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On the issue of class and race in America (and personally I think the insights of this study can be extended to cover other countries) a book well worth looking at is Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. It's the report of a long study of poor women in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, from African-American, Hispanic, and white backgrounds. The authors don't appeal to the concept of class to explain their findings, but they show a surprising amount of similarity of experience in terms of economic, family, and social difficulties, that lead to the conclusion that race (and negative discrimination on racial grounds) is not the principal factor involved -- that being part of an uneducated underclass is the main obstacle.

I'm not pointing to this to say racism 1) does not exist 2) has no economic consequences. Neither am I saying the French car-torchers do not suffer from racism, and that it is not one of the causes of their economic and social alienation. (In a comment above, I specifically mentioned it as a contributory cause, and it's a fact that Arabs in particular are subjected to discrimination in the job and housing markets). But what probably most united the youth, Arab, black, and white, was the fact of belonging to an underclass with poor economic prospects, and identification with the suburban zones they are parked in (street gangs in the cités are organized on the basis of the cité you belong to, not on your colour).

These kids were "French" in the sense, born in France. Those under 18 wouldn't yet have "confirmed their choice" of French nationality. I think that's an aggravating factor. The right-wingers that changed the law on nationality were short-sighted. (It's in France's interest to integrate immigrants and in particular, obviously, their children). The rioting kids must surely feel (this is my take, I've no evidence to point to) a certain amount of insecurity re nationality that must make them more sensitive yet to the general insecurity of their situation.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Aug 26th, 2006 at 02:25:02 AM EST
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