Puneet Varma (Editor)

Racism in France

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Racism is defined as the "poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race" and "the belief that some races of people are better than others." Race is defined as "a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics." In principle, minority groups do not exist in France. French political tradition does not use the term "minority" in its discourse because all of the rights that the French Revolution represents lie on two notions: the notion of state and the notion of man. Thus, French political tradition sees rights as universal and natural benefits of being human. The 1958 French constitution states:


"France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic that assures equality in front of the law for all citizens, regardless of origins, race or religion."

Some believe that politicians' desire to adhere to these ideals leads to a lack of recognition of ethnic minority groups. In this vein, the State seeks that foreigners, who have acquired the French nationality, be considered and designated as French by the rest of the population and not by their ethnic origins. This leads to a lack of utilization of the term "ethnicity" in France. It is said that the notion of ethnicity, when it is used in France, ignores all reference to race, contrarily to the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the term.

In many European nations, minority groups are characterized by a unique identity, culture, language and religion. Settlement and immigration have been accompanied by the formation of tight-knit communities within the host country, centered around a similar cultural identity. Those who are born or who have grown up in the host country have often assimilated to the host country's culture. This, however, does not prohibit them from openly claiming their origins.

The existence of these groups is recognized in many European nations in both a judicial and at times political landscape. Some states give migrants specific rights related to what minority group they belong to. For example, some European nations offer minority groups the right to receive an education in their native language. France, however, does not allow these rights as it only recognizes rights in the context of citizenship and human characterization.

The French Interior ministry provides a set of descriptors to be used by the police to classify individuals in lieu of race. The descriptors are: européen (nordique, caucasien, méditerranéen); africain/antillais; métis; maghrébin; moyen-oriental; asiatique; indo-pakistanais; latino-américain; polynésien; mélanésien-canaque. This file also contain photos of people.

Governmental & Police statistics

For each year since 1990, the French National Commission on Human Rights (French: Commission nationale et consultative des droits de l'Homme) publishes a report regarding the state of Racism in France.

In 2016, the commission reported that, 33% of the French believe that races do not exist while 8% believe that some races are superior to other. It is believed that the 2015 terrorist attacks in France led to an increase in tolerance, but also raised the number of racist acts. Complaints of anti-muslim acts and threats increased by 223% and the incidence of violent racist attacks were higher in the month following each terrorist attack.

According to the commission, this data does not show the full reality as its only based on police data and people does not systematically report racist issues.

The commission also reported that, 34% of the French population consider Islam as something negative, and 50% of them consider it a menace against national identity. In addition, 41% of the population believe that Jews have a singular relationship with money and 20% of them believe that Jews have too much power in France.

Roms is the minority group less tolerated: 74% of French people consider them a «groupe à part» and more than half of the people still believe the Roma make their living from stealing and other illicit activities.

Racism against Jews

Liberty of religion was mainly developed by two laws: one in 1789 and one in 1905.

The Dreyfus Affair

In 1894, a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of giving secret French documents to the German army and was condemned for treason. In 1895, the real culprit, Commander Esterhazy was found, judged and although abundant proof of his guilt was brought to court, acquitted. Dreyfus and his family then decided to contact the President of the Senate to put forth the weakness of the allegations brought against him. Because late 19th century France was plagued with anti-Semitic and nationalist ideals, Dreyfus was quickly targeted due to his Jewish origins and fell victim to much anti-Semitic discrimination. Eleven years after his condemnation, Dreyfus was found to be innocent.

The Vichy Regime of 1940-1944

In 1939, France declared war against Germany after the German invasion of Poland. Many tensions arose within the government, separating supporters of the war effort from its dissidents. Marshal Pétain became Council President after Paul Reynaud stepped down from office due to the harsh climate that the French government was experiencing. Pétain left Paris and traveled to Vichy (a free zone) with his government. With the support of Pierre Laval, he obtained full powers from the National Assembly to create a new constitution for the French state, putting an end to the 3rd Republic.

The new Pétain government, also called the Vichy Government, surrendered to Germany and the Nazi powers on June 22, 1940 in Rethondes, France. Germany thus moved into France and the Gestapo occupied the Northern part of the country. Pétain, after becoming head of State, set up a cult of personality , suspended political parties and censored the press. After these reforms, the Vichy government began to display its anti-Semitic views by installing laws discriminating against Jews and imitating the Nazi German Nuremberg laws. In 1940, Jews were prohibited from working in certain jobs and going to certain places such as restaurants and stores. They were obligated to wear the star of David on their shirts in order to be recognized as Jewish at first sight. As the Vichy government continued its collaboration with Nazi Germany and Jews continued to be marginalized from French society, French officials organized raids and began calling for the deportation of all Jews within French territory.

The Vélodrome d’Hiver

In July 1942, 13 152 Jews (mostly women and children) were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Vélodrome d’Hiver raids. Arrested Jews were transported by bus to the Vélodrome d'hiver (or Vel’ d’hiv’). Singles or couples without children were sent to the Drancy internment camp and from there, deported to Auschwitz, where most of them were killed. Families were sent to the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp or Pithiviers internment camp, where they were forcibly separated and then deported to Auschwitz. For the first time, women and children were raided and deported. These raids focused on foreign Jews which meant that most of these children were of French nationality since they had been born in France. No children came back from Auschwitz and less than ten women survived.

Apology from France

July 16, 1995, in a site near the Vel d'Hiv, French president Jacques Chirac, pronounced in an important speech that he recognized France’s responsibility in the persecution of Jews during the Second World War, an action that had been long-awaited by the French-Jewish community.

The African slave trade

In 1315, King Louis X stated that “French ground frees any slave that touches it”. Although the Portuguese had been involved in slavery since 1441, it was only in 1594 that the first French slave expedition occurred and it was only in the middle of the 17th century that the Caribbean island colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Saint-Martin and Saint Barthélemy were occupied by French powers. Although the deportation of slaves to French colonies had been legalized in 1626 and the trade of slaves had been made legal by Louis XIII in 1642, transatlantic expeditions had only been transporting goods and “engagés” (European workers who paid for their travel by working for 36 months in tobacco plantations upon their arrival in the New World). However, the year 1674 portrayed a shift in France’s position in the trade of African slaves.

In 1674, due to oversupply, the price of tobacco was dragged down. This encouraged colonists to turn to the cultivation of sugar. Although the sale of sugar cane was a lot more profitable than the sale of tobacco, its cultivation was also a lot more difficult and intensive than that of tobacco. African slaves thus replaced “engagès” as their servile labor was necessary for the economic development of France. In 1673, the Senegal Company was founded. It was responsible for the provision of slaves to the island of Saint-Domingue. Up until then, commerce had simply been between the West Indies and France, but now France had entered in the Triangular Trade, which meant that commerce was now between France, Africa and the West Indies. Although France’s participation in the trade was delayed, it ended up playing an important role in the overall trade of African slaves. In total, 17 French ports participated in the slave trade with over 3300 slave expeditions. The port of Nantes was France’s principal slave port as it was responsible for about 42% of France’s slave trade. Other important ports were those of La Rochelle, Marseille, Honfleur, Lorient, Le Havre, Bordeaux and Saint-Malo.

In 1685, Louis XIV set up the Code Noir ("Black Code"), a set of rules written by Jean-Baptiste Colbert. These rules were based on the principle that the black slave had no judicial rights and was the property of his master. Below are some examples of articles present in the Black Code:

  • Article 44: the black slave is declared “movable” which means that he is a good that can be sold or passed down from generation to generation.
  • Article 46: the black slave can be sold at an auction.
  • Article 28: the black slave is prohibited from owning anything.
  • Articles 30 and 31: the black slave has no right to go to court, even if he is a victim, and his testimony holds no value whatsoever. However, if a slave hits his master (article 33), acts inappropriately towards a free person (article 34) or steals a horse or cow (article 35), he is to be killed.
  • Article 38: the runaway slave is to have his ears cut and is to have the image of a lily “fleur-de-lis” (a symbol of French royalty) branded unto his shoulder. If he relapses, he is to have the shallow of his knee cut and is to have a lily branded on his other shoulder. After a third offense, he is to be killed.
  • In 18th century France, the funding for African slave ships came from 500 wealthy families, with only about 20 of them funding about a quarter of the 2800 ships headed towards Africa. This slave-owning aristocracy occupied a very prominent part in port-based societies on both an economic and political level. During this period, French commerce flourished due to the development of the slave trade in its colonies. It is estimated that between 1676 and 1800, France deported one million slaves to the West Indies. Between 1815 and 1830 nearly all of Nantes mayors had been slave owners and traders.

    During the period of Enlightenment in France, however, slavery and the trade of slaves were more and more criticized by philosophers of the Enlightenment. For instance, Montesquieu, in The Spirit of the Laws (1748) criticized those who called themselves Christians yet practiced slavery. Also, Voltaire, in Candide (1759), denounced the difficult conditions faced by African slaves. In 1788, Société des Amis Noirs ("Society of the Friends of the Blacks") was founded with the goal of abolishing the slave trade using the argument that slavery was in fact not economically profitable.

    Slavery was first abolished in continental France before the French islands.

    In 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen abolished slavery. However, it was only truly abolished in the colonies in 1794 thanks to the Society of the Friends of the Blacks’ efforts. In 1802, Napoleon, encouraged by wife Josephine who originated from and owned many assets in Martinique, reestablished slavery, the slave trade and the Black Code. This sparked a rebellion. He sent military expeditions in Saint-Domingue and Guadeloupe to contain the rebellion. The rebels of Saint-Domingue ended up being victorious and proclaimed their independence after what is commonly known as the Haitian Revolution. In January 1803, this first black republic was founded and took the name of Haiti. In 1815, after the Napoleon's Hundred Days, Napoleon aligned himself with Congress and decreed the abolition of slavery. However, slavery continued all the way up to the 1840s on Gorée Island, Senegal. In 1848 King Louis-Phillippe abdicated and the provisional government of the Republic was founded, proclaiming that “No French territory can hold slaves”. Finally, on April 27, 1848, the provisional Government abolished slavery in all French colonies. The government abolished slavery on May 23 for Martinique, May 27 for Guadeloupe, August 10 for Guyana and December 20th for Reunion. An illegal slave commerce persisted for a short time after but was quickly transformed into a commerce of Chinese or Indian “engagés” workers.

    On May 10, 2001, the French Senate adopted a law that recognized the trade of slaves as a crime against humanity. In 2006, May 10 was held to be a national date of commemoration of the abolition of slavery.

    Racism against Algerians

    The Algerian presence in France, both Berbers and Arabs, resulted from a unique history that began over a century ago. Algerians have been migrating from the colonies to the metropolis since the second half of the 19th century. Not recognized as French or foreign, Algerians have gone from being indigenous people, to French subjects to “French Muslims of Algeria”. The Algerian migration to the French metropolis did not coincide with the colonial conquest of the Algerian territory in 1830. At that time, Algeria was a colony that attracted hundreds of thousands Europeans coming from France, Spain, Italy and Malta. French presence in Algeria gravely hurt the indigenous populations of Algeria, impoverished rural communities and reduced resources within Algerian land. These events, along with large increases in population caused the great migration from colonial Algeria to the French metropolis at the end of the 19th century.

    Principally Kabyles (members of a Berber ethnic group), young men provided labor in the development of French cities and of agricultural exploitations in the Mediterranean littorals of the metropolis (mainly Marseille). Migrant workers from Algeria composed a community in the metropolis. These workers created a network that facilitated their access to work, news from Algeria and the preservation of both cultural and religious traditions in France. It was difficult to measure the size of this community as Algerians were not distinguished from the French but simply called “workers originating from Algeria”. In 1912, a census estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 Algerians lived in France and about 1,000 of them lived in the capital. They had become a crucial part of France’s agricultural, industrial and urban sectors as they offered good and cheap labor. The First World War later increased the migration to France. Close to 100,000 workers from Algeria and over 175,000 colonial soldiers were recruited by the French army between 1914 and 1918. However, after the end of the war, public powers sent many of these workers and soldiers back to their colonies.

    Algerians had French nationality, so they were not called foreigners; however, they did not enjoy the same rights as French citizens: the human common right was applicable to French citizen, while the muslish Malékite right was applicable to muslish people as muslish right is revelated (by god) and cannot be improved by one human: Muslim judges applied Muslim rights to Muslim people, although the latter were in a French jurisdiction.

    This difference was not applicable to Algerians who had the right to establish in (metropolitan) France: those Algerians had the same rights as French citizens, Algerian law has never been applicable in France.

    Migratory fluxes from Algeria to the metropolis began to be regulated. Algerian migrants had to present work contracts, proof of savings, health certificates and identity cards with pictures. Most of these migrants were young men looking for work. Many Algerian authorities, entrepreneurs and colonists began to fear the draining of the Algerian labor force in the colony and began to criticize this strong migratory current. In France, public powers searched to assist and protect its “Muslim subjects” by inaugurating the Great Mosque of Paris in 1926, constructing the French Muslim hospital in 1935 and constructing the Muslim cemetery in 1937. These initiatives were thought to be masking certain desires to control and keep a close eye on the immigrated community. In 1925, the Service of North African Indigenous Affairs (SAINA) was created to satisfy these objectives. The SAINA led to the development of nationalist and anti colonial ideals within the Algerian community. In June 1926, Messali Hadj founded the North African Star in Paris. These militants criticized the colonial system and called for the independence of Algeria and all other Maghreb countries (Morocco and Tunisia). The Popular Front put an end to the North African Star in January 1937. The Star reappeared on May 11 under the name of the Party of the Algerian People which was later prohibited in September 1939.

    Algerians fought along the French during the Second World War, fighting Nazi powers and helping in the liberation of France. After the end of the war, Algerians sought to obtain their independence from France during the Algerian War. During the eight years of war, the number of Algerians in the metropolis went from 211,000 in 1954 to 350,000 in 1962. However, violence faced by the “Muslim population” only got worse. The French army sectioned off prohibited zones in which it regrouped the Algerian migrants and put them under military surveillance. The army regrouped about 2 million Algerians. Furthermore, Algerian migrants worked the harshest, most difficult and less remunerative jobs. Finally, on October 17, 1961, during a manifestation organized by the Front of National Liberation, 11,538 people were arrested and over 100 were killed. Nevertheless, Algerians continued to migrate to the metropolis, staying for longer periods of time and bringing their entire families along. There were 7,000 Algerian families in 1954 and 30,000 by 1962.

    On July 5, 1962, Algerians obtained their independence. Independent Algeria continued to see more and more of its young population migrate to France. This phenomenon has contributed to a durable change in the societies of both countries.

    Racism against Arabs

    In March 1990, according to a poll reported in Le Monde, 76% of those polled said that there were too many Arabs in France while 39% said they had an "aversion" to Arabs. In the following years, Interior Minister Charles Pasqua was noted for dramatically toughening immigration laws.

    In May 2005, riots broke out between North Africans (Arabs and Berbers) and Romani in Perpignan, after a young North African man was shot dead and another North African man was lynched by a group of Romani people.

    In 2010, a poll found that 28 percent of French people think that Arabs are "more likely to commit crimes than members of other ethnic groups".

    In 2013, expressions such as «sale arabe» or «sale race» are considered as racist. This expression was also used against Camélia Jordana.

    Nonetheless, in 2016, maghrébin are slightly more accepted than Muslim.

    Racism against Chinese people

    In June 2013 six Chinese students were attacked in a racist incident in Bordeaux. One of the students had a bottle thrown at her face, causing injuries that required surgery. The incident prompted the Chinese government to demand protection for their citizens.

    Racism against Italians

    In 1881, the "Vêpres marseillaises" happened in Marseilles.

    Racism against Roma

    In July 2013, a nighttime attack on a Roma camp in Seine-Saint-Denis took place.

    In 2010, the United Nations accused France of racism against Roma as it began deportations, declaring: "The United Nations finds the recent French government hardline stance worrisome." Activists charged that France's treatment of Roma was 'simply inhuman.' It was condemned as "abusive and racist," saying "the Roma have too often been Europe's scapegoats."

    Racism against white people

    The claim of racism against whites has been brought forward by various far-right parties since 1978, and recently also from the right: In September 2012, Jean-François Copé, the leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UPM), and then incumbent for his reelection, denounced the development of an anti-White racism by people living in France, some of them French citizens, against the "Gauls", a name among immigrants for the native French, according to him, on the basis of these having a different religion, colour skin, and ethnic background. The former minister of interior, Claude Guéant, went on record stating that this kind of racism is a reality in France and that there is nothing worse than the political elite hiding from the truth.

    Marine Le Pen criticized that the UMP itself had denied the existence of such a racism during its five-year reign in power (2007–2012) and suspected a tactical move to win over voters and support from her Front National.

    In sports

    Prior to domestic Euro 2016 edition, racist claims, emanating from several French public figures about the lack of players of North African origins has made its way to the front pages. Eric Cantona accused the French manager Didier Deschamps of Racism. The later filed a suit against Cantona over diffamation. Short after Karim Benzema, who is regarded as the main victim considering his top form and season with Real Madrid, has accused Didier Deschamps of "bowing to racists" on the pages of Marca. All started after Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister who was filmed in the past claiming there were too much blacks and Roma people in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, politicized the affair.

    In politics

    In 1964, the Occident movement was founded by former members of the FEN syndicate (Fédération des Etudiants Nationalistes) which had stood against the abandonment of French Algeria. Initially directed by Pierre Sidos, Occident positioned itself as a movement perpetuating popular French extreme-right traditions of the 1920s and 1930s, which included racist themes, maurrassism and fascism. The Occident movement later became the Ordre Nouveau movement which in turn, became today's Front National (1974).

    National Front is an extreme-right party which openly claims its nationalist and conservative ideals. This party was initially led by Jean Marie Le Pen, who has often been considered to be the spokesperson and face of the party. Le Pen has been reprimanded many times for racist actions and the National Front has been held responsible for a couple of race-based crimes. For example, in 1995, three militants of the National Front party shot at two young boys of African origins who were running to catch their bus. One of the young boys, Ali Ibrahim, a 17-year-old from the Comoros Islands, was fatally wounded. Bruno Megret, who was 2nd in command of the National Front at the time, stated that this event was due to "massive and uncontrollable immigration" in France. He added that he was thankful that his militants had been armed. In 2011, Marine Le Pen, Jean Le Pen’s daughter, took over as President of the National Front party and also expressed her anti-Islamic and anti-immigration views.

    The claim of racism against whites has been brought forward by various far-right parties since 1978, and recently also from the right. In September 2012, Jean-François Copé, the leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UPM), and then incumbent for his reelection, denounced the development of an anti-White racism by people living in France, some of them French citizens, against the "Gauls" – a name among immigrants for the native French according to him – on the basis of these having a different religion, color skin, and ethnic background. The former minister of interior, Claude Guéant, went on record stating that this kind of racism is a "reality" in France and that there is nothing worse than the political elite hiding from the truth. Marine Le Pen criticized that the UMP itself had denied the existence of such a racism during its five-year reign in power (2007–2012) and suspected a tactical move to win over voters and support from the Front National. In 2010, a White couple and their 12-year-old daughter living in a mainly Maghrebi neighborhood were the victims of racist insults and death threats and were evacuated from their home under police protection. In 2013, three men were convicted in the case.

    In recent years, many newspapers, such as Libération and The Washington Post, have done segments on the increase of racist comments made by political leaders against minority groups. In 2009, Nadine Morano, Secretary of State for the Family, explained that what she expected from the young French Muslim was that “he love his country, that he find a job, that he not speak "verlan" or slang, that he not wear his baseball cap backwards”. In February 2012, the Minister of the Interior at the time, Claude Gueant continued the targeting of Islamic populations by stating that leftist ideologies were wrong and that in fact, all civilizations did not equate each other. He stated that nations which defend liberty, equality and fraternity (France’s motto) were superior to nations which accepted tyranny, inequality for women and social and ethnic hatred. He concluded by asserting that his “civilization” must be protected. Most recently in October 2013, a National Front municipal candidate, Anne-Sophie Leclere, compared the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, to a monkey and affirmed that she would rather see the French Guinean native “in a tree than in the government”. About a week later, students at an anti-gay manifestation surrounded Toubira in Angers, with signs that read “monkey, eat your banana”. Taubira later mentioned that France is in the midst of an identity crisis. On April 29, 2014, in the Independent, a UK newspaper, Taubira stated:

    “I see a country in distress. We need to reconstruct its sense of history and its capacity to live together. Can the ‘public word’ – our political debate – raise itself to address these big questions? I don’t just mean the government. I mean all political forces, both government and opposition, and all the opinion-makers in the media.”

    Immigration laws

    In March 1990, according to a poll reported in Le Monde, 76% of those polled said that there were too many Arabs and Berbers in France while 39% said they had an "aversion" to Arabs and Berbers. In the following years, Interior Minister Charles Pasqua was noted for dramatically toughening immigration laws.

    In October 2013, Jean-Francois Copé, head of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), sought to reform immigration laws by changing the acquisition of French citizenship by birth. Relying on the Civil Code which states that one becomes French through heritage, Copé claimed that the right of blood trumped all in the acquisition of citizenship. For Copé, the automatic acquisition of French citizenship at birth needed to be reformed as a means of achieving full assimilation of those in France, fighting for secularism and fighting against communitarianism. Guillaume Peltier, the co-founder of the “La Droite” (Right) movement mentioned that in the same way that the right to express the desire to enter a community is a basic principle, so is the power of a national community to accept or refuse such an entry.

    Secularization laws

    The "Hijab ban" law, presented as secularization of schools, and supported by all major parties in the French parliament, as well as many feminists, was interpreted by its critics as an "indirect legitimization of anti-Muslim stereotypes, fostering rather than preventing racism."

    In December 2013, the French socialist government displayed its fear of growing racism and divisions between ethnic groups in France. In its report, the social government recommended emphasizing the “Arab-Oriental” side of French culture by “barring the media from mentioning a person’s ethnicity and promoting the teaching of Arabic and African languages in schools.” However, these recommendations were not well received by France’s conservative opposition who claimed that such actions meant abandoning French culture and secular values. Jean-Francois Copé called for the government to reject the report. French prime minister, Mr. Ayrault, responded that he did not plan to remove the ban and that these reports did not in any way represent the position of the government.


    Racism in France Wikipedia

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