Week 5 – Paris

It’s week five of the Churchill Fellowship and I’ve just spent the last few days speaking with antiracism organisations in Paris!

The first thing I learned was that in France, racism is complex and there are a multitude of issues. There is overt institutional and interpersonal racism toward Roma people. I’m getting the impression Roma people are subjected to racism whichever country they live in.

Muslims are also frequent targets of all types of racism; the burqua was banned a few years ago and girls are not allowed to wear a Hijab in school. Anti-Semitic sentiment is now on the rise.

Institutional and interpersonal racism toward people with African heritage is still common, even though decolonization and the Algerian War of Independence (a war between France and Algeria leading to its independence from French colonisation) concluded in the 1960s.

Far-right politicians have tried to capitalize on the public mood, and unfortunately they are succeeding. In the recent European Union election, France’s far right party Front National attracted 25% of the national vote (you can read more about this via New Statesman). Even some politicians who claim to be more progressive have recently been found guilty of saying racist comments, and there is a general lack of denial of racism by parliamentarians.

Despite these issues, the antiracism community across France remains active and passionate. There are four major organisations working on antiracism; the two solely dedicated to antiracism are Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisemitisme (LICRA) and SOS Racisme. More recently, new initiatives have emerged such as Les Invisibles which is attracting a new generation of activists.

LICRA was launched in the 1920s and so it has several generations of supporters. It offers legal assistance, raises public awareness of the issues, enables people to report racism via a mobile phone app, and produces a regular magazine.

Hundreds of people volunteer for LICRA around France, and these activists decide what is best in their area whether it is giving speeches in schools about racism and decolonisation, hosting theatre performances, or involving the community in sports like soccer and rugby. The LICRA officers support these volunteers and enable them to do this important work.

In contrast, Les Indivisibles is a much younger and smaller organisation but no less effective. They run an annual awards ceremony with a twist: it is a comedy event where awards are presented to the most racist comments said during the year! People can nominate and vote on candidates. Les Indivisibles also provides antiracism training.

I also had the opportunity to meet with Café Babel which does not aim to prevent racism per se, however it is an intercultural project so its work relates closely to antiracism work.

The organisation runs an online multilingual pan-European current affairs magazine written by volunteer correspondents around Europe. Café Babel employees edit the stories for publication, as well as train new volunteers how to write in a pan-European context. This is a successful cross-cultural youth project that has won awards for its work.

It has been really inspiring speaking to the people who work in these successful initiatives … but onwards! Next stop: Antwerp and Brussels.

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