Testimony of an Ethnic minority living in France



I have never really been a brilliant student, but I have always been quite interested in that part of the French history which starts after the Second World War. World War II is to me one of the consequences of the competition that often exist between men and to a larger scale between nations. “Never that again”, was the message and the conclusion of the war that involved nearly all nations. There is no doubt that the Second World War partly explains the geopolitical situation of the current world today. However, in the last few years, it seems that many nations, especially in Europe, have displayed a lack of remembrance of the different ingredients that plunged the whole world into complete chaos some seventy years ago. Our societies have in fact never really accepted differences. To the rejection of “racial” and ethnic distinction the Western World in particular has now moved to the rejection of any ideology or value that does not fit in with its own understanding of things. The crusade that aimed at dominating different peoples and their territories has given place to a more subtle form of domination that involves the rejection of any value, ideology or way of life other than that of the our Western World.

These are facts I had become well aware of since I left college in the early 1990s. In order to socialise more easily I had often tried to put these questions of justice and injustice in the world aside. After spending some few years abroad, in 2007, I decide to come back to France and through my work and involvement in community work serve the country. I had different jobs, just because Britain had made of me a hyperactive person. Among the different positions I held, one was working as a supervisor in a high school in the district I lived in. More than eighty per cent of the children in that school were of ethnic minority backgrounds, with parents coming either from North Africa or Sub-Saharan Africa. I enjoyed looking after the teens, being in charge of them whenever a teacher was missing. It was during my second year in that school that I decided to develop a workshop around the teaching of English. Despite the tension that existed between the Head and the teachers in the school, I was given a green card to establish a Skype correspondence between the pupils of Georges Rouault High and some other children in a high school located in South Africa. It is important at this stage of the story to mention that in that school the teachers were mostly white Europeans belonging to that social class known in Paris and its region as “the Bobos”.The 2010 Football World Cup was the main theme of the correspondence workshop that also aimed at developing the language skills of the children who communicated in both languages -English and French.

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before the beginning of the 2010 summer holidays, a group of teachers came to visit the Head in her office. They told her that they wanted most of the supervisors, me included, out of the school for the following year; thus, just leaving the few white supervisors. Their argument: “People like us are bringing the rules and codes of the ghetto into the school”… We “speak the same language, use the same expressions, and get dressed in the same way as the pupils”. The head of the school obviously refused. The group of teachers then asked that at least only my contract be not renewed for the following year given the fact that in 2007 I presented a PhD thesis at the Sorbonne University in favour of the integration of the Muslim subculture within the British society. That, of course, was the condition for them to stop going on strike again the following year. And just as about 70 years ago the Vichy regime had accepted to deliver Jews to the Germans in order to buy a certain peace, the Head finally decided to get rid of me thus satisfying the teachers’ wish in exchange for peace.

I have, of course, no grievances against the cowardice displayed by the head of the school. Mrs V.S -by respect I prefer not to mention her name- has clearly explained the situation to me and even admitted that the motivation of those teachers was racist. But the situation I find myself in has taught me few things about being an ethnic minority living in France. Between 1939-45 and 2002-10: Nothing has changed, the French history just keep on repeating itself. Also because I live in the same district as most of the children of school and because I am quite well known in the district for the social work that I do, I find it a negative message for the younger generation to hear that according to what one says in a PhD thesis, presented in a French University, one may lose his job, be discarded or even experience discrimination. To the children I often meet in the streets of the nineteenth districts of Paris and who ask me if I am coming back to Georges Rouault High School in September, I do not know what to answer. While I know that not telling them the truth on our French society is not going to help them, I do recognise that this experience of mine will, for sure, not help reconcile the youngsters from the deprived districts of Paris with the French system of education.

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