and, first and foremost, that which denies or devalues the French identity of non-white French people”. Notably, it has hosted annual award ceremonies denouncing public figures who indulge in the most racist rhetoric.


Looking back, she notes: “Although it is difficult to assess the progress French institutions have made in reducing social inequality since my heydays as an activist, a few indicators are reassuring. For example, the terminology ’systemic racism’ has finally entered the mainstream debate lexicon and more university research in France is focusing on the living experiences of the urban working class.” In a country reluctant to collect data based on ethnicity and where colonialism is sometimes praised as a positive historical occurrence, Diallo continues to urge the importance of preserving and transmitting the social history of the marginalised. "We need to create tools of transmission so young people can know and value our history. That's how they will become strong citizens."

To that end, Diallo marked the recent 40th anniversary of the March for Equality and Against Racism (also called the March of the Arabs by the French media) by organising three days of multidisciplinary programming at the Centre Pompidou. Meetings, artistic proposals, workshops and screenings examined the legacy of France’s first national anti-racist march in 1983. All events were free and fully booked. "Bringing together the individuals who took part in the march and the youth in a major institution in the heart of Paris was symbolic and a clear message that the racial question must occupy the centre of the public debate. The march embodied the French Republican values and every citizen should acknowledge its significance. Shockingly the government did not make any mention of it on the day of the anniversary.”

As well as being a vocal advocate for social justice and women’s rights, Diallo is a multi-hyphenate critical thinker and storyteller. In 2013, she authored her first documentary, the award-winning ‘Steps to Liberty’, which examines identity in France through the eyes of young American leaders. More recently, she’s produced documentaries examining topics such the monolithic stereotype of the Parisian woman (‘La Parisienne’, 2021) and the history of body politics that underpin the present craze for ’the derrière’ (‘Bootyful’, 2021). A prolific author, her books include ‘Don’t try to fit in!’ (2019), ‘France: Either You Love it or You Shut it’ (2019) and ‘Ordinary Scenes of Racism’ (2015) and she is currently writing a substantial book on feminism.

Diallo is also a tastemaker and an in-demand presence on the red carpet and at fashion shows. She’s been dressed by Jacquemus, Diesel, Acne Studios, Prada, Miu Miu and Jean-Paul Gautier and also lends her support to emerging brands such as Ruohan and Vautrait. It’s at high-profile events that she proudly stands by her fellow luminaries in arts and culture. "Despite the resistance from the old guard, there is no choice but to recognise the powerful artistry of game changers such as filmmaker Alice Diop and actor Aïssa Maïga," she says. “The youth is demanding representation and the portrayal of universal issues. Although sexism and racism are still rife in those industries, more individuals are denouncing the deviance of the system and the culprits."

Diallo’s accomplishments naturally ripple out internationally, too. She’s a regular columnist for The Guardian and The Washington Post and the BET-France host. In 2021, she became the Gender+ Justice Initiative’s inaugural Researcher-in Residence at Georgetown University in Washington. And having co-directed the wildly successful podcast ‘Kiffe Ta Race' with writer Grace Ly since 2018, which addresses racial equality issues in France, the pair have just been appointed activists-in-residence at King’s College London. “We will work closely with academics through a series of podcasts to compare approaches to discussing race, inequalities and discrimination in the two countries.”

And if all of that wasn’t enough, in 2023 Diallo added her official support to the Association des Journalistes Racisé.e.s, which aids journalists who are victims of racism, and fights racism in journalistic productions. The association counts over 200 members from independent media to the mainstream press. “The rise of the far-right in the public space and the media has normalised violent and racist rhetoric. More than ever alternative discourses and realities have to gain ground,” she says. So, whether fighting for the voiceless, or against those who abuse their aggrandised influence, Diallo is showing no signs of slowing up the good fight with like-minded warriors by her side. “Change is never the achievement of an individual but the result of successive generations’ struggles and achievements. In activism, the collective effort is the key.”





Visit Rokhaya Diallo
Words Paula de Almeida

Image agent and powered by Them Presents
Creative direction Réda Ait Chégou and Albertine Hadj
Photography Albertine Hadj
Movement direction Malik Le Nost
Make-up Marie Vallée
Styling Pierre Demones
Photography assistance Emma Derieux-Billaud






January 23, 2024 — Victoria Velandia

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