France Fails to Face Up to Racism (opinion)
By The Editorial Board
28/12/2017- Rokhaya Diallo is a French journalist whose most noted work addresses a concept that doesn’t officially exist in France. Ms. Diallo’s documentary “From Paris to Ferguson: Guilty of Being Black” (“Not Yo Mama’s Movement” in the United States) examines the pervasiveness of ethnic profiling in abusive police identity checks. She has also addressed a recent death and a brutal beating of black youths by police officers that led to a Black Lives Matter movement in France. She has called all this evidence of institutional racism. That view has led the right wing, and some on the left, to successfully pressure the government of President Emmanuel Macron to oust her from a government advisory council, exposing a hypocrisy at the heart of French nationalism.
The term institutional racism, which in French is called state racism, is seen by many as an affront to the colorblind ideal of a universalist French republic. In France, it is illegal to classify people by their race or ethnicity. Incredibly, the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said last month that he would sue a teachers union for using the words “institutional racism” during education workshops in ethnically diverse Seine-St.-Denis northeast of Paris. A few weeks ago, Marie Ekeland, a venture capitalist recently named as the president of the French Digital Council, an independent board dealing with digital technologies and their impact on society, announced the diverse list of staff members she had put together, including Ms. Diallo, who is black. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and the secretary of state for digital, Mounir Mahjoubi, approved the list.
Then, just days later, the government shamefully caved to criticism and dismissed Ms. Diallo. Ms. Ekeland, and most of the board members she had appointed, resigned in protest. The French Human Rights League condemned Ms. Diallo’s removal, saying it stifled debate and raised questions about the independence of the council. Mr. Macron has tried to project the image of a forward-looking, inclusive leader. This is a blot on that image and highlights the pressing need in France for an open debate on racism.
Correction: December 29, 2017
An earlier version of this editorial referred incorrectly to plans by the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to file suit over the use of the term “institutional racism.” He said he would sue a teachers union, he did not say he would sue Ms. Diallo.
© The New York Times.