March 20, 2007
Egalité in time of elections
Another damning study in France, which shows that discrimination isn't improving in the Terre d'Asile, Land of Equality. If you're an Arab or African French, your chances of receiving equal treatment are statistically an 11% of employers. The president will be elected next month and France is well into its electoral campaign. Segolene and Sarkozy have done pathetic attempts at fishing Arab votes by visiting Arab countries, but so far, this internal issue that hinders the development of at least 10% of the French population isn't on any candidate's radar. Even Sarkozy's affirmative action, a fuzzy social - not ethnic - based concept, is unlikely to ever concretize given how controversial the idea is in Jacobin France.
Not that affirmative action is a good idea anyway, since it would only serve in reinforcing stereotypes, devaluate real merit and maintain the nanny government tradition that reduces incentives to perform.
Whereas I've always said that Arabs were the first to lose their jobs in France in times of recession, and the last to be hired in times of growth, this study goes a bit further and shows how discrimination is striving even in sectors where there's a labor shortage. So how to solve this problem?
Obviously, the answer is not going to come from above. Besides complete assimilation, religious conversion and name change included, under the disguise of an integration that only those white-skinned enough can achieve if they're willing to give up on everything else they've known, French politicians and intellectuals have little to propose. Even a liberalization of French economy that would incidentally generate market needs so strong that discrimination wouldn't be an option anymore is also science-fiction in France.
So the answer lies in the dreaded concept of communautarisme. For those of you who don't know what communautarisme is about, this columnist puts it rather well (and don't be mistaken into believing this is a caricature):
The problem, according to French groupthink, is communautarisme. It means that, instead of joining in glorious egalitarianism, people are breaking apart into hermetic communities of uniform racial, religious and cultural origins. (...) Communautarisme applies only to minorities, of course.
(...) Common values and the greater good are supposed to overcome sectarian interests as all people integrate into a single, harmonious society. This is part of what the République is all about--Liberty, equality, fraternity; the Rights of Man.
In the République all people are equal. Period. So, the argument goes, there is no need, and no room, for any law or official effort that favors one group over another. In fact, the very concept of unequal groups is anathema. It contradicts the idea of the République.
(...) From time to time, someone does suggest that something ought to be done, that some kind of affirmative action be devised to reverse the trend [of discrimination]. He or she is invariably scorned as insufficiently attached to Republican principles. Or someone who has succumbed to the simplistic, hypocritical sirens of Anglo-Saxon thinking, where the inherent equality of each individual has not been woven sufficiently deeply into the fabric of society.
So how can communautarisme be an answer? It's probably not in the balkanizing sense that most French use, but it is relevant when it comes to realize the importance of communities' networks and their specific interests which should be lobbied for. One of the most important impediments to French Arabs' progress is the lack of awareness of the real rules of the game and their adoption of the official discourse. They refuse the idea of community networking which goes against the ideals of the Republic. They try to play by the theoretical rules set for them by the Republic, expecting mere education and good law abiding citizenship to be enough to put them on par with the rest of the population when it comes to economic competition. Of course, many face hardship and become disillusioned. Few understand that the French "de souche" themselves indulge into community networking as the above mentioned discrimination suggests. Not that French Arabs should apply it the other way around, but some golden rules should be stamped on their tanned faces: "Do not rely on the Republic's Egalité as much as you should rely on your community's networks. To succeed, map your community correctly, for the Republic is not your community. Cultivate your network: hire and do business among your acquaintances. Expand beyond later." That's what most old French do, in fact that's what most people in the world do, there's no reason French Arabs wouldn't. There aren't many alternatives anyway, because only after they succeed will they be of interest to others.
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I lived in Paris during the riots of 2005, and, aside from seeing news reports where kids were putting their French ID cards in hopes of reinforcing the truism that they in fact were Frenchmen born in France, I remember seeing one in particular about a second-generation black, French youth from Trappe (which I remember because of how perfect the name seemed in English) who was not only well-educated but also gone the extra mile and had studied Japanese in Japan for some time. With his qualifications, he would have had a job in a heartbeat in the US, but he couldn't even get an interview in France. As soon as employers saw the city where he was from, he said, they didn't go any further.
I would disagree with you though that politicians haven't been doing well to address it -- rather that a certain politician HAS done well: Le Pen. I was as shocked as anyone to see that he's actually garnering a fair amount of support from the minority groups and unemployed in the suburbs.
Take a look: http://theunsettled.org/?p=37
Also, there was an audio excerpt today in LeMonde, if you speak French: http://www.lemonde.fr/web/portfolio/0,12-0@2-823448,31-885756@51-823442,0.html
Posted by: Robert at March 22, 2007 11:04 PM
the phenomenon of minorities voting Le Pen is extremely unsignificantly marginal and will always be. "Immigrants" - which include not only immigrants but any French citizen born and raised in France from visible minorities (whether by skin color, accent when speaking French, or simply a non mainstream sounding name) - are the main scapegoats for the Front National, so there's no way they'll ever be a significant electoral base for it.
As soon as employers saw the city where he was from, he said, they didn't go any further.
I don't know about this specific case, but I would add in general that "the city where he was from" doesn't need to be foreign. Seine Saint Denis or Clichy or some other big ethnic ghettos of the 93 or the 78 departments are often enough to have you discarded actually. There has been a survey about this a couple of years ago, I don't remember the exact result, but (something like 1/3 or 2/3 of) employers would check that kind of information in the resume to sort candidates out.
The first item Shaheen mentions is particularly significant - not Le Pen but the "immigrant" usage, meaning "visible minority."
I recall during the riots getting into a rather nasty exchange with a Frenchman who started railing on about immigrants etc. etc. Muslims etc. etc., but when called out on his usage of "immigrant" to born-French citizens, suddenly back-pedeled and started talking "universal values" of the Republic.
In his world, his prejudices were of course because the "immigrants" (3rd generation in France though....) weren't French enough - queerly stripped of typically French elite "theoretical discourse" his standards of Frenchness were Catholic & White.
Deeply hypocritical. Reminds me of my parents generation of Anglos, and their polite racism towards visible minorities.
France is 60 years behind the Anglo world in terms of coming to terms with these issues.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 23, 2007 12:06 PM
I am of two minds about affirmative action. It's entirely true that it reinforces stereotypes and devalue merit, specifically the accomplishments of minorities. However, in the face of clear negative discrimination from employers, I think one of the most important issues in immigration is to make sure those that educate themselves get good jobs that relate to their education. It boils down to breaking the social heritage. And no one wants to take an education of five (nominal) years if they aren't going to get a better life at the end of it.
Incidentally, and predictably, attitudes towards non-western immigrants among businesses have improved markedly the past three years in Denmark, because of the booming economy. Businesses have been forced, out of economic necessity, to look to non-westerners for employees. And shoot, they ain't that bad, after all.
Posted by: Klaus at March 23, 2007 03:48 PM
How did France end up in this situation, though? I understand that pre-1970s Arab immigrants have integrated very successfully, and that France at least used to be much better at this sort of thing than other Continental countries.
Posted by: Antiquated Tory at March 26, 2007 05:48 AM
It all depends on what you call integrated. And it's a complex multifaceted situation anyway. Let’s say that pre-70s, there was a huge need for unskilled labor to replace all those who died when Europeans were happily slaughtering each other by the millions. Maghrebis went but they were never really integrated. First, most lived in ghettos and didn’t speak French. They didn’t need it anyway for their menial jobs. Most also didn’t want French citizenship, many fought the French or at least had the mentality that becoming French meant giving up on being Muslim (which was de facto – if not de jure – true in the colonies). They emigrated with the idea that it was temporary, even though the economic needs of both France and North Africa had them almost invariably ending up staying. With those elements put together, they had very low expectations, most were just content of having any job and accepted conditions of living that no French would ever accept. The French also expected them to leave. So given the expectations on both sides, the fact they didn’t mix together (even the Harkis were literally thrown in municipal dumps), the strong economic growth of the 3 post-war decades, there was no opportunity for tensions.
Then came the economic slow-down. Less unskilled people were needed, and those who came later were each time more skilled. As such they had different expectations which were not necessarily met as they were still treated like colonized aborigines. Besides, the initial generations of unskilled workers had French kids who went to French schools, so, whether skilled or not, they also had different expectations.
To add to the merry, the very strong discrimination is simply part of an old mentality that didn’t evolve, with the “old stock” French having an image of what it means to be French stuck in the 1950s. For the majority, integration simply means that you have to become an invisible member of the herd, i.e. completely assimilated to the majority, by all standards. If you’re not integrated (e.g. you have an Arabic name), that’s frowned upon, whether at work, or in various situations of daily life. This has never been questioned and French navel-gazing groupthink actually states that France is, and has always been, a very welcoming nation. So if there’s any problem, it can’t originate from France. This and how rigid the French economy is, are the biggest issues today in my opinion.
the pattern that Shaheen describes is the same for Yugoslavian immigrants to Northern Europe and Pakistanis to Britain. Guest workers become citizens with guest worker aspirations and self-perceptions.
Shaheen, what do you think of Bayrou? I'd imagine you're not in love with either Royal or Sarkozy.
Guest workers become citizens with guest worker aspirations and self-perceptions.
That's not true as far as those born in France, or those who immigrated "post-70s".
what do you think of Bayrou?
Yet another mediocre French politician with nothing to propose out of the usual groupthink.
I want economic liberalism and individual freedoms. I want rationalized immigration policies. I want the traditional Gaulist foreign policy to remain. I want Turkey in the EU. None of the current candidates supports any of this.
That's not true as far as those born in France, or those who immigrated "post-70s".
True, unemployment was largely unheard of before the 70s, so guest workers were welcome. Then came the arguments of 'employed, they take our jobs' and 'unemployed, they sponge on society' at once. No, that doesn't make sense.
I read an article on a Pakistani couple that went to Britain, just to make money for a while and return within a few years. They sent some money back home, only to find demands from their family increasing beyond their own capability to save up money. As they got older, the wife wanted children before it was too late, and that was pretty much it. They never intended to build a life in Britain, and didn't plan ahead beyond checking the current flight fares to Pakistan.
re elections, who's the least bad candidate?
apropos, this little article just went up on BBC.
In the name of egalité: How many youngsters of immigrant origin are without work is hard to establish, as French law forbids the collection of any data on ethnicity, in the belief that all French citizens are equal.
Which is in tune with Shaheen's post; how are problems supposed to be dealt with if, in the name of ideology, one does not even want to acknowledge their existence? Denmark used to have this ban too, I believe Sweden still has it. Don't know about other EU countries.
Posted by: Klaus at March 27, 2007 04:37 AM
shaheen - I want the traditional Gaulist foreign policy to remain.
I always considered "Gaullism" to be something of an insult, along the lines of "self-destructive megalomania", but it seems to play well in France...
More seriously, what foreign policies are the candidates striving for, if they're seriously out to break with the traditional French model? That Sarkozy is more of a standard European pro-US, pro-NATO character, I understand, but Ségolène I can't get a grip on -- the only thing I know about her foreign policy is that she isn't handling it very well. And Bayrou's f-p I really don't know anything about.
klaus - Not bannedd, as far as I know, but not extensively done either. But that's hardly because of ideology, more because no one ever bothered with it until recently.
There's quite a lot of migration statistics publicly available, which is focused on country of origin. That will normally provide much of the necessary ethnicity info (except for eg. Palestinians, most of whom came as stateless refugees from Lebanon -- their exact numbers in Sweden is anyone's guess). Religious statistics aren't gathered at all, though, and here there are no reliable figures. Of course it is also harder to compile those too -- does an atheist from Iraq count as a "Muslim" or not?
Posted by: alle at March 27, 2007 04:54 AM
Well, Sarkozy: at least he knows what he's doing.
Posted by: alle at March 27, 2007 05:19 AM
I don't think that Sarkozy knows what he's doing. And Gaullism looks like a fine ideology for a second-rate power that doesn't want to just roll over. These are very complex times, not times when one just accept dictates from a "hyperpower" that cannot win a war of choice against a fourth-rate power.
Posted by: sanaa at March 27, 2007 05:27 AM
"In his world, his prejudices were of course because the "immigrants" (3rd generation in France though....) weren't French enough - queerly stripped of typically French elite "theoretical discourse" his standards of Frenchness were Catholic & White."
Absolutely. I was surprised at how many Polish and Portuguese immigrants I met when I lived in Paris, particularly the Poles who were second or third generation and nobody ever pointed to them as not "francais de souche" and that sort of nonsense. But the guy running the corner store was always "l'arabe" even if third generation pale Tunisian.
Posted by: SP at March 27, 2007 08:47 AM
I am unsure, not even for a "least bad". The menu really sucks. Well, maybe (cough) Bayrou indeed.
Gaullism in terms of foreign policy favors serving French interests (as opposed to some superpower's). Economically, that translates in a very active involvement of the government in its foreign commercial activities which is beneficial to French economy (sometimes at the expense of their clients, but nobody twists lackeys' arms into being lackeys). In politics, that translates into a less unbalanced policy vis-a-vis MENA than the US's.
Bayrou's foreign policy is essentially euro-federalist. I don't care much about that. As for the rest, he's just... nothing significant. Like Segolene (French socialists have never been good at foreign policy anyway).
A bit late, perhaps, but I simply would like to add that the code-words "république" and "communautarisme" should not be taken literally, but simply as useful circumlocutions to use against ethnic minorities, or more specifically visible ethnic minorities ("minorités visibles" is frequently used in French media) - protestants, jews, Portuguese and Poles are of course not in the sights of the this jacobin orthodoxy. For those of you who read French, here's an interesting article - http://www.minorites.org/article.php?IDA=17333 - about a day at the court which is in charge of name changes in Paris - most plaintiffs are Arab, and wish either to "francise" their first name, or, intriguingly, of going back to their Arab names, which most of those plaintiffs abandoned when applying for French citizenship. The public prosecutor, consulted in each instance, is in favor of those asking to francise their name, and opposed to those wishing to revert to their Arab name. Odd, since you'd think that in the République, names would be of no consequence since all citizens are supposed to be equal, irrespective of origin or religion...
Btw, Klaus & alle, Swedish law does not recognise any difference between its citizens on account of origin, as is the case in most democracies - save when needed to apply anti-discrimination laws. In contrast with France, ethnicity is widely used in the public statistics and demographics produced by its public statistics bureau, SCB (see for instance here http://www.ssd.scb.se/databaser/makro/SubTable.asp?yp=tansss&xu=C9233001&omradekod=BE&huvudtabell=UtrikesFoddaR&omradetext=Population&tabelltext=Foreign%2Dborn+persons+in+Sweden+by+country+of+birth%2C+age+and+sex%2E+Year&preskat=O&prodid=BE0101&starttid=2000&stopptid=2006&Fromwhere=M&lang=2&langdb=2 ).
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at April 8, 2007 04:29 PM
A veritable goldmine there, Ibn. I don't see the actual ethnicity used, just the country of birth. I think one of the most relevant data would be how immigrants' children evolve through generations.
Of course, defining ethnicity as where one's parents were born does put a big fat line under one's status as native-born foreigner. Witness the distinction between 'European' and 'third generation immigrants'. Nevertheless, it's there and has to be studied.
Ibn K - I was thinking of SCB above, and as Klaus points out, it does not distinguish between ethnicities, only countries of origin. They often coincide, but it's a very blunt tool.
In reality, to take the 2006 figures for example, most of the 37107 "from Turkey" or 82827 "from Iraq" are Kurds, and perhaps half of the 2065 "from Israel" and the 22697 "from Lebanon" are Palestinians, just as many of the Vietnam refugees come from the Chinese minority. The statistics say nothing about this, and there are no records of it.
One is forced to rely on anecdotal evidence, membership figures put forth by immigrants' associations, and some plain old common sense to interpret the SCB figures. And I think it would be quite sensitive to start polling people for actual ethnicity, religion, sexual preferences or other personal information.
Posted by: alle at April 9, 2007 07:35 PM