France, which boasts about being a color-blind nation, isn’t truly what it asserts. For a non-white citizen living in France, being subjected to bias and ethnic profiling at the hands of some insensitive police officers is a real possibility.
Structural and institutional racism is evident in France, where children as young as 10 years old have to routinely endure police stops, even without being suspicious of any illegal activity. These unlawful stops often involve humiliating body pat-downs and searches of personal belongings are usually left unrecorded by any agency.
A speaker at the French media coverage of the Middle East at the Alliance Française in Beverly Hills, Slimane Zeghidour, in an interview with the ‘French Morning’ agency said that, “there is a very strong prejudice of class that is translated to a stigmatization of people”, adding that these targeted people are mainly immigrants from Maghreb or Africa.
The brutal killing of George Floyd in the US kicked off huge protests against the institutionalized racism in France as well. Hundreds of people protested at the Presidential Palace in Paris while 2500 people attended a rally in Lille, 1800 in Marseille, and 1200 in Lyon displaying placards similar to those in the US – ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’.
Alongwith protesting the death of George Floyd, people in France also drew the attention to the murder of a 24-year old black man Adama Traoré in police custody in July 2016 in their own country. The police officers involved in this incident were exonerated which triggered mass protests at that time in France.
Such blatant racism and ethnic prejudice is the result of a sense of supremacy ingrained in the collective psyche of white citizens who constitute the overwhelming majority in France. Instead of acknowledging their racial bias, a large section of whites have started blaming the minorities as the cause of their economic and cultural problems.
When a black national icon of France, Lilian Thuram, the most capped player in the history of the French national team, spoke about the racism incident in a football match in Italy, it caused a massive storm in France.
Thuram said, it is not the world of football that is racist, but "Italian, French, European and, more generally, white culture" is racist. He further stated that "Whites have decided they are superior to blacks and that they can do anything with them," and “It is something that has been going on for centuries unfortunately and to change a culture is not easy."
Thurham was highly criticized and branded ‘anti-white racists’ by the far-right extremists and their sympathetic journalists. This criticism later expanded in the mainstream media as well.
Not only the far-right extremists, even the government flatly denies the existence of extreme violence and institutional discrimination in France.
“I don’t believe we can say that France is a racist country,” says Sibeth Ndiaye, a French Government spokesperson to the journalists after a cabinet meeting, when people took to streets in June 2020, all the while justifying that France cannot be compared with the USA.
Well, with fueling protests and awareness, things are slowly changing and the taboo around race and white supremacy is losing its grip. People have gradually started to acknowledge their identity as ‘white’ or ‘black’ and the mainstream media is now talking about race.
As Mr. Fassin, a sociology professor at the University of Paris says, “My hope is we'll realize that talking about race isn't against democracy but rather about democracy”, he reflects optimism for a better tomorrow.