French Say ‘Yes, We Can!’ Too, to Ending Racism

Angela Charlton, AP, November 9, 2008

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.

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Grass-roots groups in France and Britain are trying to turn Obama’s election into electoral gains for minorities at home. Sunday’s manifesto suggests France’s elites are taking notice, too.

“The election of Barack Obama highlights via a cruel contrast the shortcomings of the French Republic, and the distance that separates us from a country whose citizens knew how to go beyond the racial question and elect a man who happens to be black as president,” the appeal said.

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The manifesto was written by Yazid Sabeg, a French self-made millionaire whose parents were Algerian immigrants, and signed by politicians from the left and right and other public figures.

Obama is extremely popular in France, yet blacks and other minorities are nearly invisible in national or local politics here. The lower house of parliament has 555 members from the French mainland; just one is black.

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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.

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