"Egalite des chances": success as mandatory treason

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Date: Winter-Spring 2007
From: French Forum(Vol. 32, Issue 1-2)
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press
Document Type: Case study
Length: 5,273 words

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Whenever I start researching any aspect of what we call "racism," I find myself going back and forth between disciplines, convinced, on the one hand, by those discourses who dismiss the theses of scientific racists ("human races" simply and purely do not exist) but also aware, like many sociologists, anthropologists, or humanities scholars in general that such critical preconditions do not constitute fruitful parameters when the issue is to analyze the relationship between discrimination, inequality, alienation caused by those human races that do not exist. My case study today involves a constant to and fro between literature and politics but also between two supposedly radically different tactics or agendas proposed by one subject who falls into the category of the ethnic minority in France. I am talking about a political figure, who is also a sociologist, an activist, and a novelist who writes autobiographical novels about a child whose Algerian parents had to bring him up in a shanty town and who has, since then, become the "ministre delegue a la promotion de l'egalite des chances" (no mention of "race" here). He was nominated by President Chirac, the head of a clearly right-wing government.

What I propose to do today is to connect what may appear to be the two "sides" of Azouz Begag's coin: the work of the novelist, and more specifically a passage from his second novel, Beni ou le paradis prive and the politician's attempt at introducing policies that would promote what he calls "egalite des chances" (equal opportunity) rather than "positive discrimination" although it is clear that he is especially thinking about the youths from the disenfranchised urban areas where he himself grew up. I propose that the relationship between what might appear two distinct discourses is in fact a sort of self-deconstructing double mirror image, each discourse being implicitly critiqued by the other. Their encounter thus constitutes a precious antidote against the temptation of privileging one or the other, the politician or the novelist, the legislator and the storyteller, the Republic and the "I." The tension between the two also highlights the aporias of each set of proposals. Both discourses are part of the solution and part of the problem, and if we systematically endeavor to bring them together, the exercise may teach us the difficult art of allowing two apparently incompatible sets of values to coexist.

At least one thing has changed in the past ten years in France: it is no longer safe to assume that it is culturally irrelevant to discuss the issue of racial discrimination. But of course, talking about anything that even involves the concept of human race requires that we pay attention to the historical, ideological or rhetorical constraints, borders within which the concept finds itself confined. The parameters of the debate are already an agenda and what I would like to explore is happening to a conversation in French that has recently included such phrases as "discrimination positive" and "egalite des chances." "Discrimination positive" is not the same...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A176049688