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Race Relations In France Essay

Writer James Baldwin at home in Saint Paul de Vence, South of France, in 1985. Ulf Andersen/Getty Images hide caption

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Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Writer James Baldwin at home in Saint Paul de Vence, South of France, in 1985.

Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

In 1983, I was studying abroad in Nice, France, and while other exchange students were flitting from city to city, checking off items on their bucket lists, I craved only one European cultural experience:

I wanted to meet James Baldwin, the mandarin prophet and former boy preacher; the African-American expatriate writer who once used his European exile to explore, defy, and decry the delusional fiction of race that has organized our minds, our possibilities, our world, and now leads us toward the precipice of self-annihilation.

Baldwin changed the way I saw the world and who I thought I was as an African-American within it. He was the first writer to help me see clearly that race was a sickness that devoured both the racist and racism's victims.

That must have been why, on a spring day in 1983, I jumped into a little red convertible MG, top down, driven by an insane Corsican friend; a good-timing lady's man who proceeded to burn rubber around the kind of narrow, twisted, South-of-France mountain roads that had just killed Princess Grace of Monaco. We were headed to Saint-Paul de Vence, where I'd heard Baldwin lived.

My mind reeled back to that trip and that moment of hopeful youth as I watched Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck's documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, which was released for wide distribution on Friday.

In June, 1979, at the age of 55, Baldwin started work on what the filmmaker called a portrait of America as seen through the stories of three of his friends, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. That work, other famous Baldwin passages, and mesmerizing videotaped interviews provide the soundtrack against stunning images that move the documentary from the recent riots near my home in St. Louis, Mo., to footage and photographs taken during the Civil Rights era.

The effect of the film on me was staggering. The despairing James Baldwin on the screen was so different from the hopeful figure I thought I understood.

"To look around the United States today," Baldwin says at one point, "is enough to make prophets and angels weep."

In the film, I deeply felt Baldwin's despair that followed the murders of his friends. But I felt none of the hope that I read in his writings; hope that somehow the struggle against racism could be won.

As I watched the film, I feared that the title of Peck's documentary spoke directly to me, though I had read and reread (almost memorizing) many of the passages from Baldwin's work that actor Samuel L. Jackson incants in a deep, gravely voice that is definitely not my own, and definitely not that of the writer.

I felt implicated when Baldwin said in the film, "I was in some way in those years, without entirely realizing it, the Great Black Hope of the great white father." In my reverent memory of him, had I, too, made him into the "Negro," the "Great Black Hope," who would save America from itself? Had I, too, leaned too heavily for optimism on the man loving friends called "Jimmy"?

The Baldwin of my father's books

I first became aware of Baldwin during my junior year abroad, years after his urgent usefulness as a civil rights figure had passed. My family never understood why I wanted to go to France, though there was a history of African-American intellectuals expatriating there during the Jim Crow years. I was raised middle class and comfortable in a white St. Louis suburb. Jim Crow was a bad American memory by then, and there was overtly nothing to flee. Still, before I left for Europe, my father, who taught African-American literature at a community college, linked me forever to the exiled writer. The night before I boarded my flight, he handed me a stack of books.

Over the coming months, as I read Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, the anthology Black Voices, and the short stories gathered in Going to Meet the Man, Baldwin's voice and thinking transformed even the way I used language. It was magical.

In a eulogy after Baldwin's death in 1987, poet Amiri Baraka defined this magic.

"Jimmy Baldwin was the creator of contemporary American speech even before Americans could dig that," Baraka wrote. "He created it so we could speak to each other at unimaginable intensities of feeling, so we could make sense to each other at higher and higher tempos."

Baldwin had given voice to my submerged thoughts about what it meant to be a black person, indissolubly and meaningfully connected to the larger world. Somehow, I felt that meeting him would also give meaning to my stay in France and help me understand the unfinished business of race relations that still haunted the American imagination.

So when my Corsican friend stepped into the French café where I was peacefully sipping a stream of bitter espressos and asked if anyone wanted to help him test-drive the used car he'd just bought, I was game.

"Let's go to Saint-Paul de Vence," I said, though I had no idea where Baldwin actually lived, or even if he was home.

Thirty years before I decided to risk my life on that trip, Baldwin left the United States for France to save his own life; not from the evils of Jim Crow, but from the ever-more threatening, fixed notions of an identity that he witnessed slowly killing his father and his friends and transforming him into just another unseen and expendable black boy.

In 1984, he told an interviewer for the Paris Review that he "knew what it meant to be white and I knew what it meant to be a nigger, and I knew what was going to happen to me. My luck was running out. I was going to go to jail, I was going to kill somebody or be killed. My best friend had committed suicide two years earlier, jumping off the George Washington Bridge."

"I don't know how it will come about," Baldwin said of America's racial reconciliation. "But no matter how it comes about it will be bloody. It will be hard." RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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"I don't know how it will come about," Baldwin said of America's racial reconciliation. "But no matter how it comes about it will be bloody. It will be hard."


I wanted to meet the man with such a singular take on what it meant to live abroad. In one of the books my father gave me, Baldwin described the roots of his identity as a unique, roving figure. With no trace of shame, he told the poet Dan Georgakas: "I'm a black, funky, raggedy-ass shoeshine boy. If I forget that, it's the end of me."

As the red MG sped toward Saint-Paul de Vence, I closed my eyes to the distant azure sea and idyllic countryside flashing by and imagined meeting the brilliant consciousness that was Baldwin. I dreamt of the meeting the way jazz musicians dream of sitting in a jam session with the master who influenced their style, hoping to sound out crudely formed thoughts and hear them echo back, perfectly honed and now riding the air forever

I never shined shoes. I was raised in a precariously middle class home. But I recognized the shoeshine boy deep in myself. My Mississippi-born mother knocked into me and my five siblings the hard lesson that we were no better than anyone else. Learning French and earning a doctorate wouldn't change that. Nor would literally buying into the racial and class roles of a society deeply organized around what Baldwin called "black-white madness."

So, for me, Baldwin, the self-described "slave in exile," was the most impossible, volatile and dangerous of all figures. Because of him, I rejected the easy comfort, the endlessly shopping, touristic gaze of superior identity that the other exchange students embraced. He widely critiqued all forms of oppression, forging, perhaps, the foundation of a new order, a new identity, a new consciousness. This was the hope I saw in Jimmy Baldwin.

But James Baldwin, the man I saw on the screen as I watched I Am Not Your Negro, had little of that hope.

He was like the original "slave in exile"

The rear wheels of the English sports car suddenly skidded toward the edge of a cliff and I closed my eyes rather than witness my own death. With athletic reflexes sharpened on even narrower roads in Corsica, my friend recovered. I struggled to find an acceptable, macho way of asking him to slow down.

Still, I could appreciate the beauty that surrounded me. The man I was going to see saw something else. Baldwin shared a view with the original slave in exile, Frederick Douglass. Both lodged themselves firmly in the role of the underdog and spoke on behalf of the oppressed.

Douglass relentlessly identified with – and refused to position himself above – the lowliest of the earth, les misérables, who had been discarded and sacrificed for the sake of European patriarchal identity.

When he traveled to Europe toward the end of his life, Douglass visited more than the great monuments. He chose to tour sites of oppression, narrating an alternative history of the West through the eyes of its victims. Like Baldwin, he went to France and saw more than beauty at the papal palace in Avignon. There, he said it "required no effort of the imagination to create visions of the Inquisition, to see the terror-stricken faces, the tottering forms, and pleading tears of the accused, and the saintly satisfaction of the inquisitors."

Through his imagination and writing, the beaten slave and the murdered heretic melded into one.

Baldwin used his European experience to craft in 1953 one of his most powerful essays, "Stranger in the Village." His visit to the cathedral at Chartres and the crypt beneath helped him to define the parasitic nature of racial identity in a way that came to organize my thinking – and perhaps that of everyone who read and understood him.

"... I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt, down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced. I doubt that the villagers think of the devil when they face a cathedral because they have never been identified with the devil. But I must accept the status which myth, if nothing else, gives me in the West before I can hope to change the myth."

This was the Jimmy Baldwin I thought I knew. This was the man who exposed with surgical clarity the devastating myth of racial identity while clinging to the gospel that the truth would set us free. He had set me free. Before I read Baldwin, for example, Black History Month seemed like a kindly gesture of inclusion made by the larger society. It had not yet occurred to me that omitting African-Americans from the teaching of history in the first place did as much damage to the oppressed as to the oppressor, because it gave them a warped and fictitious sense of reality and of themselves. Baldwin made that point in the 1964 interview with Dan Georgakas.

"I want American history taught," he told the poet. "Unless I'm in that book, you're not in it either."

At the heart of his thought, I surmised, was the skinny, black shoeshine boy, popping and snapping his rag as he looked up knowingly into the clouded eyes of a customer who didn't see him back, whose world deliberately and perilously didn't include him. Baldwin helped me realize that such a customer (who almost believes his shoes shine themselves) is as unreal to himself as the invisible shoeshine boy is to him.

Like Jimmy, I thought the dawning of this realization in white people would be our salvation, that somehow, if we could understand it, if we put the right words to it, if it is stated clearly, we could come to see the error of our ways. Getting people to realize this about themselves embodied the hopefulness I read in in his work.

But after I watched I'm Not Your Negro, I wondered if my image of Baldwin – of Jimmy – was inaccurate. In the film, he invokes the shoeshine boy when he explains that he rejected membership in the NAACP because of its "black class distinctions that repelled a shoeshine boy like me." But in this latest rendering of Baldwin, there is little of the Christian humanist hope; the Great Black Hope of reconciliation through mental emancipation. Instead, the film moves James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. much closer to the militant ideas of Malcolm X; the notion that change could only come through violent confrontation.

"Malcolm was one of the people Martin saw on the mountaintop," Baldwin says cryptically in the unfinished essay about his friends. He acknowledges that he and Malcolm X "were simply trapped in the same situation."

The James Baldwin of this film doesn't seem to believe in reconciliation triggered by the exploding of myths.

"Well, I am tired," Baldwin says in the film. "I don't know how it will come about. But no matter how it comes about it will be bloody. It will be hard."

He asked me to call him "Jimmy"

The medieval, hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence, was a beautiful, walled hamlet, and as the red MG slowed to match the scenery, I wondered what it must be like to be a writer living in such a place. My friend seemed unmoved. No village outside of Corsica held any beauty for him.

We stopped the car, and I accosted shoppers at a flower market and disturbed men as they played leisurely games of pétanque on the hardened dirt. I asked if they could tell me where James Baldwin lived. They seemed puzzled. They thought I was asking about James Bond, who maybe lived around there, too, and drove a red sports car.

Baldwin with friend and civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. hide caption

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Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The trip was a sad (and terrifying) failure. And while I did not die that day, I didn't meet Baldwin, either. That would come four years later, when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and he was invited to speak during Black History Month. A student had been asked to drive Baldwin around and invited me to go along. This ride was calm, slower, on wider streets.

Baldwin looked like his pictures, though he was dressed in a surprising, cutting-edge, tailored suit. He was kind and smiling, and like most writers, shy and reticent. We drove him to dinner and then to give his talk, after which he fielded questions about Alice Walker, The Color Purple and African-American women writers who air black America's dirty laundry. "What's wrong with airing dirty laundry?" he characteristically asked. "Besides, I think it's healthy."

Later that night, I finally had my chance to jam with Baldwin. I sat next to him in a rundown lounge on the south side of Chicago. He listened distantly as the jukebox played Billie Holiday, a friend he would join in the hereafter just a few months later. Regretfully, I did too much talking, and my words simply dissipated into the air. Who could compete with Lady Day?

When I stiffly called him "Mr. Baldwin," he asked me to call him "Jimmy."

"Jimmy," Amiri Baraka says in the film, "always made us feel good. He always made us know we were dangerously intelligent and as courageous as the will to be free."

He could do that while surgically dissecting the malignancies of racism in his homeland. At 29, Baldwin shook the American consciousness with the prescient "Stranger in the Village," where he spelled out the dangers of what is now called American exceptionalism:

"I do not think ... that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world — which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces in human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white— owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation which could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us — very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will — that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."

It was a call to consciousness. Now, those warnings, coming from the James Baldwin of I Am Not Your Negro, sound more like the fulfillment of a despairing prophecy.

The film resounds with this sense of imminent catastrophe, pronounced in Samuel L. Jackson's ponderous reading, with little of the mannerisms or hopeful affect of Baldwin's younger persona — or of the withdrawn, 62-year-old man I met in Chicago. The cumulative effect of the film and its arrangement of sound and image is the emergence of a figure defined by such potent words as "trapped," "bitter," "enemy," "vengeance," and "helpless rage."

There seems little escape for Americans.

"These people," Baldwin says, "have deluded themselves so long, they really don't think I'm human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means ... they have become moral monsters."

It's a sobering conclusion. With the specter of police shootings, violent protests, nativism, and the resurgence of white supremacy following the November election, I fear he was right.

Stephen Casmier is an associate professor in the Department of English at Saint Louis University.

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."

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.

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 Christiana 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.

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.

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 - 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.

Follow Crystal Fleming on Twitter: www.twitter.com/alwaystheself

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