Thursday, March 26, 2009

Racial Statistics

I see from the blog logs that a previous brief note on racial statistics has drawn attention from several readers at the Assemblée Nationale. My note merely referred to a lucid and excellent article by Etienne Wasmer. Perhaps the AN readers were more interested in the comment to my note by Jean Granville. I originally felt that M. Granville's comment was best left to speak for itself, without any gloss from me, but since it seems to be attracting readers in high places, perhaps a few remarks are warranted. M. Granville begins by saying:

This is outrageous, pure and simple.

First, Mr Wasner, we French are not the ones who have to "accept the other". It is "the other" who has to make the French accept him first. He is the one who decided to come, nobody forced him. So please, let's put our priorities in order.

Then, Mr Wasner has already decided that the problem to be solved is discrimination.

No. The main problem is an excessive immigration. Immigration is fine just as long as you can assimilate immigrants. When there are too many of them, that becomes impossible and problems occur. It happens to be the case that most recent immigrants are either arab or black, and therefore, if immgigrants don't integrate well, the ethnic statistics will tell us that Blacks and Arabs seem to be pushed aside. And no doubt, racism will be invoked as the primary factor here. Indeed, invoking any other factor will be deemed racist.

I see nothing in Wasmer's remarks to warrant this rejection, not to say "outrage." Wasmer does not speak of "acceptance" but simply of employment. But suppose we consider the issue of "accepting the other," which for M. Granville is paramount. Granville argues that "it is 'the other' who has to make the French accept him first." But what does that entail? Wasmer notes that the unemployment rate for youths with at least one Maghrébin parent is 1.5 times higher than for youths with two "French" parents, even when the level of educational attainment is the same. He doesn't say that "racism" is the only possible cause of this. Indeed, as an economist, he may well be thinking of the standard economic argument that a foreign name or "underprivileged" place of residence is taken by employers as a "signaling" device connoting other characteristics pertinent to the employment decision.

Whatever the cause, the social problem remains. But my question for M. Granville is, "How exactly has 'the other' failed in his duty to 'make the French accept him first?'" He has obtained the same diploma as the French job applicant; he has signaled his readiness to work more in order to earn more by applying for employment. And yet he is turned away at a higher rate than his competitor. Is M. Granville arguing that his preparation for employment is somehow deficient? Perhaps he has attended an inferior school. If so, that is a social problem, a challenge for the government, that more precise social statistics might help to solve. How can one answer the question of whether a high concentration of children of immigrants in a particular school district is a challenge to educators unless one knows where immigrant children are concentrated? Under current law, such judgments must be made by indirect inference. Wouldn't it be better to measure directly?

M. Granville also makes the following point:

And by the way, Jews probably have a better memory of what ethnic statistics can be used for. I don't think it a coincidence that Simone Veil opposed the modification of the constitution's preamble, and she is right, of course.

Having argued that it is best for purposes of lawmaking not to distinguish subgroups of the national population, M. Granville nevertheless finds it useful to distinguish the Jewish subgroup as one possessing a special memory in regard to the collection of "ethnic statistics." Indeed, the fichage of members of this or that category for purposes of exclusion, expropriation, expulsion, and extermination is what no one wishes to see repeated.

But why is this example the one for which opponents of improved statistical data reach immediately whenever the issue is debated? The data to be collected are to be kept anonymous. To ensure that this will be the case, surveys must be carefully vetted and approved. Personal identifying information will be removed from all records. There is simply nothing in common between the kinds of data to be collected by social scientists and the fiches used by Vichy's police. Since I am as Jewish as Mme Veil, I can say with utter confidence that not all Jews share the sentiments that M. Granville imputes to her and, by extension, "them." To say more about "the Jewish position" on the question, I would need to gather statistics using some reputable and recognized social scientific method. To rely on purely anecdotal evidence, as M. Granville does, is to open the door to the imputation of whatever "ideas" the commentator wishes to whatever group he or she chooses to characterize. This practice is precisely what the collection and analysis of data is meant to counter.

Finally, as to M. Granville's point that "excessive immigration" is the problem rather than discrimination, I can agree that it is difficult for any society to assimilate immigrants when the arrival rate exceeds a certain level. But what we don't know in the French case, precisely because we lack adequate statistics, is the degree to which high observed unemployment rates are distributed among different groups issus de l'immigration: Is high unemployment primarily a phenomenon of the first generation? To what extent do the second and third and fourth generations also exhibit differential unemployment and education rates when compared with les Français de souche? How do neighborhood patterns vary with assimilation? None of these questions can be answered by inference from data on last names and parental origin alone. That is why better data are needed. Because one cannot say what rate of immigration is "excessive" until one knows how well previous generations of immigrants have been integrated into the society, and in France, despite the excellent work of authors like Justin Vaïsse and Jonathan Laurence, we still do not have all the information we need.

UPDATE: roundup here.


Anonymous said...

I support ethnic statistics. On one condition : that all relevant surveys are actually done, not only those which might support the immigrationists' agenda.

For instance, I would be quite eager to see statistics about tenants who stop paying their rent, ruin their lodgings or create disturbances with their neighbours, broken up into ethnic categories.

They might well show that not only ethnic discrimination in housing exists, it is also justified.

kirkmc said...

Granville's comments are incredibly racist, but are exactly typical of what I've seen in the 25 years I've been living in France. The only difference is that, being American, I more often than not get the, "But I don't mean _you_..." comment.

The French, alas, seem to have a strong element of racism in their culture. I think it's in part because they think of themselves as a kind of "chosen" people. (Was it Mort Rosenblum who wrote a book about the French entitled "Mission to Civilize"?) That only the French know how to live correctly, that only the French can be intelligent and "spirituel" (in the old sense of the term).

I think immigration is such a problem in France in a large part because it has been handled with contempt for the immigrants, even when the French asked them to come. This state-sanctioned racism has turned a minor issue of migration into a major problem. In addition, you have all of France's colonial baggage: since many of the migrants are from France's former colonies, they face a kind of double problem: on the one hand, they have a French cultural heritage (albeit indirectly, these days), but they are also different. And most of these "others" aren't white, which makes it even more difficult.

Over 25 years, I've borne the brunt of blatant racism - even as a white American - and I've met some of the finest people I've known. But I'm still amazed that, at times, they can all slip into this "us vs the other" idea.


Unknown said...

Just to be clear, I don't label Granville a "racist" and think that such labeling is not helpful in advancing the debate. I strongly disagree with much of what he says, but I am not prepared to attribute his position to base motives, and I know that doing so will only cause him to reject my position without considering it. So I want to disassociate myself from the charge against both Granville and the French in general, which Kirk derives from his own experience and for which I must leave him the responsibility.

Eric Brandom said...

Alice Conklin wrote a book with such a title, about the French Republican empire in Africa.


kirkmc said...

There are in fact two books with that title. (I just looked it up.) The Rosenblum book is out of print; maybe I should dig it out and re-read it; he's a pretty smart guy who was (or is?) a writer for the IHT in Paris.

Anonymous said...

to disassociate myself from the charge against both Granville and the French in general

Certainly, certainly, and many thanks.

But, on the other hand, what other motive do you give your readership for the french resistance against racial statistics?

Unknown said...

Among other things, I think there is a strong belief in France that a culturally homogeneous society is better than a multicultural society, that a certain "republican" notion of equality is preferable to the American system (which I think is often caricatured in France), and that, once statistics are collected, political pressure builds for solutions that many in France (and the US for that matter) do not like, such as quotas for certain privileges such as admission to elite institutions and positions of power. I don't think it's unreasonable to worry about many of these issues, but I do think the worries can be exaggerated to the point where they become obstacles to perceiving certain glaring problems. But I do not take myself as having the last or only enlightened word on this subject, and I do not argue that the US or any other country has successfully solved a problem that France refuses to face. These are difficult issues. To deny that racism is the motive of all opposition to certain kinds of change is not to deny that racism exists, but to invoke racism at every turn is to foreclose debate in a particularly unhelpful way.

Philippe said...

To be provocative here, one problem is that Frenchness is defined by the French élites in cultural, not legal terms. Pour faire vite, if you've read La princesse de Clèves you are French enough. Even among the French themselves, there are gradations of Frenchness, with the highbrow élites, graduates of the segregated grandes écoles, the privileged who congregate on state media talk shows to endlessly perorate on la grandeur de la France or la France pays des droits de l'homme or other silliness looking down on le beauf who can't write a structured dissertation and who dares watch CSI on TV. The system worked fairly well as long as l'école républicaine was able to produce culturally homogeneous French citizens. But the schools, under the repeated assaults of égalitarisme, gauchisme and mass immigration are failing. Immigrants are admonished to assimilate but aren't given the tools to do so. They don't stand a chance.

Consider this: Pragmatic measures that would help integration are furiously opposed but at the same time the French state spends over a billion euros a year on la politique culturelle de la France, funding a massive network of institutes around the world that indulges the fantasies of French grandeur of the élites (and provides them with landing points as they jet, Air France First Class, au frais du contribuable, from capital to capital). These desirability of these expenditures is never debated.

Certainly there must be a link between this attitude and the fact that millions are relegated to the outskirts, geographically and metaphorically.

Anonymous said...

Isn’t rather rich for Kirkmc to decry the “incredible racism” of M. Granville only to then froth at the mouth about “the French” and “their culture.” France, by the way, is hardly the first (or second, or third) state that comes to mind when I think of the words “chosen people.” In fact, it’s quite ironic that Kirkmc makes these kinds of allegations when he himself approaches the subject with an “us vs. them” mentality (a sign of his inability to come to terms with the American past and his need for a European “other” unto which he can project his own flaws).

It’s also unclear to me that the notions of “civilizing mission” and “chosen people” go together. The first concept implies assimilation – the second exclusion. Those of you who have actually read Alice Conklin’s work – especially her piece in AHR – know that the French imperialism was remarkable (in contrast to its American and British counterparts) for its genuine commitment to the civilizing mission. Whereas in some quarters the mission served merely as justification for imperialism in the French case, at least, the desire to civilize was itself the end. Kirkmc would have us believe there’s something fundamentally sinister about trying to spread Enlightenment values. To that I say: Bollocks!

Dr. Goldhammer asks: “How can one answer the question of whether a high concentration of children of immigrants in a particular school district is a challenge to educators unless one knows where immigrant children are concentrated?” Broken schools need to be fixed regardless of whether or not they are full of “children of immigrants.” If we agree that the problem is social in nature it makes no sense to offer a racialist solution. Instead we need to help the poor – regardless of their identity. If the problem is not social then a racial solution will only increase the number of obstacles for those trying to integrate into French society.

Dr. Goldhammer worries about the caricaturing of the “American system” almost immediately after claiming that there’s “a strong belief in France that a culturally homogeneous society is better than a multicultural society.” Now who exactly is doing the caricaturing? The republican system is perfectly compatible with a rich multicultural society. It is not compatible with tribalism. Shall we empower individuals or groups? Shall we empower choice or tradition? To empower the individual, identity must be exiled to the private sphere.

Finally, I am dismayed at how quickly this blog falls into the worst kind of tawdry Francophobia (makes all those criticisms of the NYT and Roger Cohen seem a tad disingenuous).

Unknown said...

You exaggerate, but the caricature is recognizable. When it comes to the mythified images that define national identity, however, I often prefer to look to popular rather than high culture. Not La Princesse de Clèves, for instance, but Le Silence de l'épervier, a made-for-TV miniseries starring Line Renaud, which I happened to catch last night on TV5. What is the defining figure of France: a woman who owns both a newspaper AND a vineyard, both of which are under siege by a variety of nasty characters, ranging from Americans eager to adulterate the claret to double-dealing politicians, a gambling addict, and a coked-up adolescent. But Renaud is la force tranquille, ably steering both héritages, grapes and la parole républicaine, around the beckoning vortices of diabolical modernity. Of course she has nothing but sympathy for the illegal immigrants she shelters on her estate out of purest generosity. Let it never be said that la France éternelle is unhospitable to the downtrodden. Surely it isn't les beaufs who lap up this pablum. This is meant for les Français de souche who want to think of themselves as generosity incarnate, enlightened, paragons of good taste (shudder to think what would happen if les Amerloques take over the vineyard, why they might even adopt some of the adulterating methods pioneered by the French!), and above all continuators of the great tradition of Clemenceau the crusading newspaper editor and la veuve Clicquot, the feisty fabricante of bubbly. A pity that such unsullied virtue is so envied by the forces of evil that it seems forever to coexist in symbiosis with them.

kirkmc said...

Anonymous: in 25 years of living in France, speaking the language fluently, having a French wife and French friends and being, I would say, well integrated, the French still consider me as an "other". I don't have that attitude, and it's not a projection. From the guy who picked me up hitchking once who told me, "Je n'aime pas les américains", to the attitude of civil servants in big cities when renewing my carte de sejour, to the attitude of some people I come in contact with, I'm inferior. Again, it's not a projection; it's simply the way the French are. Of course, I'm white; it could be worse...

Eric Brandom said...

I know I'm coming back to this late, but Anonymous says, "It’s also unclear to me that the notions of “civilizing mission” and “chosen people” go together. The first concept implies assimilation – the second exclusion. Those of you who have actually read Alice Conklin’s work – especially her piece in AHR – know that the French imperialism was remarkable (in contrast to its American and British counterparts) for its genuine commitment to the civilizing mission. Whereas in some quarters the mission served merely as justification for imperialism in the French case, at least, the desire to civilize was itself the end."

This is not a good description of Conklin's work. I quote from the beginning of the 1998 essay in AHR: "My larger concern in taking up these issues is not to provide a latter-day apology for empire, nor is it to argue for some sort of greater French imperial generosity compared to other nations." 423

and from near the end,

"The republican dimensions of French discourse and policy in West Africa between 1895 and 1914 suggest that it is not sufficient to examine the construction of difference alone when analyzing the cultural and ideological forms of Western domination in the era of the new imperialism. While unquestionably essentialist in many of the most elementary assumptions about West Africans, Dakar’s policies in realms as separate as education and forced labor confirm that the language of France mission civilisatrice between 1895 and 1914 was never only racializing in content. Until the war attenuated French confidence and triggered the first African demands for full political rights, difference was embedded in an Enlightenment narrative of universal progress that made it difficult for many republicans to see how inconsistent the very notion of a civilizing mission was with the government’s commitment to freedom and the rights of the individual.” 441

and again,

“The challenge...will be not to underscore how far liberals fell from their own ideals—that is the easy part—but to understand better the conditions in which their blind spots arose and functioned in the first place, in order that, perhaps then, the ideal of universal human rights might finally be met.” 442

it seems to me that Conklin's work is excellent not least because it refuses the easy dichotomy between exclusion and assimilation that has been just been invoked. Similarly, Conklin (and a whole body of imperial history) refuses to reduce the question of imperialism to 'pure motives' or 'base interest.' Just as these terms are inadequate to a discussion of past imperialism, they are inadequate to a discussion of race today.

Anonymous said...

Eric’s critique of my remarks is so banal and wrongheaded that it scarcely deserves reply. Yes, Eric, history is the result of a complex mix of agency and structure, interest and ideation. Nonetheless, the AHR piece has a clear thesis: “Republican themes old and new thus suffused the discourse of French administrators in West Africa and affected their decisions vis-à-vis the colonized. This finding is important, because it suggests that the notion of a specifically French civilization nevertheless open to all was not mere phraseology fabricated for domestic consumption in an era of mass democracy. The rhetoric of generosity and universal solidarity was a central part of how the Third Republic conceived of itself as an imperialist nation at home and in the colonies.” (432-433).

Eric doesn’t like this thesis so he never actually cites to Conklin’s argument – just to her occasional qualifications (great display of ethics, btw). Like all academic historians, Conklin habitually qualifies her argument lest the article incur the wrath of some rival or shatter somebody’s fragile ego. Nevertheless she is clearly arguing against two prominent interpretations: one where “there was no need to scrutinize either what was actually said to justify empire or what was actually done in the name of civilization, since the answers were in both cases – or so it was supposed – entirely self-evident: the single-minded exploitation of the colonized, hypocritically disguised as a process of civilizing” (421) and another – the Orientalism thesis – that “does not go far enough” because “as France’s republican civilizing mission in West Africa makes clear, liberalism, whether at home or in its colonies, did not just produce difference. It also had a universalizing and democratic component as well, which caused many Westerners to see their ideas of freedom as basic human rights, to which all humankind is entitled.” (422) These are concrete arguments that Eric would like you all to ignore.

More importantly, though, is Conklin’s serious treatment of the liberalism in French Republicanism. Recall that she was writing at a time when others, like Tony Judt, were regularly putting out anti-Republican screeds. For Conklin to implicitly counter this historiography – and in the colonial context no less – was incredibly brave. We should all be grateful for her effort to treat Republicanism seriously. Eric’s narrow reading of her article diminishes it.

The Republicans genuinely believed in their civilizing mission (and to a degree not evinced among their liberal counterparts in the British and American empires). This is not an apology for empire or an argument that French imperialism was unique (I can think of a few other empires that were more idealistic than those of Britain and the US). It’s just something Anglo-Americans should keep in mind before they launch into an attack on French republicanism. My argument stands.

Unknown said...

I cannot quite fathom the depth of your anger, and I find Eric's remarks perfectly pertinent and not at all banal. You assert that your "argument stands," but I'm not even sure what your argument is. I have no quarrel with Conklin, whose qualifications of her thesis seem to me more than window-dressing or professional politesse; they serve to define the limits of her claims. Your blustering impolitesse is not an aid to understanding or dialogue. As a defender of the "rhetoric" of the civilizing mission, you demonstrate with your intemperate diatribe the gap that can exist between rhetoric and practice.

Anonymous said...

Get off your high horse, Goldhammer! As I mentioned near the end of my first comment you’re in no position to speak about politesse when it comes to this subject. Your latest missive underscores my point. So let’s get this straight - I’m just going along with the established norms. Tu quoque and all that.

Nor am I trying to civilize anybody – quite the opposite. If there’s an underlying discourse about civilization in the debate on Republicanism it’s that of the superior Anglo-Americans civilizing the backward proto-totalitarian French. Kirkmc was the one who brought up the “civilizing mission” in his projection-laced post. All I did was to look into his claim that republicanism was inherently exclusivist.

My argument was that the civilizing mission was integrationist (on this see the first quote from Conklin in my second post). In fact, it’s precisely when the French DEPART from republican ideology that exclusivist practices start to crop up in French administration. Kirkmc’s argument is that no such departure is required – Republicanism itself is exclusivist. Do you NOW understand my argument? Do you see why Eric’s critique was banal? He saw that Kirkmc had lost the debate and shifted to a discussion of French imperial practice, which no doubt deviated – however slightly - from Republican ideology. So Eric was correct (it’s hard not to be correct when you state the obvious) – but bringing in a unrelated subject in a bid to derail my argument and distort Conklin’s position on republicanism was intellectually dishonest (and there can be no dialogue with intellectual dishonesty). It was Eric, not I, who misrepresented Conklin’s work.