NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:38
There is great division in France, which seems to be becoming increasingly visible since the riots in recent weeks following the death of the French-Algerian Nahel, 17. He was shot dead by a police officer. Since the fatal incident, the discussion about racism in the country has flared up again and certain groups are on opposite sides.
While some see and experience a pattern of institutional racism, others firmly deny its existence. Far-right sentiment has also increased since the riots. Radical right-wing politicians such as Marine Le Pen cite migration and multiculturalism as the main causes of social unrest in the banlieues.
However, an analysis by Human Rights Watch, among others, shows that the police are guilty of ethnic profiling and that black and Muslim boys and men in particular are often wrongly arrested, often involving violence. Research by the Reuters news agency confirms that the majority of victims of police brutality have an African and Muslim background.
Two weeks before Nahel’s death, Alhussein Camara, a 19-year-old boy with Guinean roots, was shot dead by the police. The UN has reprimanded France and called on the country to do something about “deep-rooted racism”.
Three core values
Among those who deny the existence of institutional racism in France are several politicians. Development and International Relations Minister Zacharopoulou recently challenged in an interview with France24 that certain groups experience racism: “It’s just not true. France is not a racist or xenophobic country. Just look at me, I was born in Greece and I became a minister .”
But when a school in a Parisian suburb was to be named after the American, black Black Panther activist Angela Davis a few weeks ago, provincial councilor Valérie Pécresse put a stop to that. “Systematic racism, which Davis strongly opposes, does not exist in France,” she said at the time.
Not seeing or wanting to acknowledge institutional racism has everything to do with the secular nature of the French state, experts say. After all, France is strongly committed to its three core values, including égalité, equality.
Racism in France is exacerbated by the official denial of its existence.
Salman Sayyid, Professor of Sociology
“France sees itself as colorblind because it believes in its own neutrality. All citizens should be treated equally, regardless of their religious or ethnic background,” says professor of sociology Salman Sayyid of Britain’s Leeds University.
This ‘color blindness’, a term increasingly used in international media to describe the phenomenon, is often accompanied by racism in education, in the housing market and therefore also in the police, says Sayyid, “Racism in France is exacerbated by officially denying its existence.”
The principle of equality is enshrined in various laws, for example the ban on keeping statistics based on ethnicity and religion. France therefore operates in a different way than the Netherlands, where ethnic and religious differences and sometimes even institutional racism are recognized and figures are kept per population group.
Taking big steps
Apologies for deadly incidents, such as those involving Nahel and Camara, are also made, including by President Macron, sometimes followed by resolutions to do better. A report from an advisory committee led by former minister Borloo from 2018 recommended that major steps be taken to solve the problems in the deprived neighbourhoods.
Achieving real equality is still a big job. “At the moment, there is a lack of decent policy and the political will to combat racism effectively and to combat it in the long term”, also recognizes Niek Pas, historian and France expert at the University of Amsterdam.
“In theory, France defines itself as ‘one and indivisible’,” Pas continues. “But due to globalization and multiculturalism, applying these core values in society requires more and more customization. That is the challenge France faces.”
Societal efforts are not the fault, experts say, but the social division, which is becoming increasingly visible, makes it difficult to solve problems. Pas: “French society is very polarized with the extreme right and the radical left, both more extreme than in the Netherlands.”
But even stronger than that polarization, the biggest stumbling block for the country is its own DNA: “Islamophobia and racism do not come from a few individuals, but they are inextricably linked to France as a state,” Sayyid concludes.