Blacks in France

Subject: [GlobalAfricanPresence] France's blacks, long uncounted, want to flex political muscle with poll before elections

France's blacks, long uncounted, want to flex political muscle with poll before elections
by Jamey Keaten, AP
February 2, 2007

PARIS - Blacks in France are standing up to be counted, aspiring to become a political factor in presidential and legislative elections later this year.

A small but groundbreaking new poll suggests that blacks face widespread discrimination in France, raising questions about a country long proud of its official colorblindness _ and where collecting racial data is banned.

"If you're not counted, you don't count," said Patrick Lozes, head of the Representative Council of Black Associations, which commissioned the poll that was conducted by telephone. The council has thousands of members, he said.

Officially, France doesn't know how many blacks it has because of its Republican tradition that doesn't distinguish by race or religion. Collecting ethnic data is generally banned _ one reason why a poll like Wednesday's had not been done before.

Among more than 15,000 people contacted by the Sofres polling agency to establish a pool, 581 said they felt they had black roots _ and that subgroup was questioned in the poll. No margin of error was provided.

Fifty-six percent said they felt some form of discrimination in their daily lives, and 12 percent said they did so "often." Of those who said they discrimination, 62 percent said the incidents were most often in public or on public transportation, and 42 percent at work.

Sixty-one percent said they had experienced discrimination in the last year.

Based on the poll data, Lozes estimated there are 1.8 million voting-age blacks in France _ out of a total population of some 60 million _ and about four-fifths of them are French citizens.

France, like many other European countries, has been struggling with how to integrate its ethnic minorities. Nationwide riots in fall 2005 raged through housing projects in France's poor neighborhoods with large minority populations. They were often fueled by broad feelings of discrimination, unemployment and a sense of alienation from society.

"The sectarianism that I denounce is that of the current minority in power _ that's to say white men, aged over 50, who are bourgeois and heterosexual, " Lozes said. "They're the minority, but a majority in the National Assembly."

Lozes says political contenders in the presidential elections in April and May, and legislative elections in June, should take note of the black vote.

Presidential front-runners Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal have vowed to fight discrimination. Royal, the Socialist nominee, says that integrating minorities is needed for the "survival" of France. Rightist candidate Sarkozy has called for a French form of U.S.-style affirmative action.

Blacks are not alone in feelings of discrimination. Many French youths of North African descent regularly complain that they face difficulty finding work or housing, even getting into nightclubs.

Experts estimate that about 5 million Muslims live in France _ most from former French colonies in North Africa _ but there are no official figures.

Under France's law on individual liberties, classifying people by race, religion or some other types of personal criteria is banned, a measure meant to ensure equality among all.

Sofres pollster Brice Teinturier said the new survey was legal because it was not a census and only general information and opinion were collected.

Bernard Stasi, who helped create the state anti-discrimination agency known as HALDE in 2005, said he feared such surveys could drive a wedge between communities.

"To fight discrimination, we should use the tools at our disposal," he was quoted as saying Wednesday in the newspaper Le Parisien. "France has enough means _ legal and otherwise _ for this fight."

HALDE reported in October that it had received 1,600 complaints since its creation _ 650 of them related to job discrimination. AP