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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Treatment of African-Americans and Africans in Paris (Part II)

In my last entry, I discussed how many African-Americans were able to find success and liberty in France as a result of a populace in France that did not seem to judge on the basis of the color of one's skin. The French welcomed many talented artists and performers to France that would have suffered prejudice in the United States, and many of the artists were allowed to blossom in a way that was impossible at the time in their homeland.

However, the Black African population might argue against the claim that they are treated the same as anybody else in Paris. While the African-Americans were revered for their artistic talents, the Black Africans are treated poorly. Though nobody should be treated differently because of their skin color, why are two minorities of the same color treated so differently?

First, many in France believe that "Blacks are a social problem, not racial" (French Blacks Skeptical of Race Neutrality, New York Times). It's hard to try and explain how in 2005 in a span of five months in Paris, 48 people were killed in fires, and that all of those who perished in these fires were black. My guess would be that these are in neighborhoods that have poorer housing conditions, perhaps faulty electricity, and are in crowded areas where it might be much harder for the fire department to respond in time. At the same time, why aren't issues like these addressed?

Officially the French government refuses to recognize minorities. The census does not ask for one's skin color, nor religious affiliation. The reasoning is that by not identifying one's background or beliefs, the French are upholding an egalitarian society. In concept, this isn't such a bad idea, but there is one major issue with this. The European Union allots money to each country in order to provide assistance for their minority groups. Unfortunately, as France does not recognize minority groups, they do not have any programs to assist those minority groups within the country. Alas, equality in principle is upheld, but there are those, mainly minorities in France, that need more help than the state is willing to provide.

In the United States, when submitting a resume or applying for a job, it is illegal to ask for a person's ethnic identity or religious background. In France, this is not asked outright, but in many cases, an interviewer will ask for a photograph of the potential employee. Many of the jobs I have searched in France ask to include a photo of yourself with the resume when sending in a job application, and these were not for modeling jobs, which might be the only acceptable time in which to send one in. If a recruiter has any sort of racial prejudice, it is easy for him to pick out those that he does not want as employees.

The education system does quite little to help those in the banlieues or African dominated areas of Paris. Schools are in poor shape in a lot of the minority populated areas, especially in the suburbs of Paris. New teachers are put into these schools to test the determination and patience of the new recruits, and many of them quit as a result. Even if a student in an area like this is to graduate from a lycée (high school), he or she probably has little chance of attending a good school or getting a good job, and as unemployment rate is significantly higher in these areas of Paris and its suburbs, there is a good chance that the young student may join those ranks. With a future so bleak, what is to stop him or her from selling drugs or becoming a prostitute on the streets, where they might actually be able to make enough money to fend for themselves? This might sound eerily familiar, as many inner-city kids in the U.S. face the same issues.

To return to my initial question, I intend to address my personal opinion of why blacks from the United States and blacks from Africa are perhaps treated so differently in France. As many African-Americans were perceived to be creative expressionists of some sort, they were seen to be contributing to the well being of French society. Furthermore, many were fighting in wars side by side with the French, coming from a country that has been seen equally, if not admirably, as a world power by the French. These two facts help contribute to the mindset that the African-Americans are helpful contributors to French society.

The Africans, however, are perhaps viewed in a different light as they are considered the root of many social problems in France, such as high unemployment, street violence, and crime. Many escaped to France as a result of political turmoil, in some cases, caused by the French themselves. Some of the suburbs of Paris are compared to war torn Eastern Europe, as muggings and harassment are frequent and burned out cars line the sides of the road. Most of these problems are blamed on immigration from Africa and several politicians have taken the stance to boot them out. The current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, once suggested that the French should only allow the intellectual Africans to enter the country. This further alienated Sarkozy from this population, as he was considered by many responsible for sparking the 2005 riots in suburban Paris by calling the rioters in the African neighborhoods "scum". There is little that Africans can do in regards to these views in government, as blacks are poorly represented in government, both at the local and national level.

With better representation in government and general understanding of the situation of Black Africans in France, there is a good chance that these issues could be alleviated. Progress has been made as frequent protests by organizations such as CGT (General Confederation of Labor) are receiving national attention, calling for assistance to those (mainly Africans) without working papers, among other issues. Though progress is moving along, there is still a lot of work to accomplish to give Africans in France the rights that they deserve.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at


  1. Is not this a common practice in all countries? Blacks are never treated the same. We have always been treated as not equal to all the other races.

  2. Netherlands is exception .They treat Blacks as equals .

  3. hi do you have any advise for west indies people in France?

  4. hello I am a black woman from the state. I am married to french white mail. we have two children and we are now in the process of moving to the Aquitaine region of france. Im usually very fearlees, but now i am wondering how me and my children will be treated... i always wanted to live in France even befor i met my husband 5 years ago.


  5. Thanks for writing this post. My son is an African-American young adult (21). I know that society will never love him as much as I do, but I want him to have a fair chance at life. He's been continuously talking about leaving the US and keeps mentioning France. And so we have been doing homework. I discovered the website and then your post. I'm really sorry to say that my only concern is that this article was not written by an African-American, not to say that your claims are not valid. I know for a fact that the historical facts are true from studying Josephine Baker interviews. It would have been nice if you had interviewed African Americans to hear things from their perspective. I also don't see pics of African Americans on the France websites. Again, thanks for this article and I will follow your post for more information. Thanks