Anti-African-Immigrant Sentiment Rampant in France

Your Take: There are calls for a new civil rights movement there, reminiscent of protests held 30 years ago.

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What is more, the memory of their democratic impulse was not bequeathed to their children, who have been facing an ever-worsening situation in the three decades since the march. According to recent data, if immigrants are twice as likely to be unemployed as native French, children of immigrants born in France are even more exposed to unemployment than their parents. Out of delusion for Republican ideals, some have found solace in radical Islam.

Thirty years after the Marche des Beurs, France’s picture is grim. There is another Socialist president in office, François Hollande, and his austerity policy has been fueling a dramatic increase in unemployment and, although other elements factor in, an unprecedented level of popular support for the Front National and its ideas. According to recent polls, 70 percent of the population thinks that “there are too many immigrants in France”; as the welfare-state safety net shrinks, its benefits should only be provided to those “entitled” to it, they say.

France used to have “problems” with immigration; now it has a “cultural crisis” with its inherent diversity. The stigmatizing rhetoric of the FN, at an all-time high, has permeated the entire political spectrum, and in the footsteps of former law-and-order President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current minister of the interior, Manuel Valls, demonizes the Roma (migrants from Romania) and fills his speech with nativist tropes and references to “those who do not want to assimilate.” Last month Christiane Taubira, the minister of justice, who happens to be a black woman, was the victim of gross racist depictions, an embarrassment for the entire nation.

More than ever, France needs a civil rights movement, rooted in the 1983 march. It is urgent—because of the fierce urgency of now.

Sylvie Laurent is a French cultural historian and assistant professor of American studies at Sciences-Po in Paris. She is also a fellow at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. She specializes in African-American history and culture, race and class issues and representations of poverty.

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