Academic Musings, Life Musings, Race & Ethnicity

The French Approach to “Anti-racism”: Pretty Words and Magical Thinking

I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.

As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had been lecturing on youth and delinquency. I asked, in my broken French, if the dynamics he described had any relation to racial or ethnic belonging. “We don’t have that kind of problem here,” he said, adding: “This isn’t the United States.” Embarrassed and flustered, I nodded and continued taking notes. After class, one of the only other black students pulled me aside: “We do have those kinds of problems here. Hang out with me and I’ll tell you about it.”IMG_7291

My new friend was from Cameroon and had moved to France along with her sister and brother several years prior. Over the course of the semester, her family basically adopted me, inviting me to dinners, showing me the area and telling me about their lives. I learned that despite the fact that each of them had white French partners and white close friends, they nonetheless experienced racism. But, as I learned in that sociology class that day, many French people denied that racism was actually a problem in their supposedly colorblind society.

Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who died on October 27th in 2005 after being chased by police officers. Photo courtesy of Le Monde.
Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who died on October 27th in 2005 after being chased by police officers. Photo courtesy of Le Monde.

Twelve years later, I am now a sociologist and professor finishing a book on racism and the legacies of slavery in France. And while some things have changed here, many French people are still in denial. Over the past decade, French minority groups have made important gains. 2005 was a water-shed year for raising consciousness about the weight of racism in France. In addition to the riots sparked by the death of French minority youth fleeing the police, new anti-racist groups emerged, such as the Representative Council of Black Associations and Indigenes de la République. There is now a national day of memory for slavery and the slavey trade (May 10th) thanks to a law proposed by Christiane Taubira, now France’s first black (and female) Minister of Justice. New, powerful minority voices have emerged in the public sphere, including filmmaker, TV personality and activist Rokhaya Diallo and scholar-activist Maboula Soumahoro (who spearheaded France’s first “Black History Month” in 2012).

Ten years after the riots, the police involved in chasing Zyed Benna, Bouna Traore and their friends are finally being tried for negligence. Ten years later, it is more difficult for the French to deny the plight of ethnic and racial minorities — though some, especially conservatives, deny this reality daily.

Yet, despite these transformations, the French government seems to have almost entirely abdicated its responsibility for dealing with racism. In terms of policy, French “anti-racism” is a total disaster. Instead of formulating anti-racist policies and collecting anti-discrimination statistics, the country contents itself with anti-racist discourse and magical thinking. In 2011, the U.N. issued a report condemning France for its “racist climate” and lack of “real political will” to address racial discrimination. In 2013, French politicians took steps to remove the word “race” from its laws, apparently guided by the magical belief that changing words is enough to fight racism.

In France, it is illegal for the government to include race or ethnicity on the census, as doing so is framed as a violation of so-called “Republican” values, which insist that the French Republic is “indivisible” and should not be distinguished in terms of race or ethnic origin. The problem with this is that the majority population fails to acknowledge that the Republic has been making racial and ethnic distinctions for a very long time. This, too, stems from denial and ignorance. The truth is that French people who cherish dominant interpretations of “colorblind” Republicanism help maintain the racial status quo. By refusing to support the collection of statistics that could be used to generate policies and measure their effectiveness, they undermine the work of minorities and activists who are working hard to counteract the tide of Republican denial.

While some argue that France doesn’t need more data to fight racism, this almost argument is never made concerning sexism. Most people are aware that sexism exists, but it would be absurd to say: “We already know sexism exists and therefore don’t need data on gender discrimination..”Yet, this is the same kind of magical thinking that prevails in much of the so-called “anti-racist” discourse one encounters in France.

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Some of France’s most visible “anti-racist groups” have continually opposed anti-discrimination statistics. Just this week, I appeared on France24 to debate the issue with Hadrien Lenoir, a representative of SOS Racisme — one of the most vocal critics of ethnoracial statistics. During the lively debate, Lenoir presented SOS Racisme as supporting such statistics “in research” — as long as they’re not collected by the government. What he did not admit is that SOS Racisme virulently opposed the cutting edge work of French scholars who produced, for the first time, a large scale study of discrimination in France using ethnoracial statistics. Even if the group claims to have changed its position, the reality is that most French research is sponsored by the government. Thus, expressing support for ethnoracial stats “in research” as long as the government is not involved is nonsensical in a nation where most research is funded by the state. These are the kinds of mind-boggling contradictions that anyone studying French racism has to confront–contradictions that, for many years, made me never want to study race in France again.

It is true that some French people still deny that racism exists–despite the many studies that have documented discrimination. But other groups, like SOSRacisme, actually use their fear of racism in the government to argue against the collection of ethnoracial statistics. They point to the racism of the government during the Vichy regime of World War II as proof that the state cannot be trusted. Most recently, when Robert Menard, a far-right mayor of the town of Beziers, admitted to ethnoracially profiling Muslim children, groups like SOSRacisme argued that this, too, was proof that the government had no business counting people by race or religion. Of course, in making this argument, they draw a false equivalence anti-racist and racist usage of statistics.

In my view, the lesson gleaned from Menard’s racism is simple: People in power will gather data to profile minorities whether or not the government calls itself colorblind. Indeed, 13 Black and Arab men are currently suing the French state itself for engaging in racial profiling.

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The more time I spend in France, the more it seems to me that some French people (especially politicians) are extraordinarily skilled at talking about principles that they have no intention of doing anything about. Perhaps the French are stuck because they are far too philosophical and not at all practical when it comes to anti-discrimination. I don’t doubt the sincerity of most anti-racist groups that oppose policies that would actually expose and address racism. I have not always had the policy positions I have now. Certainly when I started my research in France, I did not have strong opinions. While I always saw myself as anti-racist, I was not informed enough to have a clear sense of whether ethnoracial statistics or “American-style” policies were needed in France. But after spending nearly three years living in France and interviewing over 100 French activists and ordinary people, my views began to change. It became increasingly obvious that the French population is mired in ignorance about the social and historical reality of race. Even moreso than in the United States, French discourse “about race” is incredibly superficial, asociological and ahistorical. Of course they don’t know how to fight racism.

I denounce white supremacy in the United States on a daily basis and I have no illusions that numbers will save the day. But it matters that activists and scholars in the United States can point to statistics within communities, organizations and institutions to measure just how much has changed — and just how much has not. It matters that we can use these numbers to inform policies and measure their effectiveness (or lack thereof). No, these statistics are not a panacea. Yes, black people and other minorities continue to experience the on-going racial tyranny of white supremacy. But the numbers help combat the denial and magical thinking frequently found among white people and other dominant groups — denial that would have you believe that centuries of race-making can be undone with beautiful principles and kumbaya colorblindness.

For a country that presents itself as secular, France nonetheless asserts religious conviction in the power of words to erase social and historical realities. In terms of dealing (or rather, not dealing) with racism, France is like a country that prefers faith-based healing over modern medicine for its ailing children. To take the analogy even further — the French political establishment is like a parent who infected their own children with an illness — only to refuse diagnostic tests and treatment.

It’s amazing, really — this intransigent, irrational belief that the language of “colorblindness” can actually undo centuries of race-making. The French seem to believe, that through the magical power of language alone, they can talk racism into oblivion. Nevermind the fact that France spent centuries establishing racial hierarchies at home and in its colonial empire for the purpose of enriching the state. Some truly believe that words like “Republic” and “citizenship” and “indivisible” can suddenly undo processes that were produced and institutionalized over the course of four hundred years.

In my view, French magical thinking about race is reinforced by the near total ignorance of the population with regard to its racial past. The French are struggling, in part, because they do not have widely read sociologists or historians of race. During my time in France this spring, I’ve met young French scholars of race who are doing really important, desperately needed work. But the political and intellectual landscape in which they must work is absolutely depressing. Not only does the French academy lack serious programs in race, but it is also overwhelmingly white and elite. One does not need statistics to see this. Enter any French elite university and you will find very few minority professors, chairs of departments or administrators. There are only a few books that could fall under the umbrella of “Black Studies” in France. Not only is there nothing even approaching “post-colonial studies” — the history of colonialism itself is mostly a non-lieu de memoire : barely taught in schools, mostly forgotten and marginalized in the nation’s collective memory. There is no French equivalent of W.E.B. Du Bois (who essentially founded urban sociology in the United States and pioneered studies of race, racism and whiteness). And there has not yet emerged a French equivalent of Kimberlé Crenshaw or Patricia Hill Collins — scholars who have revolutionized entire fields of thought through their contributions to Black Feminist scholarship and critical race theory. Yes, the Nardal Sisters and Cesaire and Fanon exist, but French scholars of color are still mostly ignored by white French people. Indeed, negritude was far more influential outside of hexagonal France than within it.

The only thing most French people seem to know about race is that racial categories were used against the Jews during WW II. That’s it. If you ask French people to tell you about racism in French colonialism, racial exclusion in the metropole prior to WW II, most probably would have little to say. Most French people can’t explain in any degree of detail where the concept of race came from, how racism perpetuates itself over time or how it is institutionalized. How could they? They do not (and, with few exceptions, cannot) learn about these things at school. But they think they can “fight” racism in a context of near complete social and historical ignorance about what race means and where it came from.

If there was ever a case study in the epistemology of ignorance — and its relationship to white supremacy — France is it. As I argue in the book I’m finishing now, white supremacy and racial ignorance are both key to understanding race in France. Already in the United States, racial ignorance and denial run wide and deep. And yet, despite these challenges, we have intellectual resources and minority networks the French can’t even dream of. And I don’t say this to brag — it’s not like these intellectual resources have saved us. They haven’t. But they matter. They help.

I don’t think most people (French or otherwise) understand that it takes centuries of diligent activism, statistical tracking, policy making and scholarship to even begin to address the damage of racism. The U.S. case shows that it is extremely difficult to confront and combat racism, even when you have the intellectual resources and data. But the French case shows that it is impossible to effectively identify and challenge racism without these things.

Further, French chauvinism prevents many people here from actually embracing a global understanding of racial processes and white supremacy. References to race in the United States or the UK are portrayed as too foreign — imposing an “anglosaxon” lens. White French people will sometimes say that their country can’t learn anything about race from the United States because the two societies are so different. And yet, the same people point to the continued existence of racism in the U.S. as “proof” that our approach to using ethnoracial statistics “hasn’t helped”. But if the U.S. is “too different” to teach anything to the French about race, then it cannot also be used by the French as “evidence” that ethnoracial statistics are a bad idea. It is intellectually dishonest to claim that one can’t learn anything from another society, yet also use that same society to justify one’s position. Further, the fact that France does not collect ethnoracial data means that it is impossible to seriously compare the situation of minorities in most spheres of life (e.g. housing and employment discrimination, political representation and so on). But the French think that they don’t need data to say that their society is less racist than the U.S. — all they need are Republican words. Thus, instead of learning from other nations that have a much longer history of studying race, many of the French prefer their colorblind ignorance.

The bottom line is that from what I have seen, the French majority population does not think racism affecting people of color is important. The reason the French majority population doesn’t think racism is important is because they have not been made to believe it is important. French people of color currently lack the political power and internal organization to compel the majority population to care about addressing racism. And, the French government’s role in suppressing ethnoracial statistics continues to undermine people of color who are organizing to fight racism.

The irony of all this is that the French are currently moving forward with an intelligence law that rivals the Patriot Act in its blatant disregard for civil liberties. The French government wants to collect data on almost everything French people think, write or say but – no data on racism! When it comes to fighting terror, the French know very well that knowledge is power. But when it comes to fighting racism? Data? Knowledge? Not necessary.

Too many French people seem to imagine that if they close their eyes to race, click their heels three times and repeat the words “Liberty”, “Equality” and “Brotherhood”, the boogeyman of racism will simply vanish and disappear. No systematic data or policies necessary. Only pretty, magical, colorblind words.

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114 thoughts on “The French Approach to “Anti-racism”: Pretty Words and Magical Thinking”

  1. Crystal, it is a very interesting post and I largely agree with you. At the same time I have the feeling that your vision of the French tradition of reflection and research on issues of race, slavery, colonialism etc. is much too negative. Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire were not born in continental France, but they have exerted an enormous influence on global reflection on Blackness, colonialism, slavery etc. What about the whole movement of Négritude ? You make it seem as if France, the so-called DOM-TOM (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana etc.) and the rest of the former French colonial empire had absolutely no tradition of reflection on all these issues, and I think that you may be too influenced by the fact that you are American and quite a young person.

    What about the radical philosopher Louis Sala-Molins, the author of, among others, the seminal book “Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment” (2006) and an equally seminal book on the so-called Black Code (Code Noir) – “Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan ?” (1987) What about the very influential couple, Mongo Beti (a Cameroonian and one of the most important African writers, sadly far too little known in the US) and Odile Tobner (one of the most recent publications by Odile Tobner, a white Frenchwoman, is the book “Du racisme français, quatre siècles de négrophobie” – “On French racism, four centuries of negrophobia”). What about the magazine and publishing house Présence Africaine ? What about the book “Négrophobie” published by Tobner, the Senegalese writer Boris Boubacar Diop and the white French author François-Xavier Verschave in 2005 ?

    An important and far too little known, radical Black scholar very interested in the literature and thought of the Francophone African diaspora is the Nigerian Femi Ojo-Ade (he now lives in the US), and his books, such as “Aimé Césaire’s African Theatre: Of Poets, Prophets and Politicians”, 2010, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, “Being Black, Being Human” (2003, Africa World Press) or “Configuring the African World: Essays on Continental and Diasporic Literatures and Cultures” (2007, Africa World Press) are definitely worth reading.

    I wonder, too, if you have heard that the new French interministerial delegate for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, Gilles Clavreul, has very arrogantly harshly criticized groups fighting anti-Black racism, such as Brigade Anti Négrophobie. He claims that they portray certain groups as victims, that they denounce France as responsible for “all the crimes: slavery, colonization …”, and that they should be glad that “France abolished slavery” … The passages from “Libération” where he makes these astonishing claims are on Rokhaya Diallo’s Facebook page, at this link https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152806535553316&set=a.10150197071848316.313475.621323315&type=1&theater

    1. Hi Joanna, thanks for your comment! Especially for including additional links and info that enrich the conversation.

      I am not sure that you realize just how little the French read their own French scholars of color. Fanon is not widely read in France. Nor is Aime Cesaire. People from the DOM-TOM continue to be marginalized, both socio-economically and intellectually. Negritude had far more of an impact outside of France than it did within mainland France or within the French intellectual culture of the white elite.

      The point is not to minimize the intellectual and artistic contributions of French people of color — the point is that their contributions are not, as a rule, recognized by the majority population.

      If anything, I think the portrait I present is not negative enough. The situation in France is dire and I think that if you spend time with people of color here who work on these issues, you might agree. Everything in France is set up to minimize the gravity of the racial situation. This is the case even moreso than in the U.S., where conservatives and others with power attempt to minimize the problem of racism. You can be sure that among the many racial problems in France, there is not the problem of “being too negative” about the history and persistence of white supremacy and post/colonial racism. The situation is quite negative and this cannot be emphasized enough given the daily, centuries-long onslaught of denial, negation and minimization that minorities here are subject to.

      1. Crystal, thank you very much for your reply: I now feel that I understand much better the point you were trying to get across. I entirely agree with you when it comes to the situation of Black people and other people of colour in France and the attitudes of a very large part of the French white population, including white intellectuals, writers etc.. The openly racist Alain Finkielkraut is one of the most influential French intellectuals and a member of Académie française; surprisingly few people mention Michel Houellebecq’s truly sickening anti-Black racism expressed in some of his novels, and he even received the Goncourt prize; the sociologist Hugues Lagrange blames the educational difficulties of many Black children and youth of West African descent on the culture of their parents; and I was truly shocked when I found out how a young Black boy was portrayed in the 2008 “feminist” movie “La Journée de la jupe” by Jean-Paul Lilienfeld (where Isabelle Adjani played the role of the brave teacher: the Black boy even threatens her with gang rape and later beats her up).

        One of my friends, a Senegalese who lives in France, once told me with sadness that he suddenly realized during a class at his teacher-training institute (Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres) that the others knew absolutely nothing on slavery, the Black Code etc. … And it seems to me that very many white French people believe that “France abolished slavery” but know nothing about the Haitian Revolution and the later Napoleon’s attempts to re-establish slavery. Even in the booklet accompanying the set of CDs “Slavery in America. Redemption Songs 1914-1972” sold by the French company Frémeaux & Associés – the CDs are warmly recommended by Christiane Taubira – a certain Bruno Blum claims that slavery was abolished in Haiti in 1804, and does not even mention the Haitian Revolution … He says, too, that Marcus Garvey was “the first great Black political leader of the Americas”, but never mentions Toussaint L’Ouverture in the whole booklet.

        Even in the leftist “Monde Diplomatique” I have quite recently come across an article (“Islamophobie ou prolophobie” by Benoît Bréville, February 2015) whose author clearly tries to minimize the importance of anti-Black and anti-Arab racism in France and blame as much as possible on prejudice against the urban poor in general – as if it were somehow too difficult or too risky for a white French leftist journalist to admit that racism IS an enormous problem in France.

        Let me add that I am very happy that I have been able to add some info and some thoughts of my own to your post !

  2. Reblogged this on La Toile d'Alma and commented:
    Perspective afro-américaine sur les tensions raciales et l’anti-racisme institutionnel en France (en anglais)

    “French “anti-racism” is a total disaster. Instead of formulating anti-racist policies and collecting anti-discrimination statistics, the country contents itself with anti-racist discourse and magical thinking.”

    “The more time I spend in France, the more it seems to me that some French people (especially politicians) are extraordinarily skilled at talking about principles that they have no intention of doing anything about. Perhaps the French are stuck because they are far too philosophical and not at all practical when it comes to anti-discrimination.”

    Big up aux activistes et universitaires qui font le boulot comme elles/ils peuvent.

  3. Hi Crystal! Thank you for this article that elaborates the feeling that I’ve had for the last years and especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris In January.
    I am French and I’ve been living in the US for a little more than 2 years. The american discourse on race made me transform my point of view on my own country and the way it was tackling the issue. Sure, the USA are far from having solved their difficulties regarding the subject BUT at least it does exist as an object for reflection and debate. There is an awareness that opens up the possibility for improvement.
    Racial discrimination seems to be non existent according to French media. According to them, we only have immigration issues…pretty revealing!
    I am particularly shocked by the way journalists refer to non-white French : “fils d’immigrés” (sons of immigrants) when most of them belong to the 2nd or 3rd generation in the country (how does it take to be just “French” when your skin has a different color?).
    This is all new to me as I have been raised in the hypocritical color-blindness of the French Republic. But my experience in the USA has opened my eyes and I am more and more revolted by the way we treat our own citizens.
    I also think that there is a lot to learn from French feminist movement : sexism is another huge blind-spot there and the feminist associations managed to put sexism on the radar for the general public. It is still baby steps but Rome wasn’t built in a day!

    1. Hi there – thank you for sharing your perspective.. I appreciate hearing from French people about my thoughts on race in France..

      All too often, I hear from French people who think that the U.S. has nothing to “teach” France about race, because we haven’t solved our racial issues.. as if the only point of sharing knowledge is to be able to proclaim “We fixed it!” In the debate I did with the representative from SOSRacisme, one of his arguments was to say (paraphrasing): “Well, you Americans clearly haven’t figured out racism.” I would like to know more about your perspective, as a French person, living in the US and knowing that we are still struggling with racial oppression.. what is your view on how and why the US can still provide a helpful perspective on race issues in France?

      In my opinion, the answer has to do with letting go of the tendency to imagine that any country any where in the world has “solved” their racial issues. I am very clear in my analysis that no society is a racial utopia. But I think one of the very first steps in being able to deal with a problem, whether it’s personal or societal, is admitting there is a problem. This acknowledgement has been a long time coming in France, and even now there is a great deal of denial. For historical, geographic and demographic reasons, it’s more difficult to deny the problem of racism in the US than it is in France. In France, I think the challenge has to do with the superficiality with which most people regard racism — they do not fully understand the extent to which it actually poses a problem, how intractable that problem is without serious policies and strategies — thus, they think that mere words are enough to address racism.

  4. Hi, this is a powerful article and highlights the ongoing work needed to tackle ignorance and racism. I have worked in a number of anti racist charities in the UK and I feel there needs to be a big difference made between racial ignorance and racism. It sounds like France is suffering from racial ignorance as they do not have the knowledge to have the conservation to understand how to become more aware. For me racism is a conscious choice that people make. Most are racially ignorant (and would be shocked if accused of being racist) and only the tireless work of groups to improve awareness will change that fact.

    1. @smartjoseph, many/most racists nowadays are shocked if accused of being racist … I am not French, but I can assure you that France has a very serious problem with racism – not only racial ignorance. Fanon was fully aware of it when he wrote his “Black Skin, White Masks”. To take just three recent particularly shocking examples, an extreme-right wing politician compared Christiane Taubira to an ape in a photomontage on Facebook in 2014; a very popular TV presenter, Pascal Sevran, openly claimed in in 2006 that “the c..k of Blacks” (la bite des Noirs) was responsible for famine in Africa; the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut claimed in a 2005 interview for the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” that the “colonial project … sought to … bring civilization to the savages” and that France “did only good” to Africans (http://www.haaretz.com/what-sort-of-frenchmen-are-they-1.174419); the French writer Michel Houellebecq portrays Black men in his novel “The Elementary Particles” as both subhuman and hypersexual, and in his novel “Platform” there is a scene where a group of Black men sadistically rapes a white woman in a Metro car and finally spits and urinates on the woman, and a police officer later suggests that she was lucky because she was not killed with great cruelty like the other victims of the black rapists.

      This is not merely “racial ignorance”, this is very deep racism, obviously very closely linked to the dehumanization of Black people since the begnning of the slave trade.
      Last but not least, the existence of so-called systemic racism proves that racism is much more than an issue of the attitudes of some individuals who consciously choose to reject Black people and other people of colour …

    1. Wow! I found your post on my reader and I’m glad I read it. I’ve never been to France, but your post was really eye-opening to me about the way some European countries deal with race by preaching “color blindness” as a means to combat, or rather deny, any history of or present instances of racism. A lot of the scholarly work I am engaged in regards racism in the US and culturally engrained racism against indigenous and aboriginal peoples on and off the Rez. Work like yours is so important on a national and global level and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  5. Thanks for posting: important topics! Two comments:
    1) Race as a social construct needs to be discussed more by everyone, everywhere; France is not singular in its denial, widespread ignorance and general inability to cope with its own racism. The fastest way to end racism is the Human Genome Project, which proves the non-biological basis for “race” AND shows the connections between seemingly disconnected peoples, based on biology rather than countries of origin or racialized physical traits.
    2) Judaism is a religion that Jews practice or that people are born into a family whose members practice (I, for example, am a Buddhist, but my family members practice Judaism). There are ethnic ties to Jewishness, cultural similarities among suburban USA Jews, for example, but it is Hitler and those of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups who racialize Jews. We are not a singular ethnic group or race: go to Ethiopia, Yemen, Israel, Spain, Canada and line up all the Jews, then tell me what “race” we are.
    Unless people are willing to racialize every religion, including every branch of Christianity and Catholicism (sounds crazy, right? A race of Methodists? How about a race of Unitarian Universalists?), the cessation of racializing Jews is logical and necessary.

    Best to you all,

    Sally

  6. Reblogged this on Tana Daily Telegraph and commented:
    “It is true that some French people still deny that racism exists–despite the many studies that have documented discrimination…” – original author. This is fresh news to me because I never imagined there would be racism in France given the interdependence that exists with francophone Africa. It’s unbelievable, too, that currently 13 black and arab men are suing the French state itself for ‘engaging in racial profiling’. I’m speechless!

  7. Dear Crystal, I know what is to be a foreigner all my life, even in my own country(Brazil), but I think a foreigner with a sensitive eye can see the cracks in any social wall. Here, in Brazil, things are not different from France, we Brazilians have the habit to think that racism doesn’t exist, but it does. The difference is that, I suppose, from little I know from your country USA, that in USA, the lines are more sharp(at least it seems to me), but in Brazil culturally we don’t have those lines. I don’t know which one is worse. I know that, here, we say a dark skinned person may have all the opportunities, but we know it is not true, those who succed have a great deal of self confidence. I don’t know if you know my country, but I’ll let you know that I lived in all regions of it, from the Rain Forest to the Pampas. I’m 33 now and I lived in at least 7 different cities just here in Brazil. It’s like being in different countries, the only thing in common is the Portuguese we speak with slight variations(regionalismos). If one day you come to Brazil, or if you want to know some more, contact me, if you please. I congratulate you for your studies on these matters.

    1. Disclaimer: I’m a white Brazilian, so I guess you’re free to judge my opinions based on this singular fact. Or not.

      As Haller pointed out a few comments above, in Brazil we do have the same denial kind of approach to racism. But many positive actions are being put in place,and this is starting to change.

      Now, that’s the time you’d say “that’s great” and I say that’s definitely not the case.

      Ten years ago, you saw a black doctor, you’d think: That man (or woman, for that matter) is probably a very intelligent / dedicated (name the positive quality you want) person that can make inspite of having to overcome additional difficulties in life.

      Nowadays, however, I would not have the same kind of thoughts. As they undergo special paths, all I can think is that I don’t trust the (possibly) underpar method they used to get there.

      Now in Brazil we have, legally, different type of people with different rights for each group. Of course whites don’t have any special treatment.

      So How could this be a better society?

  8. I feel like conservatives in any country deny the existence of a lot of things, racism in particular. This is a very telling blog post. As a lesbian, I will admit, I was blindsided when I saw a news image of French people throwing rocks at a gay couple. I, too, thought they didn’t have the same or similar human right’s issues that we have in America. I applaud you for putting your story out here for the world to see. These issues have to be stomped out from all Countries, not just the US, if we are to successfully eradicate hatred and racism.

  9. This is right on girl !! I’m a francophone studies major and in our “Race after Hitler” course this was one of our biggest topics. Having been to France myself and being aquatinted with many French citizens – this reality is consistent. We had a guest lecturer from Université du Maine (Le Mans) in one of our other French history courses, and when we brought of the question of race during the time (we were discussing) – his response was as your one professor in France . He said “We do not talk about race in France, because we don’t see the need to talk about something that has no relevance today.” The tone he has seemed impatient – almost as if you was annoyed that we kept bringing it up. I’m grateful for this work you’re doing and it NEEDS TO BE DONE! Don’t stop till the French are liberated from this paralyzingly and haughty ignorance ! 🙂

  10. I am a white guy who loves people. I love the varieties and differences each culture brings. I moved to Panamá and am having the time of my life experiencing the newness of a different way of life. I was alarmed however, when I was in FL last year that no black man would even acknowledge me in any way. I finally told my Panamanian wife to watch this, and I approached a man in the Olive Garden to ask the time, and he would not even look at me. Ft Lauderdale has problems for sure, and feel if racism were officially over tomorrow that so many would hang on to it til the end because they know no other way, nor believe change is happening. In my old town in Washington state nobody really cared if you were black or not, and I don’t think the average black man in the country could accept total acceptance after my experience in FL. Blessings to you and yours.

    1. Hi jim in panama… washington state doesn’t have very many black people, and washingtonians are pretty racist and conservative. Look what they did to all the Indian Tribes!
      Not trying to take away your love of people… but Washington State is colorblind when they aren’t just plain outright racist and neither mindset is beneficial. I grew up in the dank that is Washington and Oregon… there’s a lot of segregated communities… not to mention there are more and more hispanic peoples that have come and whom face enormous discrimination.
      Florida has an enormous gap between rich and poor. They make a servant class out of the east indian populations and black people there. The southern rich like to vacation there. They think black people should be caddy’s for their golf courses no matter what Tiger Woods has accomplished… I know this because I once dated (okay it was for 6 years) a man from Alabama whose parents moved to Florida… and it was soooooo racist. The south never stopped fighting to get slavery back and in fact have only found ways of outsourcing and making global slave sweat shops… like how Haiti was going to be Bill Clintons big “charity project” and he was ambassador-ing us around this company he set up with George Bush senior on board… and they toured the people they employed (at very low wages) on sewing machines, like this was a good thing… but then Haiti got hit by the hurricane… and that was the end of that sweat shop. So I think what you experienced in the Olive Garden is a natural response to a history of white supremacist- imperialist-colonialism which has no more room for trust… because you have to recognize the problem in washington state before you can say people don’t even care if you’re black or not. They don’t have to “consider” black people too often… it’s a pretty entitled place to exist for white males.
      No offense… by the way. Best wishes to you and your wife.

      1. Wow! Couple of points to fix. WA state is very liberal. Leaning quite left. And even in the 70’s in my home town outside Seattle our black friends played and worked and we totally enjoyed the times. As I grew up through high school none of that changed and we are all still friends today. I think you may have misjudged the entirety of the situation. I have struggled like hell to get ahead. Their were no favors for me. I know for a fact that if young blacks study hard, train hard, and stay clean and childless like we all had to do to succeed that they have ample opportunity. I really don’t think race haters that keep pounding info at the blacks that they are still oppressed helps much either. It cripples the mindset. National black leaders like sharpton and Jackson are huge racists themselves and refuse to let it die. I fear that you will never accept that I want you to succeed, be happy, be prosperous and lived in harmony. No offense is intended here. If I am wrong I can be taught. I feel the urgency and a little anger in your tine, and if you took time to see, things may not be what you think they are. Blessings to you and yours.

        1. Okay, maybe my tone will sound angry. I’m sorry you feel you a need to go on defense… but talk about using loaded language… because what? I’m not a race hater pounding anything into blacks that they are still oppressed, Jim. I’m listening to the different black communities in the U.S.A. and not just the white guys that say they weren’t aware of the racism because they “have black friends”, but whatever. And then what I’m hearing you say is that if people are “clean” and “childless” and “studied hard” they would be just as equal as you… which is really an entitled point of view… if you listen to what you’re saying. So you aren’t comprehending the reality. You’re speaking from a perhaps middle class point of view I’m guessing? Even a “pull your self up from your boots straps” attitude is your “entitlement”. Don’t you get that? Seattle really isn’t worldly. It’s got the Jimi Hendrix museum. Big wow. I know about Seattle. I know what happened to the Indians. I know whom Seattle is named after and who doesn’t live there anymore. It’s built on blood. You know that right? So it’s easy to erase a culture and then say it’s all fair.
          Jackson and Sharpton are not “racist”. There is no such thing as reverse racism, although there can be prejudices. Not everyone in the black community even likes Sharpton. He’s considered a rat. So whatever that.
          As for Jesse Jackson, hey man… he marched with MLK… I’m not gonna disrespect the man or how hard he tried. He walked with a rainbow coalition with all races linked in Oregon, so not sure why you don’t like him personally.
          Have you read Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: The Massive Incarceration System in the Age of Colorblindness” or seen her tedtalk about it? It really will enlighten you about the “justice system” and she’s all gentle so you won’t feel race hated or pounded on… if you want I can provide the link and or the video. It matters. But I can’t get very many white guys to fine tune their empathy skills, no matter how nicely I approach them. Good manners haven’t helped. They think they have empathy down already and can’t believe they are being accused of any degree of racism. It really gets to all of you… and you just go into denial.
          Any how, I’m not presuming anything about you. I don’t know you and so don’t take the “heat” in the exchange personal, please. Lemme know if you are interested in the links/video and I’ll be happy to oblige, otherwise I will just agree to part ways here and not clutter up the French site with U.S. issues…
          Peace.

          1. Hey that was not aimed at you but the national “leaders”. You are so right on many fronts. Colonialism, Chief Seattle. I get that. We can’t erase that history, but now be friends. Good work.

            1. Sorry to do this to you Jim… but here’s a great lecture with bell hooks and Arthur Jafa and it’s a little long but worth the time. It’s a very respectful forum.

              Hope you have a good day.

                1. I’m not “regular” by any standard, but you’re okay, Jim. No worries. You’re being patience is helpful too. I think you’ll see the world more like I do after you listen and read and see more where I’m coming from… it’s not really so exclusive as you’re feeling. And it’s not at all hateful. It’s about deeper compassion, if you give these fine people a chance… because Michelle Alexander, bell hooks, and Arthur Jafa are fine people… and diverse in their radical thinking. They are beautiful, Jim.

                  1. This is what I see with the national black leadership including the Obamas. He explained that the university’s founder, Booker T. Washington, railed against the type of race-baiting used by Obama in her speech. Even in Washington’s day, the former slave was able to recognize that self-serving instigators hoped to profit by maintaining discord within the black community.

                    “The sad part is that despite your supposed pro-black mentality,” Rachel said directly to Obama, “the black community doesn’t prosper for it. The black community is growing in discontent; and this is what you want.”

                    1. Obama never race baited, Jim. He’s gone with big banks. He is a corporatist. He is into war. He might as well be a white republican. He’s not done much for the black community.

                  2. This from Booker T Washington sums it up. Very true today.
                    There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping up the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.
                    Booker T. Washington

                    1. You probably aren’t into feminism either, Jim. Just a bunch of divisive complaining women to you, right?

                      You didn’t watch the Michelle Alexander lecture at all, did you?

                      You haven’t considered our justice-prison-police system: the massive incarceration system that was built purposely, is still investing in, and profiting off a cycle of second-class citizenship and you’re blaming the black people, aren’t you?

                      Until you actually read current information, Booker T. isn’t going to cover the bases, Jim.

                      You’re a very privileged white man and you can go on your way loving all the people comfortably. Their experiences don’t have to matter to you at all. In fact you’re going to belittle them and find reasons they have made themselves unhappy.

                      How…Typical… and limited and lacking in compassion and incapable of empathy… just because you’ve had a different experience you just preach and cancel everyone else out. Bravo.

                    2. I am on a quest of understanding and love. Somewhere in the middle is usually the truth. We are miles apart. I think you have some very valid points. So do I. Peace To You

                    3. Yeah well I think you’re an entitled white man and you’re the wrong person to be telling black people how they should behave…

                      But certainly respect and peace to you… no one is trying to take that from you. That’s where you’re mistaken. We are miles apart because you’re not trying to reach me. And I’m not seeking “game” and this isn’t has no duration. Bearing with your willing ignorance and shallow interpretations of history and the west coast is for someone else to do. You take up too much room with your white man voice about black people… pretending you are about unity. Listening to people is where unity happens, not telling them what to listen to or how to think so they can get along with YOU. And Booker T. is just one man. One voice. One experience. No one is trying to “capitalize” on troubles unless you mean industry. And you don’t have a “utopian uplift” one size fits all.

                      But sure, go ahead and “handle” me. You already said my tone was angry so you could distance yourself from listening. And you don’t like the “uncultured” but you find them useful… because all material is, right?

                      Your valid points and my valid points… cancel each other out. Nothing happened between us at all. No influence. No effect. No empathy. Just a obligatory “peace” and “blessings” so we are civil…

                      I need to console myself with some Nietzsche now… and just purge myself of this systemized formula for shutting down all human instincts by calling it “peace”… but you wouldn’t understand.

      2. One thought…Do we see the world sooo differently that we will never agree? I am an eternal optimist. In WW2 the kamikaze pilots just kept coming. Americans thought it would never end. Now we all eat sushi. There is hope and progress. Good luck.

        1. Ouch Jim. I spent time in Japan and I love it. From California to Oregon to Washington we placed all asians in concentration camps regardless if they were citizens after pearl harbor. The japanes bombed us and we put Chinese into camps…
          And It sure took a whole bunch of bomb to pound Hiroshima to get them drinking coca cola and wearing blue jeans!!!
          I have no Idea about the casual sushi remark you’re making. Reverence is in order.

  11. Thanks for the interesting insights!
    Kind of funny aside from Germany (where the “colorblindness” situation is relatively similar to that in France, I believe) regarding your observation that the history of colonialism is being barely taught in schools (which I assume to be correct):
    In a newspaper article concerning the contested school reform in France, the eminent historian Pierre Nora is mentioned as complaining that the curriculum will be turned inside out to accommodate the “fad subjects” colonialism and slavery, only to instill a feeling of guiltiness in “occidental history”. The author of the article doesn’t really take sides, but the text, though only addressing “slavery” in this one instance, is curiously titled “Nur noch Sklaven”, which can be translated to “Only Slaves” or “Only Slaves Left [to study?!]” (“nur noch” means “ne . . . plus que” in French, there’s no exact English translation, I think). He also approvingly mentions, at the end of his article, that the secretary of education admits having made mistakes, not least that the Enlightenment shall only be taught optionally as part of the overarching topic “Europe between 17th and 19th century”, and he hopes this doesn’t remain her “last insight”. So I guess this is the author’s – and the general European bourgeois public’s – main concern: Enlightenment instead of slaves, securing the status quo of racial ignorance! (As if these subjects – and their deep links – can’t be studied together.) Shameful and somehow ridiculous at the same time…
    (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/schulreform-in-frankreich-nur-noch-sklaven-1.2478400)

  12. Some elitist French think their s**t don’t stink?
    I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!

    Great piece & I hope the change speeds up both at home and abroad.

  13. Very interesting piece. Although Black history month teaches me nothing and I find it insensitive bc other races are not mentioned with it I would rather have a cultural month talking about the struggles and progression ALL races have faced instead of one. I understand why you believe in it’s importance in a country that doesn’t have much culture besides its own but racism is in every country bc it stems from a mental ignorance to stop racism you have to teach personal growth and happiness. Positive happy satisfied people are seldom racist. Unhappy negative dissatisfied people are generally the culprits. That’s how I believe Dr.King was so successful in his civil right movement he made people accountable for their actions and for what they say by his quote “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” but everytime there is an injustice I think people are always searching for a reason to it when that is not important. Example slavery in America slavery is the injustice them being primarily black is rather unimportant. If they could of enslaved whites they would have but most whites if not all lived in industrialized countries whereas African countries were impoverished and were easily taken advantage of. I hope you can enlighten the French people. Good luck and I hope you can promote peace happiness and equality also sorry to ramble as this was the only topic I wanted to address

  14. France just makes me angry more often than not. Since I am white I’ve never had the burden of racism slung on me in the US or in any of my travels overseas- but I have experienced the ugly side of secularism when people assume that, because I wear a headscarf, I must be a fundamentalist zealot. While it is not at all the same thing, I think there is a kernel of similarity between them- being treated differently because of who you are. When I was in France (pre-hijab), the French wouldn’t even speak to us in English because they knew we were Americans with no French skill. Ugh, I just don’t like France, and this further enforces my feelings.

  15. I don’t anything about France but I hate the fact that today it’s 2015 and it’s still a issue that we have to deal with. It’s a harsh world, we are perfectly imperfect. I know it’s not fair and Asians like me are also, or sometimes experience racism.

  16. Reblogged this on DrSapna and commented:
    This is just me procrastinating some more and avoiding completing my travel stories from my trip to Strasbourg last year (this time last year I was house-sitting, cat-sitting, cruising around through Alsace with the mad Alsatian.)
    I have been to India and back and that is another post but being the OCD person I am, I have to finish telling my stories according to the timeline. Non-linearity is for my fiction.
    So I came across this post which I had to reblog. Just this afternoon I had a discussion (more like me putting across my points vehemently) about increasing the refugee quota to New Zealand. My argument being that I am tired of white bleeding hearts who want to save lives but don’t have a plan to support refugees once they are here. Resettlement is not integration, where are the resources, what about the racism, health, jobs, education etc. The ‘pretty words and magical thinking’ in this title made me want to read it and I was transported to France, the people of colour I saw, who were so visible yet not included in mainstream discourses…I have mentioned this before…
    Anyway, this is an interesting piece.

  17. Great job on a well written piece. Congrats on being freshly pressed. Come check my new post out on Real Life Natural Wife and leave me a comment with your thoughts. Enjoy your day!

  18. Reblogged this on lichtielass and commented:
    Certainly don’t want this for Scotland would never treat another like this I say everyone the same and respect others, and some personal responsibility taken personally from others life would b so much easier

  19. Acknowledging a problem states the obvious, a problem exists, but nothing is accomplished. Pardon my bluntness but what is it you want to accomplish? How would you initialize the actions to achieve that goal? I feel like I just read a current events text stating France had racial problems. So? And?

  20. Thank you for your article it´s very interresting. Let me tell you that living in France is very difficult when you think politics doesn’t mean anything for you. I’m a French white woman and I’m scared because racism is a current problem in France, even if we are in 2015. Some people are ignorants and don’t want to understand why other people have another religion. Our country is not sensitive to these important questions.. I’m fighting with racism everyday & sometimes it´s really difficult because I don’t feel supported by the Government. But I think that some countries are worth than France ;).

  21. Racialism exists everywhere ! Eminent Indian scholar Vivekananda has described many experiences in his various books while he was in England about how even his university professors were racial. Please read about him…

  22. I just wrote on my own education blog about colorblind racism in the US classroom citing Patricia Collins’ book “Another Kind of public Education: Race, Schools, the Media, and Democratic Possibilities.” I would love to read your book, is it out yet?

  23. Reblogged this on kodaimusic and commented:
    This ties in perfectly to what I was discussing in my blog about colorblind racism in the US Classroom. If you would like to learn more about colorblind racism in other cultures, this is a good place to start.

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