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.

01/02/2012 11:42am

These are interesting insights. I have never been to France but to see the similariites and contrasts are interesting. I have a few questions for you. (I am teaching a grad Urban Youth Culture class in Phila. and will be blogging about it starting in Jan. I would love your input from an American living in Paris.)

Is there a particular group that drives urban youth culture in France? Is it based on ethnicity, culture, class, etc?

How do young Arabs/Africans express their anger through music? How is it similar to American urban culture? How is it different?

Thanks for your input.

Ron Tinsley

01/02/2012 12:48pm

Thanks for your comment Ron. Certainly urban culture in Paris and its suburbs are driven by second generation immigrant youth who are mostly Arab, African, and to a lesser degree Southeast Asian. Unlike African Americans who are very much connected to the fabric of the US given their history, these marginalized youth in Paris are not embraced as French. They are often treated as second class citizens, have much higher and debilitating rates of unemployment, and live in segregated pockets of Paris. Hip hop is a natural fit for them. But they're cultural expression takes on differences in its connection to ethnic heritage, ancestry that isn't an ocean away, and the prevalence of Islamic culture and beliefs. I could go on and on about this, so feel free to send me an email and we can discuss there.

Btw, great blog! Keep it up! (I also did my undergrad in Philly so I have deep connection there)

01/04/2013 10:17am

Article exceptionnel, un grand merci à vous :D


A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.

05/13/2014 7:06am

nice blog

06/03/2014 9:19pm


07/22/2014 8:53pm

....except for the fact that africans in france were never enslaved. Also, your use of the term "criminalized" is highly laughable. Look at the different rates of violence committed, most of which is caught on video due and indisputably proven due to modern-day technology. A white person is 90% more likely to get attacked by a black person than the reverse. Due some research and come out from under that rock you've apparently been sleeping under.


Leave a Reply.



    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.  


    December 2010
    November 2010
    October 2010
    September 2010

    RSS Feed


    Black Youth
    Electro Dance
    Ethnic Identity
    French Hip Hop
    Les Frigos
    Mc Solaar
    News Coverage
    Notorious Ibe
    Saint Denis
    Speedy Graphito
    Street Art
    Street Dance
    Supreme Ntm
    Techno Parade
    Who Iz Who
    Zulu Nation