A flyer advertising a hip-hop festival sponsored by the U.S. embassy in Paris.
Courtesy Paris Hip-Hop

In September 2009, Charles Rivkin, the U.S. ambassador to France, drove to northern Paris for the unveiling of a mural at the Collège Martin Luther King, a middle school in the suburb (or banlieue) of Villier-le-Bel. “President Obama invites us to build a better future for our children on the basis of mutual understanding and equal opportunity,” Rivkin declared before an audience of local officials, students, and residents. The ambassador explained the importance of Martin Luther King Day and the relevance of the civil rights leader’s ideas to the surrounding area, which had recently been racked by riots. Then, standing in front of a colorful, just-completed mural of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rivkin sang “We Shall Overcome” with dozens of African and Muslim schoolchildren.

Those in attendance, by all accounts, appreciated the event. But the French media were less than pleased by the efforts of the U.S. ambassador,

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  • HISHAM AIDI is a lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. This essay is adapted from his book, Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (Pantheon, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Hisham D. Aidi. All rights reserved. Posted by arrangement with Pantheon Books, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Random House LLC .
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