Judging by the title of this post, you probably already know that it won’t be a super-fun, light discussion on France, let alone on race and racism while abroad. So if you don’t want to read any of it, I kindly ask you to click away; I promise a lighter post tomorrow.
In any case, shall we begin?
Look, I love France. I adore the culture, love the gastronomy, enjoy learning the language, and so forth. People here are super nice and welcoming, especially to foreigners like me. They are polite and are willing to go out of their way to do things if I ever need help with something. Really, it’s great.
BUT, what is not-so-great is the fact that, yes, France is pretty homogeneous country. In other words, it constitutes a majority of French people who are, well, French (aka white European, not of immigrant origins). While being “the same” in terms of origins, language, and physical appearances is good for a national identity (not to forget national pride), it is not as ideal in terms of accepting diversity into the country.
True, there are people who have immigrated to France, in search of a better life and whatnot. There is a substantial percentage of those who come from North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia), West Africa (Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire), and Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia). The country accepts a few hundred-thousand immigrants each year, and while many have assimilated into French society, even having children who are French citizens, the issue of race continues to be a problem.
How is race a problem in France? I took a class on race and France back in college, and here’s what I learned:
Compared with the United States, with its issue of racism towards African-Americans and Hispanics, the French Republic has problems with those from North and West Africa. Many of them have been banished to the banlieues (suburbs) of big cities like Paris and Marseille, living in not-so-good conditions and basically with low-income.
It is funny, because although the racism in France is socially obvious, it never gets discussed in politics. The subject gets swept under the rug, and politicians find ways to avoid discussing it. I don’t believe that that is good, for the issue of race also affects socio-economic status, in terms of who is allowed to get ahead in life, and who does not. The French are very strange, not to forget circumventing the problem that is currently hurting others.
Why am I talking about this, considering that I love France? Well, for personal reasons: although I have received some racist/micro-aggressive remarks while growing up in the United States, I have also recently received some of the same remarks while living in France. I knew fully well that people were going to stare at me when I was in their country, but still, some of their reaction just completely surprised me.
For example: Over the past weekend, my colleague had invited me to her house for lunch. I went, and met her husband and two kids, ages six and nine. The six-year-old daughter was showing my colleague what she had learned in school that week about China/Asian people, demonstrating the “slant-y eyes” to her. That utterly shocked me, as I hadn’t seen that gesture since elementary school. I told my colleague that that was quite a racist thing to do, and she agreed, but said that children still learn that in French school. She, along with her daughter, apologized, but I was lenient, considering that her daughter’s only six and probably doesn’t know any better. This goes to show that France is still quite ignorant to being sensitive on the subject of race.
Another story: On my first day of teaching, I was walking over to the high school and passed by a group of the high schoolers just hanging out outside the building. I didn’t get a good vibe from them (can you say “punks?”), and as I was passing by, I heard one of them mutter under his breath, “Chingook,” which is an incredibly racist word to say to a Chinese person. Again, I was utterly blown by the fact that he had the audacity to say such a thing, especially if I was to be his instructor- potentially. I pretended that I didn’t hear it, and continued walking towards the school to begin my day. But that one little incidence soured my whole mood for the day, and I was incredibly upset afterwards. I still am. 😦
I know that high-schoolers are still immature and all, but those reasons are not excusable for their actions. I let them off that day, but if I were to come across something similar like that again, I swear that I will tell them off for their behavior. Seriously, I don’t have time for their shit.
Look, it is bad enough to face racism in the United States for being not white. But it kind of sucks when one faces the same treatment abroad, especially in a country that one is so passionate about. I am not saying that I, as an Asian-American, face this problem every single day, but it also doesn’t help that I keep getting stares on the street for my physical appearances, even if not malicious. It is definitely a culture shock to go from living in such a diverse city in the U.S. to a small town in the middle of nowhere in France. With that, I have to consider that race will be a huge deal for me in the next few months. These incidences, as well as the history of French immigration, go to show that the nation isn’t perfect, even though I enjoy its culture and everything.
The issue of race and society continues to be a complicated problem, in both the United States and France. I can hope that I won’t face any more racial remarks while abroad (I doubt it), or at least figure out how to tell people off for doing so. Walking away and pretending not to have heard it is a noble thing to do, but it really sucks for your ego. Then again, for every racist bastard out there, there are others who are accepting of different races and are even curious to learn more about them (that might also be a problem, too, but that’s for a different post). The students that I have had so far have been good about it, and so that makes all the difference.
In any case, I would be interested in hearing about your thoughts on race and whatnot. Doesn’t have to be in France; it could be in any country in which you live. Thanks for sticking with me through this post, and I wish you a good day.
P.S. For more thoughts on racism, check out my post here.
— The Finicky Cynic
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