Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Valls' Brass Balls

OK, so Manuel Valls is running for president. On France2 last night he showed himself to have one of the requisite qualities: brass balls. David Pujadas asked him about the much-discussed clip in which he says that what Evry, the city of which he is mayor, needs is "quelques blancs, quelques whites, quelques blancos." Valls' response: "I take full responsibility for the remark because I'm a republican and I am against all forms of communautarisme. ... I'm against ghettos. What is a ghetto? It's when you put the poorest of the poor--often immigrants, but not only--in the same cities, the same neighborhoods, the same apartment buildings, the same schools."

Right. Except Valls failed to explain, and Pujadas failed to ask, what he meant by the comment that came before the quelques blancs remark. There he was, walking through the flea market, and what he said was, "Look at that. What an image that gives of Evry. Give me some whites ..." (italics mine).

Would whites shopping in a flea market really improve the image of Evry? Even upscale towns have their brocantes, their itinerant street markets, their open-air stalls. Shopping in them, you don't usually find the upper crust, though we tourists often find them charming. Republicanism isn't going to eliminate the need for places where the less affluent can buy things secondhand.

I like Valls. I don't think he's a racist. I don't think politicians should be vilified for every politically incorrect slip of the tongue. But his comment does trouble me. I can't quite be sure what lies behind it. And his slick reversal--the attempt to pass off a gaffe as the battle cry of a crusader for republican equality--rubs me the wrong way.

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