Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Les Violences, Partie I

A colleague of mine at work announced a week and a half ago that he was jetting off to Paris and wouldn't be back for two weeks. I hadn't really met him yet, so I walked down to his office to wish him well and chat a bit about France. His going to France made me somewhat nervous, because he happens to be blind. France is not the most handicapped-friendly place; here, we are lucky to have the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy life as much as the rest of us. This hasn't exactly caught on over there. Sure, France is home to Louis Braille, who is responsibile for perhaps the greatest stride in communication for blind people, but that doesn't come in too handy when you're trying to cross the street and six thousand mopeds are barreling down the road toward you.

So, I was nervous for my co-worker.

Then, the riots broke out.

I am terrified for him now, especially because I know he was planning to venture immediately outside the city and explore a bit. I don't think he was planning to explore the HLMs, but still...he doesn't speak any French. He can't see anything, and when I heard about a disabled woman being burned to death while on public transportation, I was horrified. I hope he comes home safely.

It is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this. I can understand it from both angles, though it is hardly justifiable from either. You would think that the French state would have taken a lesson from the US, in what we as a nation experienced in the 60s with the Civil Rights Movement. It is true that there is a great deal of prejudice amongst Frenchmen of European descent against Frenchmen of African or Arab descent. These people are just as "French" and should have equal rights. It is such an ordeal for them to get their identification papers, that is no wonder that people have the time to go marauding through the streets and inciting violence.

Jacques Chirac should have recognized that the Paris banlieues were a powderkeg--anyone who has studied French postcolonial culture could have pointed that out. The discontent and hopelessness of life in the slummy suburbs has been dramatized in countless novels, films and plays. The plight of the post-colonial citizen is one of emptiness and despir, of rejection and life as a second-class citizen.

Give these people a chance at a real life, and the violence will stop.

I have more thoughts on this topic, but I will post them a bit later.


Lauren said...

what we've been told over in europe about the woman on crutches is that the youths asked everyone to get off the bus. The handicapped woman wasn't able to get out in time and that is how she suffered burns. Who knows what the real story is.

Sangroncito said...

I usually jump to the defense of France, but in this case France deserves some condemnation. I am old enough to remember when the French used to smugly look down on the U.S. for its race relations, riots, discrimination, etc...Now France is getting a taste of it and they have done a terrible job. I'm afraid the French idea that "Everyone is French" just isn't working.

Melanie said...

I would hardly contend that the French think "everyone is French". On the contrary--they think that only those of European descent are French. This is what drives the whole discrimination against people who are natives of France's former colonies-they should rightfully have the same opportunities that Europeans do, but they are denied citizenship and the rights carried with it, though they have been brought up French in every other aspect.

Sangroncito said...

True, Melanie.
That is the sad reality.
France invited them to France to clean their toilets, make their beds and serve their food, but they don't want to give them the same rights.
Just like some people in the U.S....and other countries where immigrants are doing the dirty work...That has to change.

Neil said...

This situation saddens me, too. But it won't be an easy matter to resolve. As you mentioned, many French have a very particular view of what is "French." It is also what probably attracted most of us in the rest of the world to French things in the beginning. It is the French identity, and everything that goes with it. Although the U.S. has it's own problems, it's been a long time since we thought of Americans as being of one particular group. The French need to accept themselves as an immigrant country or continue to have problems.