Coming into Paris, I had aspirations of understanding the French perspective concerning politics, identity and the function of society as a whole. I did not expect to have such an internal turmoil of the contrasts between the American and French perspectives on race and identity politics to such a degree within my first week. Simultaneously, I am aware of how much more complex the contrasts and my opinions will get as I actually begin to enroll in French politics classes.
In the multiple conversations I have had with the friends I have made, I have been made aware of the insistence of French politics to regard identity politics as a destructive aspect to French identity that contrasts America’s mainstream obsession with identity as a result of our deep-rooted value of individualism. The French perspective recognizes the multicultural aspect of French society as a part of its postcolonial context, but insists that a french identity be dominant and prioritized to protect a sense of community, socialism and anti-discrimination. Statistics of race, religion and other minority identities are not federally collected so as to not allow the state to discriminate. It is written in the constitution that there must not be a separation of religion and government and in all public spaces. Racial identity is made to be relevant to being or “feeling” French. The theory is that creating and governmentally distinguishing between identities distracts from the overall French objective and value of equality and liberty. Consequently, the immediate impact is that institutionally, the French government does not have the right, nor the statistical information to systematically discriminate against racial, ethnic, or religious minorities. This contrasts greatly to the American system that collects data on identities to place groups of people into classes which are thus then able to be discriminated against on an institutional level. It also contrasts with the liberal viewpoint in America that uses identity politics to attempt to protect discriminated groups in its recognition of their existence.
While the French government is made to be so that they cannot realistically institute policies that target minorities, this is evidently not felt on a personal level. It is the same principle made to protect minorities in France with the values of community, socialism and equality that have also allowed for the hijab ban and policies including, what I believe to be, targeted language. While this governmental decision to eliminate identity on the federal level so as to protect and prevent marginalization is theoretically supposed to seep down into the psychology of its constituents to be anti-discriminatory, islamophobia, xenophobia and racism still exists. Ultimately what is seen is a misunderstanding of the prioritization of certain identities in a world where multiple identities will always coincide within the individual. Again, this is my own American perspective and internalization of the importance of individuality that lets me criticize the French perspective but consequently allows the American government to continue systematically oppressing racial, ethnic, sexual and religious minorities like myself. Thus, my immediate criticisms may simultaneously be my own misunderstanding of what identity has to mean.
What I seek to understand is what conglomeration of American liberal identity politics and French community and socialistic values present in their constitution will create a society where both on the institutional and psychological level, racism cannot exist. The answer must be present in the historical and current perspective of the individual constituent as they must be changed to internalize the notions of identity to not intertwine with superiority or a lack of a base human community which effectively should trump all.