Faced with a panel of mostly African-American students, the minister, visiting the United States on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, resumed his academic clothes, describing the differences between France and the United States United in the fight against racism.
“The French state is officially indifferent to skin color,” recalled this historian, a specialist in American minorities, who himself has a Senegalese father and a French mother.
“It’s a great idea, of course (…) but reality requires a more concrete approach”, he continued, noting, in fluent English, that “inequalities, discrimination and different forms of racism exist in France”.
To tackle it “effectively” in the world of education, we must “identify the poorest neighborhoods and invest more in their schools”, he said.
This response “clearly emphasizes social inequalities” because “the concept of race remains very sensitive in France”, he noted, faced with students accustomed on the contrary to targeted policies on the basis of ethnic statistics.
An unthinkable practice in France, where “extreme right organizations are currently powerful” and where it is, according to him, “difficult to confront ethno-racial issues in a nuanced way”.
“I can attest to the price to pay when we dare to talk about it,” continued the minister, who was accused by the National Rally of being “a racialist militant”.
But, he said, “that won’t stop us from working actively to develop a more inclusive culture in our schools, so that no one feels excluded because of their gender or their skin color”.
The day before, in New York, he had gone to the very exclusive French private high school in Manhattan and to a bilingual French-English school in Harlem, where African-American and West African minorities live.
He, who studied at a university in Virginia, had confided that he was “sometimes considered too American in France, a little too woke”, and had denounced “the often very obvious traces of anti-Americanism” in French political discourse.
His predecessor Jean-Michel Blanquer was also a detractor of “wokism”, a term used on the right to denounce an alleged complacency of the left towards the claims of minorities.