While many like to claim that racism does not exist in France and Western Europe, or at least that it does not exist to the same extent as in the US, I have experienced and seen quite the opposite. The French notion of race being a nonfactor to the state correlates to the societal impression held by the public that the French government institutionally cannot be racist. Transcending from this “impossibility” of the French government being racist, it is held that society overall is not racist, and most definitely not as racist as the American “Karen” videos that have gone viral internationally. The idea is that French identity sees no distinction in race and ethnicity, and church and state are always to be separate entities. Being and feeling French is what is important, the French identity does not see color, and establishing yourself as French and feeling French is what entitles you to the “privileges” and rights of Western Europe. What many advocates I have met in France that say this is lacking is that in essence they are agreeing to establish French identity and culture (or other Western European countries) as wholly superior. It is to be the only acceptable identity ultimately. Consequently, a sense of cultural superiority, even if just within the country’s territory, evidently calls for xenophobia and racism to be inherent. It is naive and boldly ignorant to say that simply being colorblind on an institutional level and within conversation means that the problem of racism does not exist.
Many like to say that French society – Western European society – is liberal, progressive and adaptive to inclusivity. What I have seen however is a great disdain for Islam, Arabs and a desire for black people to fit wholly into french identity, as well as a lack of understanding for the importance that identity is for many minorities. Coming from New York City, racism and xenophobia against Arabs is not as widespread as the racism and xenophobia against Latinos and Black people. It exists for sure, but due to the relatively small population of Arabs and muslims within the United States, American society has just not had the opportunity to be as institutionally and societally racist towards Arabs as they have against African Americans and Latin American immigrants. Because of this, I have rarely encountered racism for being Arab in NYC and Boston besides the microaggressive comments stemming purely (at least in my experience, which evidently would be different if I were from a less diverse community) from ignorance. Not so funnily though, even with a population of just one percent for muslims and 1 percent for Arabs, islamophobia still reaches the news and discrimination exists on a disproportionately large scale. In France, however, to my surprise I have been categorized as arab and muslim in ways I have never been before. I have had more racially motivated microaggressive comments made to me than ever before, and have been made aware multiple times of the injustices against Muslim and North African people on a housing level, employment level and police violence level in a way that I simply am not used to being categorized with.
I have been in more conversations pertaining to the “problem” of Islam and North African arab immigrants than I have ever before, and have had to bare through discussions placing my identity on a pedestal of radicalism and danger than I have ever had in America. The constant trash talking of the banlieus of Paris, mostly comprised of those hailing from Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) as being dangerous and ghetto is evidence for me as a clear inherent racism problem within French society that people downplay due to this widespread denial of discrimination based off of racial and ethnic identity. A white French man even recently told me, very evidently racially motivated, that Marseille (a city in the south of France that is heavily populated with North African Arabs) is barely even considered a “French” city by other French people because of how culturally diverse it has become. He went on to describe how disrespectful the people are, how the men prowl the streets, and how it looks like it might as well be Morocco, but still, somehow, racism does not exist.
Western Europeans will consistently rely on the same arguments when confronted with whether racism exists or not. They continuously argue on the terminology of what race is, what racism ought to be defined as, and will debate on the sociology of identity. Many will blame the rise of calling out racism as identity politics, funnily very similar to what Republicans will argue. And, many will point out the social safety nets inherent in Western European society and accessible to all as evidence of how these states cannot be racist. Most peculiarly, they will point out how rampant racism is in America to downplay the existence and role of racism in Europe. While in general, progressive societies, as I have experienced, do extremely well in having discussions and making effective and expansive social policy for social and human rights more so than the bipolar political system that is plaguing civil rights advancements in the US, I feel as if the racism and xenophobia that I have experienced here has been normalized and diluted to the Europeans living here. The microaggressions that I am running into here – which are not so micro especially to the migrants and immigrants that have to establish roots here – is evidence for me that the problem of racism does exist here, it is just not understood, collected or talked about. The european advocates that say Western Europe is not racist, or as racist as America, have a lack of understanding of how distinct the racism and xenophobia I have experienced here is to anything I have experienced in America and ultimately just show me that they are not listening to the pleas and demands of the arabs and africans that have been saying this long before me.
Ultimately, this comes as a huge warning call that being liberal and progressive comes with constant change, it comes with the constant attempt to embrace inclusivity, debate and culture clashes. Liberal social policy riddled with smiles hiding deep denials is an enemy to true progression which runs wild from the US’s left to Europe. If we wish to live in a world where states continue the legacy of ensuring equality, human rights and protection to all citizens, it must be noted that no state yet is as progressively advanced as they say they are until the most oppressed person can have their voices heard and mobilized. As America’s left aims to mirror Western Europe’s socialism and stream further and further into progressivity, I believe that unless the most disenfranchised groups are put onto the stage, no change will ever really be done.