Why France Can't Say the M-Word
The country's lack of statistics on minorities means there's no way to grade it on diversity.
(The Root) -- When new French President François Hollande's cabinet was unveiled on May 16, the headline in all the French media was gender parity: 17 of the 34 posts went to women, a first for a French government.
What the commentators or the news stories didn't mention was the ethnic composition of the cabinet -- three blacks and three Arabs. They also failed to point out that Christiane Toubira, the new minister of justice, is the first black person to hold that position, something American news organizations would have routinely covered.
The silence reflected France's ambiguity about race. The country keeps no official racial statistics, and even mentioning someone's race or ethnic origin is considered bad form. The reasons are deeply rooted in France's ideal of a "colorblind" republicanism -- and its shameful collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. But Americans suffering from racial fatigue should look carefully before embracing the French model.
Because there are no official numbers, no one knows for sure how many blacks or Arabs or other minorities there are among France's 65 million residents. (Estimates run from 10 to 15 percent.) There is no way to measure how opportunity is distributed or how minorities are faring in schools or private employment. There is no way to tell if blacks or Arabs or whites are treated differently by the judicial system or during the frequent police ID checks on the Paris Metro.
Americans are accustomed to seeing statistics by race on employment, income, education and poverty. National and state policies are often based on responses to these statistics. For example, the No Child Left Behind law was aimed at closing a documented achievement gap between white children and those who are black and brown. But France passed a law in 1978 barring the government from collecting all racial and ethnic data.