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Notes on racism in France Notes on racism in France
by Joseph Gatt
2020-01-13 07:37:59
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Notes on racism in France, in no particular order. Note that France does not recognize ethnicities. Generalizations about ethnicities can be considered unlawful in France, if such generalizations can lead to ethnic violence or calls for ethnic violence. So my hope is this discreet paper will build bridges rather than burn bridges.

-To understand racism in France, you need to understand that there are strong anti-racism laws in France. You also need to know that despite strong anti-racism laws, France is a militarized country of sorts, where the French often rank nations and tribes, and everything else, albeit unconsciously.

racfr01_400-You also need to understand that French society is a very competitive society, and that slurs are common. There is little or no friendship among colleagues in many French companies, and when alliances need to be made, ethnic minorities will tend to be left out. If need be, ethnic minority members will be scapegoated.

-Finally, you need to know that there is no clear notion of individualism in France. Even when attending elite schools, members of ethnic minorities represent their minority, not themselves as individuals. A Jew represents his tribe (not himself) and so does an Arab or Black French person.

-Anthropological notes. Paris and its suburbs have a high concentration of immigrants of all backgrounds. The most represented communities are Portuguese immigrants and their descendents, Spanish immigrants, Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants, Senegalese, Cameroonian and immigrants from the Ivory Coast, immigrants from Guinea, Benin and Togo. Then you have a large Chinese community, and a sizeable Indian community. Other countries with sizeable representations are the Comoros, Haiti, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Russia and the CIS, and all Eastern European nations.

-Among French territories (who are French citizens from non-metropolitan territories) you have sizeable communities in metropolitan France from the French West Indies, the Reunion, French Caledonia, Tahiti, Wallis and Futuna, and of course, the very loud community of North African Europeans.

-The Jews. France is the only country in the world where the Sephardic community outnumbers the Ashkenazi community. You could group the French Jewish community into four rough groups: the Maghrebi Jews, who are often Conservative religiously and who often intermarry. The Orthodox community, of Eastern European descent, also intermarries. The secular Jewish Ashkenazi community, either “indigenous” to France (often referred to as “Alsatian Jews”) along with those who came from Eastern Europe between the 1880s and the 1930s. This subgroup either intermarries, or, very often, marries outside the tribe. Finally you have the recent immigrants that form “smaller” communities, such as Egyptian Jews, Syrian Jews, or recent arrivals from the USSR. Recent arrivals from the USSR were often not religious to begin with, and often marry outside the tribe.

-Jews are often accused of nepotism, and of only being comfortable with fellow Jews. Fact is around 30% of France's Jews attend Jewish day schools, and many attend Synagogue service, meaning that indeed for a number of them their circle of friends is almost exclusively Jewish. However, in a survey, 50% of France's Jews claimed to have “few or no Jewish friends.” Jews are also often accused of “being an organized community that leads to country and really decides behind the scenes.” Many French believers of this conspiracy theory argue that “leadership should not be earned by blood” and that “anyone should have a shot at being the Chosen people, not just blood members of the tribe.” This prevalent belief is due to the fact that in France most decision-making is opaque at the political or business level, and those who attend meetings, any meeting, are told to keep the meeting “confidential.” That's a French cultural trait alright, but there is no “opaque” Jewish community pulling strings.

-Linguistic note: North African Jews, unlike their French counterparts, tend to make a lot of use of long uninterrupted, high-pitched statements, which tends to be considered “rude” in mainstream France. North African Jews also tend to point out facts about individuals or society that are considered taboo by mainstream France. Some French Jewish shop owners also display liturgical texts in Hebrew in their shops, which the French might consider “unwelcome.”  These cultural traits lead to all kinds of accusations and conspiracy theories, including that Jewish shop owners display the real price in Hebrew for Jews and an inflated price in numerals for “Goys” or “non-Jews.” France being a very difficult place for anyone, even the friendliest, to make friends, but the French believes that “Jews can't be friends with non-Jews.”

-The North Africans. Linguistic note: North African Muslim immigrants who grew up in the suburbs often end their sentences or statement with a higher pitch, when the average Frenchman will end his sentences with a flat pitch. North African Muslims are also famous for their warmth and casual demeanor, including preferring the use of the casual “tu” rather than the formal “vous” and using casual greetings. Such traits come off as “uncivilized” in many French circles, and can lead to discrimination at the workplace, or in hiring.

-North African Muslims are also famous for their easy smile, gregariousness, and positive approach to life, traits that are unwelcome in the aggressive, militarized society that France is. North African Muslims are also famous for “worshiping” their parents and siblings, something often misunderstood by the French. Finally, North African Muslims are famous for demanding that they get “benefits” or “pensions” for their parents and grandparents who served in the French army. The Quran mandates that, but not the French legal code. 

-Unfortunately, unemployment, drug use and crime rates are rather high in the North African Muslim community. A vicious cycle of high school drop out rates, drug use, engaging in crime to buy drugs, and drug dealing is unfortunately prevalent in some circles.

-However, the main difficulty is for that small, but significant, minority of North African Muslims who are educated, articulate, and assimilated in French ways. Some choose to change their names to avoid bullying and discrimination at the workplace. However, having worked myself as an undercover Muslim North African in France, I must say that the sabotage of the North African intellectual elite is an established fact. Sabotage comes in the form of failing grades despite decent tests (tests in France are often essays with no objective judgment criteria for grades). Other forms of sabotage include choosing the North African for dangerous tasks (as a journalist I had to cover riots where journalists were not welcome, and almost lost my life, and the camera, but luckily for me one rioter knew me, recognized me, and told me to get out as fast as I could.) Other sabotage includes emotional harassment, not inviting North Africans to important meetings and events, and plain silencing North Africans.

-For the North African educated elite there tend to be two problems: first they are not considered individuals and thus it is believed they misrepresent their tribe. Second, in France's competitive environment, French competitors often worry that the “token” Muslim will be favored for promotions as a gesture of “goodwill” and to show that “we are not a racist company.” Thus the sabotage and harassment. So, many educated North Africans will opt for starting a business rather than working for established companies, although many educated North African women will choose to work for companies.

-The “Black” community. This is an umbrella term for communities that hail from the French West Indies, the Reunion, Haiti and sub-Saharan African states. Some are Muslims, others are Catholic, others are Evangelical Christians, others have no religious affiliation.

-Linguistic notes: many Black Frenchmen will pronounce the “t” sound as a “ch” sound. They are also famous for using the conditional tense “tu aurais” or “tu n'aurais pas” when the French would use the verb in the present tense as in “tu as” or “tu n'as pas.”

-”Black” Frenchmen are famous for their easy smile and for looking at people straight in the eyes. French people view looking straight in the eyes as a challenge, but often don't respond to this “imaginary” challenge as they tend to know it's a cultural trait. Some Frenchmen might tell them “don't stare at me like that!”

-”Black” Frenchmen, especially those who hail from Africa, are also famous for their “lectures” be they lectures on morality, politics or common sense. Frenchmen tend to view such lectures as unwelcome.

-Drugs are not as prevalent among the Black community in France, often because Black families tend to be tight-knit. However obesity and diabetes is more prevalent among France's Black community. Drop out rates from school are often very high, and there is a very high proportion of France's Black community that works as sales clerks at shops.

-The Black community is almost invisible at France's prestigious schools. Affirmative action programs at elite schools have tended to favor North Africans over the Black community. This means the Black community is very much underrepresented in almost all spheres, including the public sphere. The Black community is also often rarely politicized, and often does not vote.

-Finally, other communities have their traits. The Chinese community and the community from Indochina tends to be rather fairly well assimilated, and the Chinese economic boom means they often find jobs easily, although only to focus almost exclusively on projects related to the Chinese market. That is getting rid of the “Asian” label is almost impossible. The Indian minority is rather assimilated. Note however that East Asian and Indian minorities are often not represented in the public sphere. The only ones in the public sphere were Fleur Pellerin and Jean-Vincent Placé (both French citizens from Korea but adopted by French families) and star football player Vikash Dhorasoo, who rarely gave interviews, much less about ethnicity.

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