Publié le par jean-paul Revauger

Discrimination as a public policy concern in Britain and France

Jean-Paul Révauger



Ostensibly, the concept of discrimination fits in perfectly with the national cultures of Britain in France, or at least with some of the capital tenets of both societies. The egalitarian concern which presupposes the equal rights of citizens, but  is based on the philosophical notion of the equal value and worth of human beings, is naturally incompatible with the practice of discrimination. Indeed, the conception of citizenship which  evolved during the French Revolution was based on the notion of  nation, i.e. a political community in which no legal barriers could exist between citizens. Social, cultural or religious identity could not constitute a valid reason for treating individuals differently.[1]

 In the more market-led societies, discrimination is likewise incompatible with the operation of real free market. Inherited differences, status, or any feature irrelevant to a market transaction can only a be a hindrance to real competition. The rational pursuit of self interest, operated within a fair, non-discriminatory framework, can only lead, if one is to follow Adam Smith’s logic, to the social optimum. Philosophy and economic logic, ethics and dollars,  seem in perfect agreement.

However, a student of “discrimination” as a category for public policy can only be struck by the considerable amount of confusion surrounding the concept.

The term itself is interpreted differently: discrimination is always negative in French, most of the time  in English, but not all the time.” To discriminate” does not necessarily mean acting unfairly, and denying a person equal treatment. It can refer to a positive quality, that of the “discriminating” person, who exerts good judgment. This simple difference explains partly why the term “positive discrimination”, provocative enough in English, is clearly absurd in French, except in the sense in which Fascists claimed that “obedience was freedom”. Many terms such as racism, institutional racism, “disadvantage” are used systematically without any clear definition.[2] All terms related to what the English call “race” and the French don’t call at all are highly problematic, not because of sloppy thinking, but because the issues are complex, and our vision has changed enormously over the last 100 years: even the socialist movement, which was supposed to be at the forefront of egalitarianism, was far from coherent in this respect[3]. The Second World War and the Holocaust have acted as a watershed , and remain the common matrix of contemporary debates and concepts on these issues, although this is probably only true of the developed world, and of the international institutions it dominates.

No less surprising than the confusion is the difference in the prominence of the issue, and the pace at which countries started using the term and developing specific policies. The UK adopted its first Race Relations Act in I965 whereas France was happy with banning discriminatory propaganda and deeds in principle immediately after the war, but only started devising policies and setting up institutions after I995.

Finally, in both countries, discrimination is a controversial category within public policy. There is no agreement about what we are talking about, about the remedies, and the methods used in order to understand the problem, let alone solve it. We are still at a very experimental stage.

This paper will only examine discrimination in relation to ethnicity. The broadening of the concept to other areas has taken place to a certain extent in France, especially in relation to gender. In the other fields, age, disability, sexual orientation etc, the voluntary sector, experts, and occasionally official literature will use the concept but this is still fairly rare.





Discrimination: a legal or a sociological definition?


Discrimination can be understood in two ways: either it is an objective crime, a deed which can be identified, assessed, and punished , or a more general, cultural process,  a series of attitudes  leading to a situation of unjustified , systematic inequality between the constituent members of different groups. We should draw no hierarchy between the two meanings, which both refer to very serious problems, but maybe we need different words to identify them, if only because they cannot be dealt with in the same way.  The current confusion is not helpful at all. To make matters worse, this does not mean that the two problems bear no relationship to each other.

The legal definition is very useful, in the sense that it can draw our attention to measurable misdemeanours, to the objective assessment of breaches of the law. It is also based on individual cases: wronged citizens will demand and obtain  redress, not in the name of their membership of a particular subgroup, but as French, British or European citizens, “libres et égaux en droit” , or as bona fide  residents in one of our countries. This universalist right is immensely valuable, and is no different from any other human rights. It can be spelled out in constitutions and legal systems, incorporated  and used immediately.

The  sociological, cultural definition is none the less valid. The idea that the real, deep cause of discrimination is to be found within the discriminators’ culture (in the English , anthropological sense of the word), or lack of culture (in the French sense of the word) ,or even within the culture of the dominated group, which anticipates discrimination and acts accordingly, taking pride in confirming stereotypes and turning them into valuable patterns, icons and discourses, also bears some relationship with reality[4]. Practitioners who have been grappling with this linguistic dilemma have come up with  new phrases and words, which do not sound quite right. In both countries, phrases have been invented such as ”indirect discrimination” or “institutional racism” or “the chill factor[5]”, or “les discriminations chroniques[6]”, which basically refer to the same reality: there is such a thing as a complex process whereby dominated groups find themselves systematically at a disadvantage, without undergoing any deliberate   victimization . This is due to habit, culture, Marxists would say ideology, i.e. something upon which  the law has no bearing, unless one is prepared to accept the idea that the Government should bring about a New Man and decide which ideology is correct. The term “institutional racism” which led to a lot of debates among the Race Relations Industry, in the aftermath  of   the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and of the Mac Pherson report, cannot be translated at “racisme institutionnel” into French, which would mean that institutions, the structures, i.e. the State, as such are racist. It is in fact the case that the same  guillotine can chop off the heads of aristocrats or of anarchists, according to political circumstances. A more satisfactory alternative would be “racisme traditionnel” , or even “culture raciste”. This definition of discrimination bears upon groups, and not individuals, who are at a disadvantage because of a number of features they share with other people. It is collective, and not individual.

What makes the matter more complex is that the neat distinction between the legal and the “sociological” definitions of discrimination cannot be absolute. If it is the case that habit, intimidation, or accepted underachievement lead to systematic disadvantage, then legal action might be necessary at some point to counter this and some kind of legal definition will have to be found for this. However, combating the “indirect discrimination” experienced by members of specific groups, raises issues which are different from those involved in obtaining redress for individuals.[7] In other words, one can ask the question: is the struggle against discrimination under the responsibility of social workers, or the courts ?



A public policy is born.


In both countries, discrimination came to the forefront as the result of complex, not necessarily logical processes. It is difficult to see in this phenomenon the “forward march of democracy”, or  the gradual broadening of citizenship, dear to the heart of R.H Marshall, or the final enlightening of backward countries, exposed to the glorious dawn of North European liberal cultures. The analysis of policy transfers  cannot be construed in naive positivistic terms.

In Britain, the adoption of the first Race Relations Act and the establishment of the Race Relations Board in I965 took place in a context where the Labour government felt public opinion was dangerously sliding towards hostility vis a vis immigrants.[8][9] There was a need first to reassure public opinion and keep the problem within manageable limits by cutting immigration. This was and still is considered as unacceptable by a section of liberal public opinion in the UK, but no political party has advocated the end of immigration controls. The anti discrimination side of government policy cannot solely be interpreted as a compensation strategy, due to placate the “ethical left”. There was a need for a new approach, which came to be gradually integrated within British culture. This was symbolized by the Jenkins statement, signalling the shedding of assimilationism, and the adoption of a more multicultural approach (although the term was used at a later stage), presented as “integration”. Concern for the successful integration of immigrants - a term which would soon be abandoned - went along with a degree of respect for their own cultures. The old idealism which kept Labour moving in the past, the concern for class, social equality and the dignity of the working class seemed to some extent out of place in the strategy of Harold Wilson. The socialist strategies based on clause 4, the nationalisation of the “commanding heights”  had come to be seen as irrelevant . Labour sorely needed new ideas , and, to some extent, found them in the USA, where ethnic relations were obviously construed on entirely different  lines, and where the objective realities were very different. Such strategies consisted to a large extent in using the under privileged groups as a bona fide category and treating their problems collectively. The objective differences between the US and Europe do not make the American contribution to European debates invalid , but  might explain to some extent the difficulty we have had adjusting American imports to the local conditions , and fine tuning the engines to make them compatible with the local weather. The worst kind of attitude is to turn a blind eye towards this, and imagine that imports do not need adjusting. Palm trees just cannot survive in Finland. It would therefore be wrong to attribute the changes, and the new concern for discrimination, as a purely opportunistic, short term, unprincipled  strategy. What happened in the I960s was a serious ideological overhaul.

The following years only seemed to confirm the need for specific institutions and legislation designed to tackle discrimination. On the political level, the Powell affair might have been overblown, but, after all, this was only a couple of decades after the allied troops had opened the gates of the nazi extermination camps and discovered what was inside. Even though the Holocaust was common knowledge by the I960’s,  the moral, political  and psychological shock waves were still rippling through Europe. It seemed that taking on the Far Right required an ideological arsenal including the latest and the sharpest kind of weaponry. Besides, the amount of support Powell obtained also seemed to prove that mentalities had to be tackled if the relationships with immigrants, soon    to become

“minorities”, were to become unproblematic. “Discrimination” was not therefore conceived from the individual, legal point of view solely, but in term of a general strategy designed to change relationships between “whites” and “blacks”, in other words, from a sociological more than a legal perspective. Discrimination was seen to be more widespread than expected, and spanned areas such as employment, housing, education and advertising [10].  

 A further step was taken in I976, with the passing of the new Race Relations Act. This encouraged plaintiffs to resort to industrial tribunals for redress, and made provision for affirmative action in a number of circumstances. Even though positive discrimination was never officially condoned, the border line was often very thin. One of the classical cases concerned the issue of the recruitment of black police officers.  The police force was predominantly white, which was found both inefficient and undesirable in principle, since the Force is supposed to represent the whole population fairly. Giving preference to black recruits over white ones would have been illegal, dubious in principle, dangerous politically, and might have affected the overall standards of new entrants. It was decided to offer black applicants a chance to improve their own standards,  in the form of specific courses, in order to increase their chances of passing the test and being recruited. They would have to take the normal tests, so the procedure would be fair, since the initial disadvantage of blacks would disappear. On the other hand, critics have pointed out that offering special tuition to black candidates and refusing it to whites, who might well need it as well, constituted a policy of positive discrimination[11].

In the same period, i.e. the I970’s, the notion of discrimination was extended to sex, but the matrix was ethnic relations. The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in I975. The period in which the SDA and the new RRA were adopted was one in which the government was faced with stupendous political and economic problems, and could not solve them not because of any particularly glaring incompetence or lack of nerve, but because the problems were new, and could not be dealt with by resorting to the tried and tested methods . The old industrial mode of production was already collapsing, but the new one was still very much in Limbo, waiting for Mrs Thatcher to get her forceps out. Idealism needed new avenues to find its voice, new issues, new fields, if it was to survive at all. Discrimination became an issue not because it was any worse than in the past, but because the management of “interpersonal relationships” and of the neighbourhoods seemed the only area in which improvements were possible, provided they did not cost much. This is no way diminishes the value of anti discrimination policies, after all Magna Carta was only granted as the result of a budget crisis.


            The political conditions in which discrimination became a concern for public policy in France, in the late I990’s, are very similar. The institutional theory, which explains the changes in France by the pressure of European, especially North European political mores in the field of sex equality and concern for discrimination, is not really convincing. For one thing, the ideological pressure is much more American than European, since most of the impetus for anti discrimination policies comes from the US and only sojourned in Northern Europe briefly before its  diffusion in Brussels and Strasbourg. It remains to be seen whether the real popular culture and anthropological pattern of North European nations is really  conducive to a policy of equality and openness towards non-nationals. Besides ,why was this particular aspect of European policies  singled out and expanded  dramatically, while other policies were only paid lip service to, such as the protection of wildlife, among other issues ? French society has therefore exerted its choice, and deliberately decided to take this issue seriously, which brings us back to square one, and the original question: why ? The same combination of elements are to be found: France realized in the late I990’s it had entered a new historical epoch, in which the old political cultures could not provide immediate answers, explanations and policies. The country seemed to have lost its grip over the economy, and the regulation of social relationships. This was not translated politically into an opposition to European integration, which was mostly seen as an attempt at recovering a degree of control: it was rather blamed on globalization. France became obsessed with “globalization”, turning the defence of true ewe cheese into a national myth of Homeric proportions, which is after all a very  tasteful method of promoting one’s fragrance on the global market place.  The political programmes of its Presidents all had to be toned down and adjusted, under pressure from the world economy[12]. This created an atmosphere in which new ideas could be put forward, or imports put on the market.

At the same time, it experienced in the late I980s the rise of a “racist and xenophobic”, in Jacques Chirac’s words, political party which turned immigration into a political issue. For 15 years, this represented a real trauma for a country which was supposed to symbolize human rights and had carefully edited its own past, toning down the extent to which the social elites and the existing institutions had collaborated with Nazi Germany. It became obvious that the complacency of the past had not in practice eliminated whatever elements of racist culture remained in France. Repeating mantras about democracy, and “republican integration”  was not enough. In-depth education of the population was necessary .


 Besides, real difficulties were said to be experienced with the integration of young Arabs. One has to become extremely cautious at this point, because of the politically controversial nature of the debate. It might be the case that the new immigrants of the I930’s were not heartily welcome by the French either, even though they did not come from the other side of the water, and that the difficulty of integrating Muslims has been exaggerated. Fundamentalism existed throughout the I990’s, and the networks did try to penetrate France, intimidate Algerian democrats and recruit  agents, but the phenomenon was met with firm response and has remained limited so far. However, symbolically, seeing second generation Arabs, who had benefited from the French educational system, embrace the cause of one of the most backward movements in the world  seemed to prove that, to say the least, integration had failed.

            The French republican model of integration seemed to be unable to convince a significant section of the French population, and incapable of integrating some of the newly arrived immigrants. Therefore what really changed was the perception of racism and of discriminations, much more than the reality. The actual number of racist incidents fell consistently throughout the I990s, from 35 injured and 2 deaths in I990 to 4 injured and 0 deaths in I998[13].

            This paper does not consider the detail of the recent measures adopted since the publication of the rapport Belorgey.[14]  The same combination of political factors is therefore to be found in Britain in the I960’s and I970’s, and in France in the I990’s:

 pressure from the extreme right, threatening to make political mileage out of immigration,

a degree of popular support for the ideas of the extreme right, seen as a major problem by the rest of the country,

a measure of bi partisan agreement among mainstream political parties,

objective difficulties in the relationships between immigrants and locals,

 agreement among politicians, experts and the voluntary sector that the old responses were insufficient and that the local population should sometimes be encouraged to change its views in this respect,

 a general context of ideological turmoil, anxiety and agnosticism about the future, bravely called “post-modernity” by the literati, which encourages open mindedness and facilitates  intellectual imports,

 and a general agreement that society should and can be made a better place to live in, but that  economic constraints exist, must be acknowledged, which means that  the implementation of idealistic projects must be at no cost to the public purse.




Where Britain and France differ.



            The context in which both societies became receptive to the concept of discrimination is similar, but important differences appeared. Traditional, anthropological differences must no be overestimated, and can be over ruled in some circumstances. However, they can also be the reef against which policies flounder, so a good map might be necessary.

In the British approach to citizenship, citizens were subjects of the Crown, which implied a limited number a duties, and the fundamental right of individual freedom. Provided the basic duties are fulfilled, citizens are entitled to protection, and are  free to choose their own lives. The rule of law is the basis for life in a civilized society, even if the rules are not perfect: knowing what the rules are, and negotiating one’s way within, or past them is the only way an individual can build his or her own strategy, and exert some control over his or her life. The fundamental value of British culture is individual freedom. Such, at least,  is the thesis put forward by a number of anthropologists and historians. This implies that social and cultural identities can be constructed or nurtured as citizens wish, opening the way to the creation or the recognition of subgroups or, as they are now called, communities . Recognizing and helping a variety of communities is therefore absolutely in keeping with British political culture, provided they abide by the main framework, the rule of law.

France functions in a different manner. Citizenship is a deliberate political act whereby citizens, whatever their ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious or geographical origins or even current characteristics,  agree to share common representative institutions, on the basis of equality. The rule of law is only accepted if the law is considered as just and logical, not as an essential condition of democracy. This largely explains the surprisingly creative approach to the law, and to government authority, in France. The old republican principle that citizens were philosophically equal, and that no personal characteristic should be considered as relevant or even tolerated in the public sphere was completed, in the 19th century, by the concept of laïcité, based on the separation between the Church and the State. The absolute separation between the sphere of private life and that of public behaviour was the main method France devised, over the years, to combat discrimination based on class or caste, or religion, in other words to make society a place where social mobility was possible, and meritocracy replaced rank. This was far from easy, especially since France was originally divided into inflexible social orders, bitterly divided over religion, and included people with different cultural, linguistic and possibly national backgrounds. Citizens are therefore defined as independent, equal individuals, keeping their specific features absolutely private.  Any anti discrimination policy building on this will attract a lot of support, but any attempt at integrating within the public sphere elements that are expected to remain private will either be opposed in the name of equality, or welcomed by those who wish to exclude the subgroup under consideration from the benefits of full citizenship. Crypto petainists might have lost the last war, but still command a lot of support.[15]

            There also seems to be specific difficulty making American exports compatible with French culture. The degree of enmity, mutual distrust and in certain quarters physical repulsion between some of the ingredients of the US melting pot is unparalleled in France or Britain. No social scientist this side of the Atlantic would defend the idea Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites and Asians, as Charles Murray[16] does,  and no ethnic minority would take its male members to task for associating with white women, as Black Nationalist female students occasionally do in the US. The “differentialist” culture typical of the American South accepts no contact at all between “races”. It might have been defeated on the battlefield during the Civil War, expelled from official discourse, but remained very influential. In practice, for all the efforts of the universalist tendency, the legal system never succeeded in eradicating the dominant differentialist culture inherited from Northern Europe. Since the I960’s, the deep and unbridgeable gap between the “communities” has been acknowledged, and reforms in the US have been conceived in a way which made them compatible with the deeply differentialist anthropological and cultural structures. In a sense, reforms based on the existence of communities also reinforced them significantly. The recognition of “communities” as collective entities with a life of their own amounts to acknowledging a reality in the US, but not in Europe. In countries where universalist culture was dominant, such as France, the adoption of US type of community based policies can only lead to a retreat from universalism, and a worsening of social fragmentation.

Whereas support for communities and subgroups is possible in the UK, although not as natural as in the US,  and can provide a framework for anti discrimination policies,  this is far from being the case in France. Religious, cultural, sexual diversity is a matter for individual consciences, not for public policy. In practice, there are naturally exceptions, and grey areas: language for example is both a private matter and a highly political one. The management of special religious diets can be an issue for canteens, which makes it both a very private and a public issue.


Consequences for anti discrimination policies.

A number of difficulties follow from this. Progress has been made in the UK, and the US, in a number of areas where the policies might collide with French culture.

The burden of the proof was traditionally the responsibility of the plaintiff: unless a person could demonstrate he or she had been personally discriminated against, no action could be taken. This limited the possibility of action, since the bringing out of evidence was in many cases extremely difficult, and intimidation was widespread . Besides, wily discriminators devised indirect methods whereby de facto discrimination was operated, but did not breach the law. The term “indirect discrimination” covers both this tactic, and the procedures unwittingly followed by firms or public bodies, out of routine, which in practice lead to exclude certain types of people without intending to do it. Methods were found in order to shed the burden of the proof from the victims to the potential discriminators. In its most advanced form, found in the US, this has led to  “contract compliance”. Firms cannot obtain a government contract unless they can prove that  they have on their payroll a fair proportion of minority employees. This is very attractive, and there is a serious problem about this in France. Indirect discrimination is, empirically, known to be widespread: the proportion of Arabs or blacks in the upper reaches of the police force or among the agrégés de l’université is obviously very low, and France has no procedure to deal with this. Some voluntary associations, - but not all of them – demand changes in the “burden of the proof”; this is the case of the  LICRA[17]. However, the difficulty with combating indirect discrimination, is that it requires the authorities to define the potentially victimized group , and to embark on  quantitative monitoring. The two practices raise specific issues in France.

1.      The desirability of  defining subgroups is highly debatable. The definition would have to be specific enough to have any legal use. Since citizenship ignores individual characteristics, this would mean creating new administrative categories . This might make things worse, by persuading potential victims that they do belong to a specific category, encouraging them to embark on separatism and lose interest in national issues, and vindicating the discriminators  who never accepted the republican views on citizenship and equality.

2.      Technically, computing members of “subgroups” would prove very difficult, since the criteria to identify them would be very dubious: place of birth does not mean much in a globalized world, religion ignores the numerous conversions and the rise of agnosticism,  parents’ origins are irrelevant in a country priding itself in a policy of naturalization and integration, looks and colour would raise serious problems at the end of the summer. Even defining “Corsicans” was found difficult or politically dangerous by the Conseil Constitutionnel. Authorities might have to turn to the history of the Pétain regime, and of the Fichier juif, for advice on the question. The trick used in the UK, consisting in asking people to define themselves, is of little use: a high proportion of people would give unreliable answers, making the operation useless. We should bear in mind the famous jewish joke that it is impossible to find two jews who agree on the definition of jewishness. Finally, apart from the technical difficulty and the cultural reticence, the political desirability of quantitative monitoring is highly debatable, since the possibility of lists being used in order to discriminate cannot be ruled out.


 The debate on this is still raging in France, but professionals and the voluntary sector just cannot solve the contradiction between the need to do something about indirect discrimination and the shifting of the burden of the proof on the one hand, and the undesirability of ethnic categories on the other hand. Using the place of residence as evidence of discrimination ( e.g. being educated in a Zone d’ Education Prioritaire) is also a very rough method, and increases the stigmatisation of ZEPs.


Avenues for progress ?


In spite of those differences, issues are defined in comparable terms in three areas: the most suitable types of jurisdictions to combat discriminations, the question of freedom of speech, and the creation of independent authorities to monitor the problem.

Offences involving discrimination are mostly dealt with under criminal  law in France (“pénal”), as was the case in the UK in the past. This has advantages and drawbacks. The positive point is that they are considered as serious offences, and that the Republic is directly party to the dispute. The negative point is that, compared to the UK, the number of cases is extremely low. A total of 61 people were convicted in France in 1993, 95 in I997. By comparison, in the UK, industrial tribunals were investigating 1000 cases a year by the late I980’s, 25% of which led to conciliation, , 40% to 30% were referred to tribunals, and 8% - i.e. a comparable figure with France’s.[18] This figure has increased since that time by 25% a year.  The actual number of convictions for serious offences was therefore fairly low in the UK as well, but the impact of the sheer number of cases is very significant. Even reaching the stage of conciliation has some influence on the way firms will behave towards their employees. There is no doubt France has a lot to gain by extending the number of  jurisdictions granted competence on this issue. This is in fact already happening in the field of Labour law, and the Inspecteurs du Travail are playing and increasing role in this respect.


Another common point is to be found , under the form of a shared stumbling block: freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a capital tenet of our societies, and constitutes one of the principles France admired and imported from Holland the UK during the formative years of our democracy. How far “incitement to discriminate” should be treated as an offence is therefore a rather difficult issue. Parties and people can only be sued for what they do, and not for what they say. On the other hand, a line must be drawn somewhere, since downright racist propaganda is far from harmless: Maybe Woody Guthrie’s guitar could kill fascists, but the KKK itself can  play the banjo. Both countries  are loath to ban racist political organizations and propaganda.

 To take another extreme example in the field of gender relations,  the writings of the Marquis de Sade would probably  be found pornographic by feminists, and might be said to “incite to discriminate”! There is no doubt part of their appeal lies in their ability to link pleasure and offensiveness. Yet, this is hardly an excuse for censoring them, or any other literary or artistic creation, including the Net,  since perhaps society would be a less lively place without them. North European neo-puritanism is a local artefact, which just  does not travel very well.

Whether official language should be expurgated from expressions conveying negative images about certain types of people, on the grounds that they create the atmosphere in which discrimination develops, is open to question. The creation of an artificial, “politically correct” language nobody takes seriously is a very risky exercise, which might drive a wedge between people and the authorities. France has probably gone as far as it could at the moment in this respect,  although this is not very far compared to the UK, let alone the US. Even though preparatory work has been done by the “commission de terminologie” , it is probably wise not to insist on female university lecturers being called maîtresses de conferences, for obvious reasons due to the double entendre: nobody objects to professeures The risk of a massive cultural backlash, buttressed by the principle of freedom of speech, and combining with cultural conservatism, is very real. The legitimacy of the State is counterbalanced by that of the very conservative Académie Française, and would be insufficient to impose change. The common cynical view in France is that calling the blind “visually impaired” has not done much for their eyesight. Politically correct “anti discriminatory” language is in contradiction with French universalism. Language is considered as a tool, a universal medium accessible to every one. Its subtleties and intricacies can, indeed must be mastered by any one wanting to exert their rights to citizenship. This connects perfectly with the central myth of “integration through education”.  There is no particular reason for insulting or massaging the feelings of a particular group of citizens by calling them funny names. The State is not even entrusted with the right to prevent people from occasionally using offensive language: it is not a moral authority. Language and culture are the common property of the nation, and are supposed to be independent from the fortunes of political tendencies. Bending the meaning of words to make them fit a particular political project amounts to an offence against the common property of the people.

In the UK, a more self conscious use of language is accepted among intellectual circles. However, it remains to be seen what the impact of this really is at a popular level. Politicians, with their thumb on the public pulse,  act very carefully on this front.  On the question of freedom of speech, which includes the right to offensiveness, Britain in France have broadly similar approaches. 


Finally,  Britain has a lot of experience in one area France has only just began to explore, the creation of specific institutions dealing with discriminations and related issues. The RRB and the CRE are sometimes referred to with a degree of amusement and cynicism. This type of institution is permanently suspected of being staffed by prejudiced employees, and is sometimes the victim of political controversies. Its use has been repeatedly  questioned. The path taken by France was slightly different, in the sense that the had hoc institutions have no statutory powers, but are expected to “observe” and investigate cases of discrimination. The local Comités d’accés à la citoyenneté which have been set up in each Préfecture are staffed by representatives from local voluntary associations, and the prevailing theory is that the struggle against discriminations should fall under the responsibility of all existing institutions instead of creating a new apparatus. This is still controversial. Whether the opening of a free , confidential telephone hot line is up to the challenge is another matter.  In practice, the Inspecteurs du travail are probably fully equipped to deal with discrimination, as far as employment is concerned, but have no equivalent in the field of housing, the other major area where discrimination is rife, or in that of access to leisure facilities.  Opening up pathways for individual citizens to seek and obtain legal redress might seem like another case of americanization, but it seems to be , in practice, a fairly efficient tactic, perfectly compatible with local cultures. France has only very recently decided to turn the Groupe d’Etudes et de Lutte contre les Discriminations into a permanent body, with a permanent staff, on the model of the CRE, an institution which is not beyond criticism in the UK.


The changes introduced in Britain over the past 35 years and in France over the last 5 years have been very significant. They enable us to fathom  the political and ideological evolutions of both societies, as well as the narrowing of the gap between them. Although one should refrain from forecasting the future, one can probably say that, unless momentous events were to take place, this evolution is bound to continue.  Even if the political impetus leading to more attention being paid to discriminations, and their inclusion among the areas relevant to public policy is maintained, the adaptation of policies to local cultures is a precondition for their success.  This is not a plea for caution, but for inventiveness.

[1] Lettre de Mission à M. Belorgey, de Martine Aubry, Ministre de l’emploi et de la solidarité, « Tous ceux qui vivent en France doivent être assurés que le principe d’intégration est gouverné par le principe d’égalité ; »23 Novembre I998.

[2] See David Mason. Race and Ethnicity in Modern Britain. Oxford: OUP, I995.

[3] On se réfèrera avec intérêt aux écrits antisémites de Paul Lafargue, gendre de Karl Marx, ou à ceux de Jack London


[4] This refers to the rather confused debate on “black culture” in the English speaking world. Anthropologists in the I960’s unwittingly started this debate, which overlapped into the political field, first in the US with Patrick Moynihan’s book on the Negro family, then with Keith Joseph and his “culture of deprivation” thesis. The fact that  British Conservatives drew upon the idea, largely in order to exonerate capitalism and their own management from any responsibility in the growth of poverty, does not necessarily mean that the culture of minorities does not bear some responsibility in , for instance, their educational underachievement.  See the debate on the Sewell report, Gaby Hinsliff and Martin Bright. “Black Youth Culture blamed as youths fail”. The Guardian Weekly, Aug 24th 2000.


[5] John Edwards Affirmative Action In A Sectarian Society. London, Avebury, I995, p.65 66.


[6] Henri Leclerc,  « Discriminations ». Editorial de Hommes et Libertés, Paris, Ligue des Droits de l’Homme ,N°103, Fev-Mars I999.

[7] To get an interesting description of the kind of theoretical training British social workers are provided with, see : Neil Thompson. Anti-discriminatory practice, London, Macmillan, I997.

[8] See Didier Lassalle. Les minorités ethniques en Grande-Bretagne, Paris, Ellipses, I998,

Dilip Hiro Black British White British. London: Paladin, I992,

[9] For a view on how New labour intends to integrate multiculturalism within its global project, see : Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, True Colours, Public Attitudes to Multiculturalism and the Role of the Government. London: IPPR I999.

[10] Michael Banton. Discrimination, Buckingham : Open University Press, I994, p43

[11] John Edwards. Positive Discrimination, Social Justice , and Social Policy. London, Tavistock, I987.

[12] This was true of François Mitterrand’s I981 programme, which advocated domestic reflation, but had to be discarded in I982 when the trading deficit with Germany doubled, and of Jacques Chirac’s in I995, when the costly “réduction de la fracture sociale”  had to be abandoned a few months after his election.

[13] Commission National Consultative des Droits de l’Homme. I998 : La lutte contre le racisme et la xénophobie. Paris, La Documentation française, I999, p 301.


 Jean Michel Belorgey Lutter contre les discriminations. Rapport remis à Martine Aubry le 6 avril I999,

 Table Ronde organisé par Martine Aubry sur les discriminations raciales dans le monde du travail (11 mai I999)

[15] The thesis put forward by the American historian Alan Paxton that as far as France was concerned, the Second World War was a civil war should be borne in mind.

[16] Charles Murray. The Bell Curve. Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life New York: Simon & Shuster , I994.

[17] LICRA Reflexions et propositions pour lutter efficacement contre la discrimination raciale dans les services, le logement et le travail en France. P 103. in Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme. Op. cit.

[18] Michael Banton. Discrimination, Buckingham : Open University Press, I994, p 57

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