November 11, 2005

Taking account of race, ethnicity, and religion.

Officially, the French don't:
France's Constitution guarantees equality to all, but that has long been interpreted to mean that ethnic or religious differences are not the purview of the state. The result is that no one looks at such differences to track growing inequalities and so discrimination is easy to hide.

"People have it in their head that surveying by race or religion is bad, it's dirty, it's something reserved for Americans and that we shouldn't do it here," said Yazid Sabeg, the only prominent Frenchman of Arab descent at the head of a publicly listed French company. "But without statistics to look at, how can we measure the problem?"
Should France's policy of not taking account of race, ethnicity, and religion, in light of the recent rioting, make us look more favorably on our own attention to such things?

27 comments:

Dave said...

Slate has a really interesting article about the French hip-hop scene, here.

Who knew?

Sloanasaurus said...

North African's have only been in France in material numbers for the last 50 years. Further they were invited to come voluntarily (and in many cases temporarily). North African Arabs have litte to do with French history and the creation and evolution of French culture. I think it is unreasonable to expect that North Africans should be currently serving in high positions of power in the French government or in French business through the impact of affirmative action programs.

The North African experience in France contrasts greatly with African Americans who were originally brought over as slaves and have been here for hundreds of years and are woven into the fabric American history.

The riots in France are superficially caused by social ills such as unemployment. However, unlike the American race riots in the 1960s, French Arabs are demanding more, they are demanding enclaves in France and to be independent from French culture. In America's riots, black Americans wanted just the opposite - to be more integrated into the American dream.

America's problem was a solvable one - use legislation and education to enhance integration and oppotrunity (i.e. affirmative action etc..)

The problem in France is not solvable - no country should cede parts of its territory to squatters without waging a bloody war.

Dave Norris said...

I find your question timely. I was reading "The Corner" the other day and someone made the point that France had an undeserved reputation for being racially tolerant. After all, it was pointed out, where are the equivalents of Condi Rice or Alberto Gonzalez or Clarence Thomas?

As I thought about this it occurred to me that perhaps our obsession with identity politics isn't all bad. And while I haven't thought this through carefully it is true that you should "inspect what you expect".

Sloanasaurus said...

Yes, but Condi Rice, Gonzalez, and Thomas are all true blue Americans. Why should the French people put Arabs into positions of power who do not see themselves as French.

k said...

Well, yes ... I understand wanting to count heads and figure out how many of each group you have. But I'm biracial. Which box do I pick? My "mom's" or my "dad's"? And if I pick one over the other, what does that say for me and my "identity"? Then, to make things more complicated, you can't look at me and tell immediately what my two races are. Sometimes, when I get picked as the "minority" representative on a group or committee, I can tell that fellow group members are dyin' to ask how I got on there as a minority, but white people think it rude or offensive to bring ethnicity up. I don't think that's how it's supposed to be, is it?

Dave Norris said...

sloanasaurus,

Not to completely disagree with you since your points seem valid, but if the immigrants to France were invited how can you refer to them as squatters? And is there really a demand by Africans, across the board, to establish a seperate sovreignity in France?

Gerry said...

I think the French could have (I do not know if they did or not) looked at our experience and found that these metrics have a tendency to turn into quotas. You want to avoid the quotas? Don't take the metrics.

I am all for metrics to help identify problems so that society can move towards fixing them. That does not mean I am unaware of the propensity for the fixes society chooses to be government led and chock full of other problems and side effects.

It's a shame, though. Markets can work wonders at eroding such snobbery and discimination, as folks begin to see that they can get cheap talent and new markets by losing a bit of the old way of thinking. This is especially true when adverse publicity can occur about what the metrics of a particular company show regarding hiring or other related things. But France has not really had that big of an affinity for the power of the market for quite some time.

Sean said...

You overstate the case slightly, since the American government (unlike, I believe, the Canadian government) does not collect statistics on its residents' religious affiliations. Interestingly, the Census Department used to collect some such information (not as part of the decennial census, but as a different project), but stopped in the mid-20th century, as I understand primarily at the behest of Jewish groups.

bearing said...

It's hard to see how measuring is bad.

Willful ignorance is not a virtue.

John Thacker said...

It's hard to see how measuring is bad.

Well, most of the argument against measuring of are a slippery slope type, though I don't think that that vitiates as much as some other people seem to think it does.

Having measurements can certainly inflame passions, though it can also quiet conspiracy theories. I suppose to some degree it depends on whether the underlying policy is justified. Hence measuring is a form of sunlight, a type of disinfectant.

Consider another measuring issue-- colleges and universities rarely spell out exactly how large the effective "plus factor" given to affirmative action admitees is. (As we saw in the case of the U of M law school, it can be quite large.) Would more precise measurment and publishing be likely to inflame passions or cool them? One could argue either way.

Jeff said...

Keeping tally seems to be bad. It reduces everything in society to a zero-sum game. John Rosenberg does a good job of discussing the relevant issues over at http://www.discriminations.us/

sonicfrog said...

I am sure there is research out there that shows its bennefits. I am equally sure there is research out there that shows it is racist policy.

F15C said...

Whether they should or not, the fact is that France has not and does not measure it's racial/ethnic/religious makeup as a function of government. France has also, until now, been viewed by many as the 'most civilized' country on the planet. Measurement of racial makeup in France was not an issue three months ago.

I think it is very American to look to racial measurements as a means to an end. We tend to point to numbers of this vs. that to tell us if we have a problem or not when it comes to race. France sees it differently. Regardless, in my opinion, to measure or not is beside the point.

The fact is had these "disenfranchised youth" and their parents tried harder to assimilate (which is a clear requirement made of French immigrants) there would not be such problems. But they don't and won't.

A large part of the problem is that even though France clearly demands its immigrants become French, these rioters do not want to be French. They want their own non-French societies, within the borders of France, subsidized by the French.

And, I'm afraid that's what they are going to get.

John Thacker said...

The fact is had these "disenfranchised youth" and their parents tried harder to assimilate (which is a clear requirement made of French immigrants) there would not be such problems. But they don't and won't.

In fairness, French labor laws do make the situation worse. The laws ensure that labor is paid quite a bit, which is good for those workers but means that it's uneconomic to employ low-skilled workers. (Rather through inexperience or poor education.) The French educational system is organized around developing their elite-- and they do a very good job at it. The "best and brightest" of the French are very productive (and well-paid), and generate productivity that can pay, through their taxes, for the quite reasonable welfare benefits for those rendered unemployable through the labor laws.

However, those who are born in poverty, without prospects, have a very difficult time joining that elite. They can certainly be cared for, but the opportunity to start at low-skill jobs and work your way up the ladder slowly is much less evident in France. I'm not trying to be all Horatio Alger-- in many ways the French system is more comfortable for the poor, with generous welfare benefits instead of EITC supplementing a low-wage job. But there is a tradeoff between security and opportunity. Without that opportunity of advancement, it becomes easier to see yourself as not really part of society.

Even in the depths of segregation, there were black-owned and operated small and medium sized businesses (catering to blacks, mostly) throughout the South. (North Carolina Mutual Life, for example, founded 107 years ago, and the largest black-owned and managed insurance company in the nation.) There were jobs, even if people were mistreated. France is somewhat different-- whole towns where basically everything is provided by the government, and where these sons of immigrants can not find jobs.

bearing said...

Consider another measuring issue-- colleges and universities rarely spell out exactly how large the effective "plus factor" given to affirmative action admitees is. (As we saw in the case of the U of M law school, it can be quite large.) Would more precise measurment and publishing be likely to inflame passions or cool them? One could argue either way.


Arguably, the outcome of the U of M affirmative action case was this:

"Discrimination is okay, as long as you don't measure it."

John Thacker said...

Arguably, the outcome of the U of M affirmative action case was this:

"Discrimination is okay, as long as you don't measure it."


Indeed. Which implies that while you may think it's hard to see how measuring is bad, at least some members of the Supreme Court think so. :)

F15C said...

John Thacker wrote: "but the opportunity to start at low-skill jobs and work your way up the ladder slowly is much less evident in France."

Fair and accurate and overall good analysis. Granted, it is difficult. But who says it should be easy? And, if so, why? Societies are only as strong, vibrant, and capable as their weakest members. The harder you work for something, the more your value it. Those not willing to work and work hard should will not have the same successes as those who do - unless that 'success' is artificially provided through extraordinary means. Which in the long term is detrimental to the overall society.

I've worked with many French in America and in France (for an American company), and found them to be incredibly capable, bright, annoying, fun and funny. To a person, they worked very hard to get where they were (engineers and managers). Nothing was handed to them as is sometimes implied.

I was always treated well, though there is always the reality that they are French and you are not. And that's ok - it is their prerogative as a nation an people. They are not saying they are better or superior (though some bigots do, and all cultures have their bigoted racaille/rabble), just that they are French and proud of it.

"However, those who are born in poverty, without prospects, have a very difficult time joining that elite." Poverty in France is not poverty in Sudan. We must be clear on that concept because it is part of the problem.

20% or more of these rioters who are the unemployed are fully supported by the French government, and the rest, though gainfully employed to one degree or another, still are provided economic, educational, and health care support that none in America receive.

Maybe we in America should be rioting. The French unemployed and underemployed have it much better than equivalent Americans due to the French government's largesse. So why are we seeing riots?

Because the people rioting have different values and culture than the nation they exist within, and are not willing to adopt the culture of the people of that nation. That dynamic can only lead to disaster.

France is divided against itself along cultural lines. Religion, as a unifying force on one side of that division, plays a significant role in advancing that divide.

aidan maconachy said...

The French pretend to be above racism and this is why, presumably, they prefer to avoid addressing the subject head on whenever possible.

However, it's entirely possible that being so "above" racist concerns, leaves the French free to practice an ingrained form of elitism vis-a-vis new immigrants. Of course if you say such cultural attitudes are "racist" they will recoil in horror.

You actually have to spend some time in France in order to understand their idiosyncratic ways. There is no doubt whatever that racism is widespread, although they use less provocative names for it. There is indeed an exclusionary, even superior attitude toward those considered to be non-French that is a lot more pronounced than anything of the type I have come across in the U.K.

This "French first" sub-text is not only demonstrated in attitudes toward Muslim immigrants, but can also at times reflect a troubling anti-Semitic bias. Not so long ago, the French Ambassador to the U.K. referred to Israel as "that dirty little country".

America has had the guts to confront its racist heart and has gone through agonizing catharsis, that I believe has raised the moral calibre of the country. Problems still exist of course, but the will is there to confront racism and struggle to eliminate it. This is quite different from living in high minded denial and saying all the right things while your country is imploding around you.

Yes, the French have a problem. Some of it does have Islamist roots but before the French go there, they should begin by looking in the mirror.

Julian Morrison said...

One guy is shooting at a target, and notices he's been missing. He looks, corrects his aim, shoots again and hits. Then for some reason he gets a bit crazy and decides that over-correcting will make his aim even better, so naturally he misses on the other side. He starts having a shouting argument with himself, and his left and right hands wrestle for control of the gun.

The second guy, noting the problems of the first, puts on a blindfold.

Smilin' Jack said...

When I'm asked to check one of those race/ethnicity boxes I alternate between Native American (since I was born in this country) and African American (since my ancestors came from Africa...about 50,000 years ago.)

Sure hope I'm not screwing up somebody's statistics....

dick said...

I find it amazing that people think we have always measured race, etc here. I remember when the Civil Rights Act was passed. I was in charge of the programming of payroll/pension/benefits systems at the time and we were told explicitly that we could not keep track of race, sex, age, etc because it was illegal under the Civil Rights act. We still did it but we would keep the statistics hidden under another name and then make a small note as to what the field actually was.

Then a couple of years later we were told that we would have to report to the federal government that we were not discriminating. In case there was any doubt or if the feds determined that you were not hiring the same proportion as the population, then you were required to report on a monthly basis how you were trying to attain that proportion. I worked at the time for a dairy in Charlestown, Mass as a consultant. At that time (maybe still) Charlestown was known as being most definitely not race-friendly for blacks or anyone other than white Irish mainly. We could not even get blacks to come in to apply let alone hire them. As a result I had to produce a 4 ft stack of reports in 6 copies for the various federal agencies showing that we were attempting to meet the standards. I had to use the fields that were marked as being 4th degree of education or some other field to prepare these reports because according to our lawyers it was not legal for us even to keep the records.

I am retired now and have not worked in payroll/personnel/benefits for quite a few years but that whole area of the law is totally screwy as what can be required and what cannot and even, as some of the others have noted, just how you record various mixed races. The whole idea of government regulation of what defines a minority has descended to just how fine a slice and dice of the statistics you want to cut the pie into.

I do wonder just how the MLK idea of the rainbow is being served by all these regulations.

Jeff said...

It's the NotFrench rioting against the French.

vbspurs said...

I mentioned this very important point, which few people say, in my Gay Paree blogpost last week.

General De Gaulle redefined the French State in the 1940's.

In one directive, he said that if you were born in France, you were French, et basta.

So there are no racial or few ethnic categories in France applied at the official level.

As I mentioned, even though on paper this is utopic, it has hardly worked out.

It's one thing to magically wave a wand and say, now we're all French!

But your populace then have to go along with that, at the informal level.

These riots are many things, but at their root, they are about being unrecognised.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Aidan, I like your Canadian flag avatar. :)

Cheers,
Victoria

Pastor_Jeff said...

The French pretend to be above racism ... However, it's entirely possible that being so "above" racist concerns, leaves the French free to practice an ingrained form of elitism vis-a-vis new immigrants. Of course if you say such cultural attitudes are "racist" they will recoil in horror.

This is true from my personal experiences in France. Many French were willing and voluntary collaborators with the Nazis, especially when it came to turning in Jews. "No official recognition of race" does not equal "no racism."

You can go to almost any patisserie in France and get a delicious, nubbly chocolate-topped dessert called "tĂȘte de negre." I have a hard time seeing any food item in the U.S. called n*****-head.

John(classic) said...

The French have (or at least had -- I lived in France as a child quite a few decades ago), a very class conscious society, with little class mobility. Class is a major determinant.

Here we have a much less class conscious society, but a much more racially conscious society.

A simple example, for instance, is the discrimination in admissions that universities practice on the basis of race rather than class--if one were Colin Powell's child, one would still qualify for preference, whereas if one were the child of a dirt poor unemployed white coal miner one would not.

In France, the class would matter more and the race less.

That may be the result of history to some dgree but it is certainly fostered by our institutional and legal practices -- we measure all sorts of things by race and not by class.

smilerz said...

How does measuring or not measuring ethnic (et al) statistics contribute (or discourage) rioting at all.

Trying to attribute every difference between the US and France as a root cause for the violence that is occuring is beyond silly.