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  • Author or Editor: Marie des Neiges Léonard x
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The Case of Colorblindness

This book offers a unique perspective on contemporary France by focusing on racial diversity, race and racism as central features of French society and identity.

The author critically reviews the contentious public policies and significant issues, including the 2005 French riots and the policies regarding the Islamic veil, revealing how color-blind racism plays a role in the persistence of racial inequality for French racial minorities.

Drawing from American sociological frameworks, this outstanding study presents a new way of thinking in the study of racial identity politics in today’s France.

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Chapter 5 relates and describes the 2005 riots that took place in the French banlieues (suburbs), as well as their aftermath. It also presents the different approaches that have previously been used to examine the riots and offers an alternative analysis by applying Bonilla-Silva’s concept of colorblind racism and Feagin’s notion of the White racial frame to the French context. The chapter additionally discusses the ideas behind the French model of integration, showing its inadequacies in recognizing the issues of discrimination and systemic racism that French minorities face on a daily basis.

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Chapter 3 explores the contemporary demography of France, underlining the issues that French scholars face when trying to provide an accurate account of the diversity of the French population in the absence of racial statistics. The chapter also examines the antidiscrimination and diversity structures and legal system currently in place in France, as well as the existing patterns of racial discrimination and racism in different sectors and institutions of French society, namely employment, education, housing, health, and the police. In particular, the chapter exposes the problematic effects of colorblindness and the French government’s reforms and policies that use a culturalized narrative (or ethnicity) as a proxy for race, which still has consequences in the 21st century, notably with regard to discrimination patterns against racial minorities.

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Chapter 2 provides some foundational definitions of race and racism according to current sociological approaches. It also offers some important points of reference in terms of the history and significance of the word race in the French context, as well as the use of race and racism as part of the French colonial project. The chapter also introduces the theories that serve as frameworks to examine colorblind racism patterns in France, notably the works of Joe Feagin, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, and Jennifer C. Mueller. Finally, this chapter exposes the debates that have taken place among French scholars and political actors over the lack of racial statistics in the census.

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Chapter 4 critically analyzes the existing census and data collection methods in France, highlighting the contradictions and paradoxes related to a colorblind system that denies the presence of racial categories on the one hand while using proxies to account for the diversity of its residents’ identities on the other. The chapter also offers an alternative to previous explanations of France’s refusal to include race and ethnicity in its census. Finally, the chapter offers sociological research on comparative case studies in Europe, examining the way other countries classify, adopt, deny, or negotiate racial categories.

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Chapter 6 focuses on the presence of Islam in France, the second largest religion in the country after Catholicism. First it presents the demographics of the Muslim population in France, noting that due to data collection limitations, numbers may misrepresent a more diverse reality. The chapter also offers an analysis of the ongoing issue of the Islamic veil in terms of the racial framing of Islam through the narratives of laïcité, universalist feminism, and the republican idea of free speech, focusing on the negative consequences against Muslim women in France. Finally, the chapter reviews the legal systems in place in other European countries compared with the French regulations.

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Chapter 7 provides concluding remarks and summarizes the main findings of this book with regard to the idea of contemporary France as a model of presumed colorblindness and the denial of race and racial categories in French society. In particular, the chapter concludes by arguing that the form of colorblind racism examined in the French case can be viewed as enlightened racism, an ideology that relies on fantasized ideals of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, such as universalism and laïcité, used as an explanation to justify racist institutional practices and policies. Finally, the chapter proposes recommendations for public policy and possible new approaches in how to create a more race-conscious society, going beyond the French exception.

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Chapter 1 introduces the main topic and purpose of the book, namely to challenge the notion that the French republican model is colorblind, as it seeks to present itself, and that it cannot therefore be racist because of its commitment to a colorblind legal equality. The chapter presents the specific goals of the book regarding the absence and rejection of racial categories in the French census and other institutions, and the denial attached to this absence. The chapter also briefly introduces the premise of the contentious debates in France over the notion of race and the taboo surrounding it. Chapter 1 concludes by presenting the book’s structure and outline.

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