Several recent studies pertain to the intersection of race/ethnicity, nationality, and society in France. Specifically, this section will discuss the attitudes outlined in the World Values Survey, and documented instances of racist attitudes in France.
The World Values Survey: Who Do You Not Want as a Neighbor?
One of the more revealing questions on the 2005 World Values Survey asks respondents to choose particular subsets of the population whom they would not like to have as neighbors. The answers in all countries–and particularly France–are quite revealing. Below is a comparison of responses between France, the US, Brazil, and South Africa:
As one might predict, racially-charged responses to this question largely focused on the immigrant community: 43.2% of respondents said they would not like to have an immigrant or foreign worker as a neighbor, compared with 13.2% in the US, 24.9% in South Africa, and 8.1% in Brazil. Similarly, when asked about foreign language speakers (indicative of foreigner status), 30.2% of French respondents did not want them as neighbors, compared to 11.2% in the US and single-digit responses in the other two nations (World Values Survey: 2005).
Slightly more surprising, however, were the comparative responses to attitudes toward “people of a different race.” Given their respective histories of racial tension, one might expect South Africa and the US–and possibly Brazil–to have collectively more negative views on having a person of a different race as a neighbor. The results, however, indicate that–once again–France comes out on top, with 26.8% of people responding negatively, compared to single-digit answers in the other three nations (World Values Survey: 2005).
The Ugly Truth: Quantifying Racist Attitudes
The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) notes three waves of racism surfacing in France between 2000 and 2005: anti-Semitism, anti-Roma sentiments, and anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly against those of Muslim and/or North African background. The ECRI stresses that while French society as a whole appears quite tolerant of immigrants as a whole (including those of North African descent), racist rhetoric, such as that exhibited by Jean Marie Le Pen and his National Front, can inflame what racial intolerance does persist (ECRI 30-2: 2005).
The cold numbers of recent French public opinion polls, however, paint a slightly more sinister picture. According to a report by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights in 2000, 69% of Frenchmen described themselves as “racist,” and reported a belief that France harbored too many immigrants. Furthermore, reports done around this time period singled France out as among the worst offenders in the rising trend of racism and xenophobia in Europe as a whole (Cornell and Hartmann, 161-2: 2007).