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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2008, 11:02 am

Barack Obama, s’il vous plait

By Jeremy Gantz
Obama's candidacy may mean as much to France's black population as to America's, according to this thoughtful and surprising NY Times article, which taught me this:

...it’s against the rules for the government to conduct [French government] surveys according to race. Consequently, nobody even knows for certain how many black citizens there are. Estimates vary between 3 million and 5 million out of a population of more than 61 million.

But, a few days after dozens of teenagers battled police in a minority suburb, and three years after weeks of riots in Parisian suburbs and beyond, the French reality doesn't seem as colorblind as its ideal:

Since it abolished slavery 160 years ago, the country has officially declared itself to be colorblind — but seeing Mr. Obama, a new generation of French blacks is arguing that it’s high time here for precisely the sort of frank discussions that in America have preceded the nomination of a major black candidate.

I don't think this campaign season's discussion of race has been particularly "frank," but if these stats are accurate, France needs that kind of discussion as much as we do:

...one black member representing continental France in the National Assembly among 555 members; no continental French senators out of some 300; only a handful of mayors out of some 36,000, and none from the poor Paris suburbs.

To this may be added Cran’s [a black organization devised not long ago partly to gather statistics the government won’t ] findings that the percentage of blacks in France who hold university degrees is 55, compared with 37 percent for the general population. But the number of blacks who get stuck in the working class is 45 percent, compared with 34 percent for the national average.

Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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