Monday, December 12, 2005

The French Divide is Cultural, Not Racial.

Today's Herald Tribune publishes a captivating perspective on France from a "a young (American) black male who has lived in both France and United States". His contention is basically that the problem of integration of "visible minorities" into main stream French society - highlighted by the recent riots - is not based on a racial divide but on a cultural rift:
[When I lived there] I was "ethnic," but I wasn't an immigrant with a culture and customs that were so different as to be feared. I was Christian, not Muslim. Different, but not too different.And this, in my experience, is why prejudice in Europe is such a dramatically different beast from prejudice in the United States. In America, prejudice has long been a question of color. In Europe, it's not about color, it's about culture. France doesn't have a race problem. It has a problem embracing the culture and customs of its immigrants and their children.
I think he really has a point here and it makes real sense to me. That would notably explain many of the paradoxes of the French situation and its long history of openness to black intellectuals and artists for instance and why it so common to see racially mixed couples there.
He also adds an interesting comparison with the US:
[...] because the issue is culture, not color, the real solution for France and other European countries is much more challenging. Europeans have to learn to understand and appreciate - and, ultimately, embrace - the cultural riches of their immigrants, just as they have embraced mine. And in doing so, they may even discover that some of those riches are as much European as they are African or Arab.
Cultural prejudice can be fueled by different types of fear. In Europe it's largely a fear of change; in the United States, of terrorism.

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