On race, France is now Americanised

With a George Floyd moment eroding French claims of colour-blind universalism, the charged issue of racism has finally broken out of long institutional silencing

This Bastille Day, celebrations of the July 14 moment in 1789 that sparked the French revolution, serves as a symbolic stage for the country’s social tensions. France’s latest wave of public unrest has subsided somewhat but the long streak of explosions was distinguished by speed, scale and an ineffable American-ness compared to the 2005 race riots.

The 2005 unrest, which I covered for this paper on the ground in Paris, was the worst social turmoil France had seen since the student-led unrest of 1968. It started after two terrified black and Arab teenagers were electrocuted to death as they hid from police in the transformer of an electricity substation. Beginning in one suburb north-east of Paris, the unrest spread like a slow-moving forest fire to scores of cities over three weeks. It was in a time before social media and it triggered a prolonged edginess but no epiphany.

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Originally published at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com on July 12, 2023.