Monday, March 9, 2009

"Measuring Diversity"

Yazid Sabeg, the new "diversity and equal opportunity commissar" (it sounds less sinister in French) is in favor of "measuring diversity" as long as it doesn't involve anyone's "origin" or "family name" but is rather based on "objective criteria" such as "membership in a community" or "the sentiment of belonging to a community" (le ressenti). Well, forgive me for being churlish here, since I approve of the collection of ethnic and racial statistics, which is where Sabeg is headed, but isn't this formulation patently contradictory? If anything is subjective rather than objective, it's "the sentiment of belonging to a community." And not to go all Sartrean or anything ("le Juif, c'est celui qui est juif pour l'Autre"), what counts here is how one is classified by others--prospective employers, teachers, bureaucrats, etc.--and not how one sees oneself. If my African patronymic prevents me from getting a job, it doesn't matter whether I think of myself as an apsotle of Negritude or un pur produit de l'école républicaine. That's why these data are needed: to determine where discrimination is closing off equal opportunity--which is after all the "commissar's" brief. So, by all means, let's gather the data, but let's be forthright about why we're doing it. And it's precisely to deal with what Sabeg says it isn't about at all, namely, the questions of "origin" and "family name."


Boz said...

At least it's a baby step in the right direction. The US census asked "What is the person's race?", so I guess we could just reformulate it: "What race does this person feel?"

Anonymous said...

No, no, no.
This is not a step in the right direction, it is a step towards the state intervention in matters of ethnicity. In a word, it is a step towards state racism. You may think of that sort of things as "benevolent" racism, but it is still racism. Helping someone because he is black is not different from hurting him on the same ground, because if you help someone on that ground, you mechanically hurt somebody else.
Race is simply none of the government's business. Is that so difficult to understand?
And by the way, "equal opportunity commissar" sounds just as sinister in French as in English.
Very sinister.

FrédéricLN said...

" it's precisely to deal with what Sabeg says it isn't about at all, namely, the questions of "origin" and "family name.""

Thank you !

Writing a recent draft for some non-official body, I expressed the wish that decision-makers just learn to SAY words like "Noirs, Arabes, musulmans". Well, in the final version, they wrote something like "accroître l'engagement pour la représentation des personnes issues de la diversité". That sounds as ugly in French as it would in English. Decision-makers ignore the Clue Train manifesto.

(By the way - as I'm politically committed as a Democrat, I will add that our leader François Bayrou never uses "diversité" and does use "Noirs, Arabes, musulmans". He is just presently not the decision-maker).

TexExile said...

The purity of Jean's Republican ideals in principle is matched only by their willful blindness in practice. I am not comfortable with labelling people or categorising them for official purposes either. However, if we have (as we do) good reason to believe that there are significant groups of people whose life chances, in terms of prosperity, health outcomes, life expectancy or whatever, are systematically worse than the average and that what marks these groups out is skin colour, religion or surname (or any other such marker), then, of course, it BECOMES the government's business. We should want to understand what is happening and why and what can be done about it.

That doesn't mean that the solutions will be obvious or that 'affirmative action à l'Americaine' is the desirable approach. But the issue must be explored. Otherwise, we are simply turning a blind eye to gross injustice in the name of ideological purity. As Orwell said in another context, only an intellectual could believe anything so stupid.

Jean is also grossly oversimplifying matters in claiming that to aid some is automatically to commit an injustic against others.

Anonymous said...

TexExile: In matters such as employment or social benefits, I don't see how the state can improve someone's situation without making someone else's situation worse. In any case, that is what will happen most of the time (for instance applied to recruitment in a university or a company). By definition, racial preference works both ways. You prefer someone to someone else. Remember the state does not create wealth, it can only move it from one place to another.

As for my "Republican ideals", I am not a chevenementist or villierist republican (not at all, actually). I just think French society is a complicated fabric. The heart of the matter is that immigration is transforming it in a chaotic way. The answer to a previously unseen level of immigration should be a strong assimilation policy. Immigrants should be made fully French, even if it has to take several generations. At the very least, immigration policies should point to such goals.
But these new "diversity" policies are doing just the opposite. They gave up on assimilation and aim to replace it with an evolution towards a new, "multicultural" society. Assimilation is regarded as out of reach, and multiculturalism is viewd as the next, more realistic, alternative.

But that is an illusion. Multiculturalism will not work and immigration without assimilation will only split the country into several parts stranger to one another. You don't need to be a "jacobin" - which I am not - to think this way.

Sabeg's proposals are only a first step towards the split of French society into more or less self-identified groups who will compete to get the biggest slice of the cake, and the more ruthless will win. That is what Sabeg's proposals are pointing to, and I suspect him to know it perfectly.

Anonymous said...

but, Jean, even if one agrees that assimilation of immigrants to 'full frenchness' is a desirable (or even meaningful) goal for the government to have, don't you think it is in the government's interest to know if people from one part of the world (say eastern europe) tend to be so assimilated much faster than people from another part of the world (say west africa)?

Jean Granville said...

Eric: what for? The important thing is that people have an interest in assimilating. Helping those who don't, for whatever reason, only reduces this interest. I don't care whether Asians assimilate better than Africans. I know they do, but assimilated Africans pose no problem while unassimilated Asians do, so the origin is simply not the point.
The problem is not where immigrants come from, it is where they are going, and nothing else.