DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
If race is as much of a competition as its name implies, then it follows that the outcome will result in a hierarchy of winners and losers.  Gold, silver, bronze; first, second, third…and sometimes dead last.  If race is a construct constructed like the world of track and field, then different countries have their own meets and varied rules.    So then what is the race like in France?

While kicking it with my boy Babacar, the son of Senegalese immigrants, we compared notes on our respective countries.  Unlike many other French who cite differences in cultures as cause for conflict, he outright said there's plenty of racism to go around.  Finally some honesty.  But are black, brown, and yellow subjected to the same prejudice?  Of course not.  Babacar broke it down for me.

Arabs are treated the worst and are then followed by Black Africans and Caribbeans.  He pointed me to a recent study showing that Paris police stop young Arab men 7.5 times more than whites.  And by stop I mean pulled aside, ID cards checked, and their bodies searched, all without a warrant and based purely on suspicion.  No 4th Ammendment Rights here.  Now I know where Arizona got its inspiration.  

Tecktonik style
Blacks too were targeted by the police and stopped 6 times more than whites.  

Attire contributed to the profiling as 47% of those stopped wore "youth clothing," styles associated with hip hop, goth, and tecktonic.  Such a finding only confirms that racial profiling is persistent since hip hop and tecktonic are associated with the youth cultures of the black-brown banlieues.  Perhaps goth is as well?

Babacar, who rocks a warm smile and equally warm baggy sweats, has himself been searched by the police once or twice coming home from late night parties.  "Night police are terrible!"  They're the most aggressive, the most rude, the most unrelenting.  They're just out to get you.

He suggested that the perception of Islam may contribute to the relative status of Arab people in France.  It's a nasty mix of improbable assimilation, racial difference (though this multi-culti American doesn't notice too much difference), and heavy immigration that stirs the distaste of the white mainstream.

HLM in the 19th Arrondissement
What about France's abundant population of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees, Chinese immigrants, and Tamil-speaking Indians?  Like in the US, they lie somewhere between black and white.  Stereotypes of obedience and hard work have found root on both sides of the Atlantic.  However, Babacar notes that some of the community does live in cites (HLMs), French housing projects, where the hood impact is noticeable.  

"France is just like the US, except instead of Latinos, we have Arabs."  But I raised Babacar's eyebrows when I told him that Latinos enjoy slightly better treatment, that Blacks are still criminalized much more.  "Really?"  Yes, really.  

A history of slavery is our stain that may never go away.  But at the very least, we talk about it, albeit only sometimes.  Race matters.



    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  


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