From late October to the middle of November France saw its worst civil violence in over thirty years. Not since 1968 when over 10 million workers went on strike and students set up barricades in numerous French cities has France experienced such civil disturbances.
The spark was the death of two teenagers in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The exact circumstances are unclear but it appears that the two teenagers where playing football, unaware that a break in was taking place near them. The police arrived and the teenagers ran thinking the police were coming for them. They tried to hide in an electrical sub-station and were electrocuted.
This set off rioting that then spread to over three hundred cities in France. The rioting was located in suburban housing projects called cités. In France, unlike the US, the poor are not isolated in the inner cities but to the suburbs or banlieues. This isolation is part of the problem.
In the 50’s and 60’s there was a large public housing boom. Large towers were built to house thousands of people mostly outside the city centers. At the time this was thought to be a good idea. People went willingly as many moved into what at the time was state of the art housing. Also many buildings were ethnically and economically mixed, with doctors living next to immigrant laborers.
Over time the doctors and other professionals moved away from the banlieues, leaving immigrants and other low-income people. Their isolation grew as the once state of the art buildings fell into disrepair. The early 80’s saw the first car burnings in France. The socialist government at the time reacted by pouring money into programs aimed at those living in the cités. The money was welcomed but it did not address one of the more important issues and the biggest hurdle – racism. France might be based on Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité but the reality is very different. The other night I watched a show that demonstrated how much race matters in France. A young woman of North African decent with a non-French name tried for months to get a job interview, to no avail. She then changed the name on her resume to a French name and bingo she started getting job interviews.
In France those living in the cités can obtain the education required for employment but aren’t interviewed or hired. There is large door called racism that only a few are able to open.
To be continued next month.
As mentioned in my September newsletter anyone looking for information about living in France should check out the ‘US Guys’ column in the French News - on line edition at French News. American expat Clair Whitmer, presently living in Brittany, writes the column. Her column is a bit difficult to find online. The easiest way is to use the search box near the top and type in ‘US Guys’.
Anyone visiting Lyon or the Beaujolais should consider visiting Chatillon d'Azergues. This quaint village located on the border of the Beaujolais and not far from Lyon, is worth seeing. See Chatillon d'Azergues for more information.