I grew up in a small town in southern France, while attending a private school, so I can tell you with certainty that racial diversity is not the first word that comes up when describing it. It was a small catholic school, so of course the Arab and Muslim communities were not present. The result was that I never had this notion of ethnic diversity and all that comes with it; I was surrounded by people who like me, have never had to question who they are based on their race, ethnicity or even religion. So when I was confronted with the subject of my own racial identity last week, I realized that it was the first time that I had been forced to truly consider it.
Indeed, as much in France as in the United States, the issue of racial and ethnic identity has been brought to the center of current debate. However, this debate unfolds in very different ways. This difference, stems from the place in which racial identity takes in society. The fact that the very word race has a different connotation in these two countries shows just how differently the debates can be interpreted. The United States uses the word race in its National Census for instance, and every day people are not afraid to talk about it. Contrarily, in France, children are taught that there is only one race: human beings. To speak about race as one would in America, is completely taboo, as it has connotations connected to the anti-semitism of the 1930s. This distinction in vocabulary tells us a lot about the place race has in the two societies. Being a country of immigrants, the United States has always categorized its citizens, distinguished them as Asian Americans, African American, Hispanic Americans among others. However, in France, you would never call someone African French or Arabic French. They are French or they are not, that’s the only matter considered by law. Never in France would a certain group be distinguished from the rest of the population, as the African-American community in the United States, in order to be acknowledge as part of French society all that matters is that you consider yourself French.
The future leaders studying here should draw some lessons from these two examples. In France, we are witnessing segregation and discrimination towards the Muslim community. The fact that they are often victims of stereotypes and segregation of Muslim neighborhoods within French cities shows that we are going in the wrong direction. Future French leaders, let’s not make the mistake to ostracize a fraction of our fellow citizens because the very minority have taken to violence; violence and terrorism do not adhere to any race or ethnicity. To the future American leaders, even though ethnic and racial differences should never be forgotten, as it is part of your cultural heritage, don’t forget that at the end of the day all are Americans, sharing the country and its values. Indeed, we have to stop marking distinctions where there are none.
The issues of discrimination are always rooted in the fear of the other, whether in the United States or in France. The first step is to acknowledge the importance of tolerance. We are on such a diverse campus with so many different ethnicities, cultures, religions. Get out there and discover them; this is a wonderful opportunity, and only be seizing it will we ever learn to promote tolerance and acceptable amongst our communities.
Santiago Robledo, born in Colombia (the country – not the dual degree) and raised in sunny southern France, is now in rainy northern France as a first year student. He enjoys writing and all sorts of outdoor activities, despite social media and French pastries also taking a lot of his time. Thinking Out Loud runs one Thursday every month.
Image:https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/07/02/535048161/how-party-and-place-shape-americans-views-on-discrimination Gary Waters/Ikon Images/Getty Images