France's Forgotten People

France's Forgotten People by Epee Herve

Two years after France was set aflame by racial tensions the country has done little to address the issues of its Black community. Now France’s upcoming presidential elections, on April 22 and May 6, has various candidates competing for the Black vote while the government still struggles to acknowledge the millions of Blacks that call the country home.

A lot of promises are being made to the Black French community (many of whom are originally from Africa and the French West Indies) during France’s upcoming presidential election. For years their needs have been the same—education, employment and affordable housing closer to the city. Yet presidential candidates are divided in their approach on how to accommodate those needs or if to address the Black community at all.

Unlike Anglo-Saxon countries like the United States and England, France is unaware of exactly how many Black people live here although some estimate it to be between 5-6 million. The political community remains at odds over this lack of accountability. As long as France’s ethnic statistics are unknown, the French government can not properly devise a plan to incorporate its Black residents into society.

“We want the authorities to understand the fact that to be black in France is a social handicap and act consequently,” said Council Representative of Black Associations president Patrick Lozès in an interview with the daily newspaper Le Monde. “We want minorities represented through political authorities, legal and economic. We want Blacks seats at the government, the Parliament and the boards of directors of the companies. We want the creation of society by contractors resulting from the minorities is favoured.”

Enter France’s front running Presidential candidates: Nicolas Sarkozy of the right Union for a Popular Movement party, Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party and the center and UDF party’s François Bayrou. What is the impact of these candidates on the Black community? Each candidate is addressing the Black community in a different way.

Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, believes that France needs to choose his immigration plan, which allows only African intellectuals to enter the country. This plan has his opposition claiming he wants to loot Africa. This month, Sarkozy will be leaving his post as the Government’s Interior Minister, or “first cop of France” as many call him. As Interior Minister, he is not the most popular man among the Blacks and Arabs especially in the suburbs. Young suburban people think that he was the reason why the 2005 riots erupted due to his tough stance and use of words like “thugs” to describe those who lived in the minority populated suburbs. He said many times that affirmative action could be an answer against inequality in France. According to him, ethnic statistics are useful and necessary.

The Socialist candidate is different. She is from Africa, born in Dakar, Senegal and has the support of French Guyanese Deputy Christiane Taubira, for whom France’s law recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity is named (The Taubira Law). However she does not see a need for ethnic statistics.

Francois Bayrou, the centrist, thinks the main answer against immigration is to develop Africa. A lot of politicians think it will help decrease inequality between first and third world countries preventing the arrival of refugees from Africa. However this theory suggests that large numbers of Africans are arriving in France each year, but the truth is that most of France’s Black population was born in the country and the government has done little to acknowledge that they indeed are French.

Dreams of a Colorless Country

Half of the Black people in France claim they are victims of discrimination, a sentiment reiterated with the youth riots in November 2005. In late 2005, as the country began to open a dialogue about it’s racial tensions, the Black community gathered around already existing associations like the Council Representative of Black Associations (CRAN) for direction.

“Years ago, France had a dream,” said CRAN president Patrick Lozès in an interview with the daily newspaper Le Monde, “A country where all the citizens would be free and equal, without reference of belief, color of skin, sex or roots. We ask that this dream, which is also that of the Blacks of France, become finally a reality.” Lozès, who is the author of Nous Les Noirs de France [The Blacks from France], wants to bring this dream to fruition yet faces an uphill battle as many within the French government and intellectual scene are unwelcoming and outright ignorant in their views of Blacks.

The Anti-African Movement

In November 2005, as cars burned in France during the riots, Helene Carrère D' Encausse, historian of the French Academy, estimated that the causes were in polygamy. “Much of these Africans are polygamous. In an apartment there are three or four women and 25 children. They are crammed so much that it there aren’t any more apartments.

That is why the children run in the streets,” she said to the Russian channel NTV. The president of Languedoc Roussillon, in south of France, George Frêche (ex-Socialist Party) has a speech about the French soccer team. “There are nine blacks out of eleven. Soon there will be eleven of them. When I see certain teams that makes me sad.”

In an interview published last December in the newspaper Var Matin, Pascal Sevran, TV host for the French channel France 2, was asked about an excerpt of his last book, Le Privilège des Jonquilles, published in January 2006, which reads, “The c**k of the blacks is responsible for the famine in Africa.” Sevran justified such remarks adding: “And then? It is the truth! Africa bursts of all the children who are born to with it without their parents having the means of nourishing them. I am not the only one to say it. It would be necessary to sterilize half of the planet!” France 2 didn’t fire or penalize Sevran for his comment however African countries like Niger decided to sue him.

Black France’s Call to Action

The reality of France’s cold shoulder approach to its Black and Arab population has lead to many young people from the suburbs to turn to activism and exert their civil rights. Associations like Au Delà Des Mots [Beyond the Words] or Devoir De Mémoire [To Have Memory] have encouraged teenagers to fill out voter registration cards for the 2007 presidential election.

According to the CSA polling institute, if the first round elections were to take place today the results would be Nicolas Sarkozy (28%), Ségolène Royal (27 %) and François Bayrou (20%). In the second round, Nicolas Sarkozy would win with 53% against Segolène Royal with 47 %. Each poll has Sarkozy pulling out as the future president of France and based on his views on the Black French and African immigrants it appears as though France’s Black residents will continue to be forgotten a while longer.

Epee Herve is a freelance journalist from Paris, France. The former editor at Radikal (a French Hip Hop publication) ,Epee writes about Hip Hop and social issues for various publications such as Star Club, Musique Info Hebdo, Royalties Magazine and Juice Magazine. His work has also appeared stateside in Mugshot Magazine, The Source and The Ave Magazine. He is a radio co-host of a Hip Hop Show “Dirty South Sh*t” on Currently Epee is working on a book about the Hip Hop DJs.