Deaths expose France's hidden racism

Thomas L Blair - Online columnist

Two Black teenagers dead on the streets. Paris suburbs put on fire with Molotov cocktails. Residents accuse the President's office in the Elysee Palace of political neglect.

Events in Villers-le-Bel, Paris, are a stark reminder of the urban riots of 2005 when President Nicholas Sarkozy was the nation's notorious hard-line minister of the interior.

Then, in a remarkable alliance, Black cultural elites, community leaders and youth declared that "French society  — la belle republique - must join in a new debate on what in means to be Black and French in the Land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, a new study, Pillars of Change, reveals. The study, which grew out of the Contemporary Black World seminar at UNESCO Paris 2006, under the patronage of Black Writers and Artists, points to crucial, continuing areas of popular urban social and racial discontent. "France is in a "moral crisis" said Black advocates.

Peter Lozes, head of CRAN, the Representative Council of Black Associations reported "that half the people of colour in France say they've suffered discrimination in every day life". Heavy-handed police actions and unfair stop-and-searches are often cause for complaints.

Horror at the boy's death allegedly local teenagers in a crash with a police patrol car, reflects the insecurity, isolation and frustration of youth in the banlieues, the poor neighbourhoods with minority populations that ring French cities. In Pillars of Change, Brima Conteh, Paris's best known human rights activists and director of the social action group Diaspora Afrique said "These troubles [in 2005] are nothing new. We have known how damaging life is for Black families".


The solutions, the study says, must include policies for a massive investment in affordable housing and first time "spring board" jobs for the young unemployed. Moreover, government must abandoned policies that on the one hand shelter the wealthy and on the other dismantle state welfare provisions aiding the poorest families.


The deaths at Villiers-le-Bel are a wake-up call. Unless proposals like these are put on the government agenda, President Sarkozy's tepid pleas for calm will not assuage the anger of second and third generation youth of the banlieues who are defiantly affirming "We are French citizens who will no longer put up with being deprived of our rights, our freedom to be free".


* Thomas L Blair's Pillars of Change: Racism, youth and France  — a Guide for Change is published by Edition Blair,  £5.50 plus p & p from, see

* See also 'France in Flames', The-Latest, World News section.