Across the world, people are rising up and protesting against generations of injustice, discrimination, and institutionalized practices that adversely affect marginalized communities. After the death of George Floyd in the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement gained support far beyond America's borders. In France as well, people are joining American voices and calling for equality in their own country. Recently, French protesters took to the streets and social media platforms, exposing the harsh realities of being a minority in a nation that prides itself on its policies of unwavering universalism.
The "Color-Blind Approach"
France's "color-blind" approach to public policy is a modern manifestation of the traditions of universalism deeply rooted in the French history. French universalism can be traced back to the nation's relationship with the Church in the Middle Ages and the later rise of linguistic universalism. The French belief in universalism stemmed from the idea that human nature is not influenced by cultural distinctions or historical variations. It is an ideal intended to unite all French citizens under a single French identity, regardless of country of origin or ancestral roots. The values of equality under law and secularism-key pillars of French history-are reflected in modern public policy. Rather than implementing policies that would directly address minority communities, the government chooses to implement policies guided by geographic and socioeconomic factors, with the goal of improving lives in all regions and neighborhoods.
Examples of this approach exist in various sectors of French society. In 2001, Paris Institute of Political Studies enacted an admissions program that focused on increasing access to the prestigious institution based on geographic determinants. The entry process was adapted for students at 100 high schools within priority education and low income zones. This program, despite being met with some resistance from those who viewed the program as reflective of the American system of race-based affirmative action, is representative of the French approach to addressing economic needs. Rather than explicitly directing policy initiatives at specific minorities and racial groups, French policymakers focus their attention and efforts on geographic areas. The concentrated nature of low-income residents in particular neighborhoods enables the policymakers to address concrete economic needs without referring to race or ethnicity.
Basing public policies on socio-economic rather than racial factors, the French approach stands in stark contrast to the approach of the United...