The new Miss France, born to an African-American mother and white French father, said Sunday she wants to advertise her country's diversity on the world stage.
Chloe Mortaud is not the first nonwhite winner of the beauty pageant, but she is joining a growing chorus of French public figures breaking traditions by speaking openly about race.
“I want to go to people and explain to them that fear of the other is unfounded,” she told The Associated Press the day after being crowned. “I want to incarnate ... today's French diversity” at international beauty pageants.
France has championed a colorblind standard that sees all citizens as just French, regardless of ethnic origins — an ideal meant to make everyone feel equal. But it has failed to snuff out racism, particularly against immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. Discrimination in part fed riots in 2005 by largely minority youth in French housing projects.
Days after Barack Obama's election last month, leading French figures published a manifesto urging affirmative action-like policies to expand opportunities for millions of blacks, Arabs and other minorities. First lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy said she hoped the "Obama effect" would reshape France's political and social elite.
Mortaud, a dual French-American citizen, said her mother was born in Mississippi but grew up in California, and her father's heritage is ethnic French “as far back as we could trace the family tree.”
Mortaud said she and her brother were the only children of mixed ethnic background in the small town where they grew up in the French Pyrenees, where she said “everyone knows each other and respects each other.”
Mortaud, 19, is a student in international business in the southern city of Toulouse, and speaks Chinese.