Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Yes We Can!" becomes "Oui, nous pouvons!"

Has Obama's victory underscored racism in France? Some are saying yes:

French elites brandish anti-racist manifesto
PARIS – Inspired by Barack Obama, the French first lady and other leading figures say it's high time for France to stamp out racism and shake up a white political and social elite that smacks of colonial times.

A manifesto published Sunday — subtitled "Oui, nous pouvons!", the French translation of Obama's campaign slogan "Yes, we can!" — urges affirmative action-like policies and other steps to turn French ideals of equality into reality for millions of blacks, Arabs and other alienated minorities.

"Our prejudices are insidious," Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a singer and wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy, said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, which published the manifesto. She said she hoped the "Obama effect" would reshape French society.

Nations across Europe rejoiced over Obama's victory, seeing it as a triumph for American democracy and a world weary of President George W. Bush. But Obama's election also illustrated an uncomfortable truth: how far European countries with big minority populations have to go getting nonwhites into positions of power.


The manifesto calls for affirmative action policies like those the United States used years ago to encourage greater minority representation in the workplace and in universities.

Sarkozy has suggested affirmative action for France, but later backed away from the idea since it goes against France's ideals of egalitarianism, which dictate that the country not classify its citizens according to race. This idea that everyone is just "French" means there are no census or other national figures calculating how big the country's minority groups are.

The manifesto urges term limits to make way for more minority candidates, and presses the government to improve schools in working-class neighborhoods. [...]

They have been talking the talk. Perhaps now they will have to walk the walk. Sarkozy's new wife, Italian singer-model Carla Bruni certainly seems to think so. She's quoted extensively throughout the article.

One large obstacle to affirmative action in socialist France has been the very powerful labor unions. They currently represent the white population. Will they change to allow more jobs to be created, or will they force older members to take early retirement? Or will they resist all change? It will be interesting to see what happens.

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