Friday, July 14, 2006

France and racial integration - and American perspective.

In the wake of France’s ordeal in the World Cup championship, there have been a great number of articles in the American press on the social ramification of soccer in France. Last Tuesday the NYTimes published in its page two a paper by John Vinocur entitled “A Shadow obscuring France’s World Cup”. You may think the shadow is Zidane’s head-hitting the Italian player but it’s actually the question of race and racism. If it is true that seven of the 11 players of the French team were black, but that does not mean that racial integration is working in France – not yet anyway.

The main point of the article concerns the very tools used to measure racial integration which do not exist by law:

The (French) Constitution says France makes no racial or religious distinctions among its citizens and French jurisprudence holds that, if information can be collected on individual’s and their parents’ birthplace and nationality, no data may be complied on “real or supposed racial or ethnic origin”.

The article is right. The estimates say that about 20% of the population is descended from immigrants from the former French colonies in North and West Africa – but that’s just it, an estimate

What needs to be added though is that this idea of not compiling list of ethnic group makes sense historically. It finds its roots in the way the Vichy government used lists of Jews to have them deported during WWII. So right after WWII, it made sense to have such laws.

But in today’s day and age, it just can’t work that way any more. As far as the ideal of equality, it is a nice one but it fails the test of reality. Everybody knows racial integration has not worked well but nobody can prove the extent to which it has not.

How can you measure racial integration – or the lack of it - if you can’t have data on race or ethnicity? The basis for serious assessment of the problem is a scientific statistical basis.

Yet there is a High Commission on Integration in France and Lilliam Thuram (the great French defender in the national soccer team) is part of it. He believes that, above all “people have to be integrated through work”. But in order to do that, you need to measure how much progress is made. You will certainly need “the full weight of the state” so that blacks and Arabs become fully part of French society.

However as Mr Vinocur analyses quite well, the notion of “affirmative action” is a hard sell in France – it sounds way too American:

… in much of the public mind in France, affirmative action, like zero tolerance in policing, is too demonstrably American and, by reflex definition, no good thing.

A similar system is slowing being implemented in some places – a case in point is the elite school “Science Po” (France's Institute for Political Studies), and so even if the name is hardly ever used, the notion of “affirmative action” is not so taboo any more.

It seems to me that the solution will not lie in half-measures and private initiatives such “La charte de la diversité ‘The charter of Diversity”) which is not legally binding even though some French business and industry giants have signed it. What you need is some form of affirmative action and the statistic tools to measure racial integration. It is about time France adapted to the reality of today’s world and go beyond the world of 1958 – when the Constitution was written.

In the meantime, Happy Bastille Day!


At 11:55, Anonymous DG said...

Quatorze Juillet! Allons enfants de la patrie!

So I'm watching the really boring parades on TV, and I observe that the French military definitely does not have the same racial composition as the football team. Maybe I'm just being picky....

At 19:51, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

That's a great comment though. I didn't get to watch the parade this year but I will try to look into it when I have a chance.
On (cynical) thought comes to mind: maybe that's because the French haven't figured out yet they could make their idle minorities usefull by sending them to war... like some other countries do. (nope, we won't tell!)
Probably something Sarkozy or Segolène Royal will propose.


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