My Bitcoin story is long and touches upon my earliest memories before Bitcoin came onto the scene.
It is not anchored in tech but rather in a belief that we don’t realize the extent to which money, or more precisely the control of money, influences how we perceive ourselves, others, and the world around us.
Imagine how we’d treat each other if no one controlled money (rules, not rulers) and we were forced to conduct trade with each other as specialists.
Prejudice would still exist, but would hierarchies be based on arbitrary characteristics, like physical appearance? How would the dominant culture as we know it in the West transform without monetary or financial resources to maintain it?
This part of my Bitcoin story is called:
Where are you really from? – (Quelles sont vos vraies origines ?)
TL;DR – If you ask me what my origins are, I’ll talk to you about Bitcoin and ask about your knowledge of Africa’s colonial currency, the CFA Franc
This seemingly benign question, literally translated as “what are your real origins,” has always struck me as odd.
I first heard it as a student while studying in France at l’Université de Rouen in Normandy, France.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned after many years that this is a common question that French-speaking people in Europe like to ask. It pops up sooner rather than later in a conversation.
At first, when I was asked this question, I’d say “Scarborough” or “Toronto.” Folks from Toronto have a terrible habit of believing we’re at the center of everything. You know, Toronto, as in Drake, the Raptors, Maple Leafs?
Younger people would get it. (One guy asked me to marry him when he learned I’m from Toronto. He wanted to move back with me and asked if I knew Drake, lol).
But older people 45+ were clueless. Thinking they hadn’t heard of Toronto, I’d say I’m from Canada.
Their responses would range from open laughter in my face to “ce n’est pas possible !” (That’s not possible!). Quebec is Canada, and I couldn’t possibly be from Quebec.
I’d explain that I’m an English speaker and learned French as a second language in Scarborough, where I grew up. But they didn’t have it.
The follow-up question would always be, “Mais, quelles sont vraies origines ?” (Where are you really from, or literally, what are your real origins?)
“Geez,” I’d think to myself. “How many centuries back do you want me to go?” I’d politely say, “My parents are from Trinidad & Tobago.”
The conversation would proceed along the lines of:
Them: “Is that in Africa?”
Me: “No, the Caribbean.”
Them: “Tell me about ‘La Trinité'”.
Me: “Well, Toronto has a pretty big Trinidadian community. We’ve got Caribana, roti, doubles, calypso & soca music. I’ve been to Trinidad twice.”
Them: “I’ve been to (insert name of West African country that uses the French colonial franc or CFA).”
Them: “You don’t look like the Africans I’ve seen.”
They would then proceed to describe tales of African adventures with details including poverty, philanthropy, positive feelings related to ‘helping’ others, and some nice person who worked as a driver, cleaner, or in some caregiving role.
After a few years of going through the same routine of questions, I began to ask myself:
What is the obsession with my ‘origins’?
Why isn’t my husband questioned in the same way?
Why do I always hear about ‘poor,’ helpless Africans?
Why do the UN and other international organizations in Geneva put up so many posters of poor Black and Brown people asking for donations?
Why do I have to prove that I was born and raised in Canada?
Admittedly, I felt compelled to be ‘polite’ when responding to questions about my origins.
Then, I read A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto by Eric Hughes and learned the difference between privacy and secrecy. I realized that choosing with whom I share pieces of my story are exercising my privacy and personal boundaries, and it is not a question of politeness.
I have chosen to live in Geneva, Switzerland, which shares a border with neighboring France. Many people live in France and work in Geneva (Les frontaliers), and many French people move to Geneva for work opportunities. Even though there are arguably key differences concerning governance structure, expressions of hierarchy, and power. In decision-making strategies between Switzerland and France (Swiss governance is more decentralized than Paris), the hierarchical mindset embedded in French culture makes its way across the border.
I believe that the unsolicited questioning of a stranger with physical characteristics not categorized as traditionally European reflects that hierarchical mindset. If I saw my husband questioned and scrutinized similarly, I’d think differently.
Ironically, he obtained Canadian citizenship after living in Canada for a few years. There have been times when he has told people he’s Canadian (perhaps out of provocation;-)), and no one batted an eyelash. He did not grow up or complete his schooling in Canada, and he’s not familiar with snow days, frostbite, or the joys of having a skating rink in the yard. But he looks the part, I suppose.
Fix the money, fix the world.
In my quest to understand this famous saying, I learned about the French CFA system.
France is the only Western country that formally controls the currency of other countries.
The 15 African countries that use the CFA are among the poorest in Africa. Here are a few facts about CFA:
Created in 1945 under General de Gaulle, finance minister René Pleven and Minister of the Colonies, Jacques Soustelle. Named franc of the French colonies in Africa (Colonies française d’Afrique)
France established and controlled a fixed exchange rate of 1 euro = 655.957 CFA for over a decade.
The French Treasury manufactures the physical CFA notes in circulation.
The French Treasury holds gold reserves of countries in the CFA region.
It is challenging for companies within these countries to obtain debt financing to fund their business operations; France strictly controls financing options.
If a merchant in one of the CFA countries were to sell goods to a foreign customer, payments for such goods are first converted into euros and deposited to the French treasury before being deposited to one of the two African central banks established to accommodate the CFA. From there, the local business receives payment.
For a more detailed breakdown, I recommend the book Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story by Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla.
How can individuals in a society prosper and pull themselves out of poverty when they’re under such strict economic control and manipulation by a country that benefits from imbalanced policies?
I asked some of my French friends if they knew about the CFA Franc system. Most said “no.” One, who I sincerely believe comes from a place of empathy and a desire to understand, asked, “Why don’t Africans just take control of their situation?”.
I shared the stories of Operation Persil in Guinea, the assassination of president Touré in Togo, and the military coup in Mali.
The French government has also used violence and other forms of coercion to reinforce its economic control and dominance.
In my pursuit of understanding Bitcoin, I unexpectedly gained insight into a recurring experience in my life. I don’t think the average middle-aged or older French person is aware of how the CFA system works or its role in the economic destruction of these countries. Or, for that matter, the economic prosperity of France. But, somehow, some have inherited the sense of authority and dominance that accompany this level of control. One way to flex is by probing about a person’s ‘origins,’ denying a person’s experiences or simply having little regard for a person’s privacy and personal boundaries.
This is why Bitcoin is so powerful and, I’d argue, a mechanism for social change. It is peer-to-peer (don’t let all the fancy exchanges, lending platforms, and other centralized services fool you). It is immutable, censorship-resistant to an extreme degree, cannot be confiscated, cannot be controlled by a central authority, portable, verifiable, scarce, etc.
These characteristics mean that any person, merchant, or going concern can carry out trade without the intervention of the French Treasury or any central financial authority. Freedom.
One courageous leader does not need to risk their life by trying to introduce a sovereign currency. Without permission, millions of individuals can choose Bitcoin for themselves and prosper through trade. It will not happen overnight, but if we decide to adopt Bitcoin, there’s a higher probability that we won’t be having these same discussions about racism in future generations.
A few years ago at Geneva airport, I had to take an early-morning flight for work. A man followed me from the check-in counter to the escalators leading to security. He walked past me on the escalator and stopped a few steps above where I was standing. He turned around, looked down at me, and said, “it’s because of people like you that we’re having economic difficulty in Europe.”
He was ANGRY. Somehow I triggered his anger.
I hope he reads this article and is motivated to learn about Satoshi Nakamoto’s creations. With time I hope he understands that the economic difficulty we’re experiencing is the result of monetary control and policy, of which I am not a participant.
Just like I’ve gotten into the habit of asking merchants if they accept bitcoin payments, I’m developing the habit of speaking about the CFA Franc to the French speakers who question or make inferences about my ‘origins’ based on my appearance.
If you ask me what my origins are, I will talk to you about Bitcoin and ask about your knowledge of Africa’s colonial currency, The CFA Franc.
Note: If you’re new to Bitcoin, trying to understand what it is or why it’s essential can seem intimidating. The learning journey never ends, and a great place to start is to ask yourself: what is money? Furthermore, Bitcoin combines cryptography, computer science, economics and economic history, cypherpunk ideology, and a quest for personal sovereignty. To learn more, try this free course by the Saylor Academy: Bitcoin for Everybody.
This is a guest post by Saidah Gomez-Fleury. You can follow her on Twitter @SaidahGomez. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Satoshi’s Journal or Satoshi’s Entertainment Company.