Anyone who has ever seen Rokhaya Diallo speak on a French television set knows that she is out of her mind. This brilliant and courageous journalist, capable of replying with aplomb to an Éric Zemmour or a Mathieu Bock-Côté, is one of a kind in the French media landscape.

Watching her debate with such ease, I imagined that the younger Rokhaya must necessarily be the kind of student who liked to speak in front of the whole class and contradict the teacher.

No way ! laughs the 44-year-old journalist.

As a teenager, she was more of a studious, wise and discreet type of student. “There are so many teachers who have never heard the sound of my voice! »

While tidying up at her mother’s house, Rokhaya Diallo recently found an old school notebook with a note from her 14-year-old math teacher that made her smile. “I wish a very (too) quiet student much success and less shyness. »

Nothing therefore seemed to predestine this “too” quiet student, daughter of immigrant workers from Senegal, brought up in a working-class district of Paris, to a media career that was not at all quiet at all, which often led her into minefield and earned her her lot of insults and cyberbullying.

Rokhaya Diallo is not where her birth should have taken her. And yet, she feels (and we also feel) more than ever in her place. “Sometimes life, for various reasons, takes us to places where sociology would not necessarily have imagined or projected us. »

She didn’t choose journalism, but journalism chose her, she wrote in Don’t Stay In Your Seat! (Marabout, 2019), a book in which she recounts her career, which is as atypical as it is inspiring.

After studying international and European law, a degree in commerce and a master’s degree in marketing and distribution in the audiovisual industry which led her to work at Disney Television France, Rokhaya Diallo ended up establishing herself in the French media landscape, where no one expected him.

What drove her to speak up was an urge to say things that were almost never said on social justice topics, such as systemic racism or intersectional feminism.

Proud above all to have managed to perpetuate a word that was inaudible. “Others have tried before me and have often been swept away by the violence of racism and sexism,” she adds, making it clear that it’s not about individual pride. “I know that others, especially younger ones, will continue to take the place, will intervene, will continue to give the cue. »

Nearly 15 years after her arrival in the media, how does she manage to continue in a context where women journalists and politicians, especially if they are racialized, are more than ever the target of cyberviolence and some are fading into wondering if it’s worth the cost⁠1?

“It’s very expensive,” observes Rokhaya Diallo, who devoted a documentary to the issue in 2014 (Hate Networks) after receiving a tweet publicly calling for rape to punish her for speaking out.

What gives her the strength not to be silent despite the extreme violence that sometimes threatens her is above all the fact of having valves allowing her to get out of the media bath and take a step back. “For me, writing, documentary-making and traveling create a balance. »

While she is often asked for advice on how to express herself calmly in public, she decided to set up W.O.R.D., a public speaking training school. A way for her to pass on what she has learned on the job to people who want to defend ideas in the public square, but do not feel sufficiently equipped to do so.

“The important thing is not so much to access the public space, but to do something with this access. It’s good to open the door and manage to enter. But I think it should be kept open for others to follow. »

Although Rokhaya Diallo is not a member of any organization, she is sometimes referred to as an “activist” to discredit her. If the word has nothing pejorative in itself, she notes that its use to disqualify certain speeches is variable.

“I have never heard anyone call Mathieu Bock-Côté an activist. And even Éric Zemmour, who today is a political figure, nobody says that he is an activist… When the biases are on the right or on the far right, we will not qualify this work as oriented and militant then that it is,” she said, calling CNEWS, where the Quebec columnist works, a far-right channel.

When she looks at the evolution of the political debate in France with regard to issues of social justice, she sees both signs of progress and signs of backlash. “These issues have become legitimate topics of debate. And at the same time, the consequences of this visibility are really dramatic,” she says, alluding to the rise of the far right in France.

Paradoxically, while the extreme right, by disguising what it is, has managed to obtain a very real political incarnation in France with the National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and its 88 deputies, we are much more worried of “wokism” – a concept that for Rokhaya Diallo means nothing.

These criticisms are often based on a false equivalence that one should criticize “both extremes” equally, left and right, regardless of the scope of their respective political projects.

This shows a misunderstanding of the political spectrum, points out Rokhaya Diallo.

“There is no connection between the extreme left and the extreme right! The far right killed rugby player Federico Martin Aramburu in Paris last year⁠2. The extreme right is Generation Identity: people who will physically try to stop migrants in the Alps! It is an identity project of white France. »

Which isn’t reassuring.

Coffee and me: I don’t drink coffee at all. I don’t like the taste. I’m very hot chocolate!

A landmark read for me: The book L’etau by Aminata Dramane Traoré, psycho-sociologist and former Minister of Culture of Mali. I was 20 when I read it. For me, it was really a turning point in my understanding of the geopolitical relationship between France and its former colonies and my way of seeing things.

A movie I really like: Tomb of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata. It is an animated film released in 1988 which is extremely beautiful and extremely sad. It takes place right after World War II. It is the story of two children after the defeat of Japan who are in a post-war Japanese world and who wander in misery.

A sentence that I find inspiring: I love this sentence from Angela Davis that I put in the epigraph of my book Don’t stay in your place! “Walls knocked down become bridges”.