Row over 'non-whites-only' student meetings as campaigning politicians wade in
The revelation that meetings barred to whites were organized by a leading students union has fuelled tensions in an increasingly fractured France, where identity politics is a key campaign issue ahead of regional elections scheduled for June.
Speaking on French radio station Europe 1 on March 17th Mélanie Luce, president of the Unef students’ union, admitted that some meetings were barred to white students but described them as support groups, designed to allow those who had experienced racism to feel comfortable expressing themselves. She insisted that no decisions were taken at such meetings.
Unef is a publicly-funded union and such separation of students on the basis of skin colour has caused uproar on social media and allegations of anti-white racism. With regional elections looming, politicians have leapt on the row in order to position themselves on an issue that has gained momentum amid the global Black Lives Matter campaign.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer warned of a “slippery slope” that leads towards “something resembling fascism”. Speaking on BFMTV, he worried that young people were being sold the idea of separate meetings as a part of a well-intentioned effort to understand experiences of racism but declared that ‘in reality, it just sets people against each other”. He announced that he is examining the possibility of tightening the law on such matters.
Right-wing presidential candidate Xavier Bertrand is among several who have called for the union’s government funding to be withdrawn. Eric Ciotti, of the right wing Les Républicains party wants it banned.
Don't exclude, don't speak
Audrey Pulvar, backed by the Socialist party as candidate for the Paris Region in upcoming elections triggered further outrage on Saturday when, in answer to a question on meetings barred to white people, she said no one should be excluded but that whites could be asked not to say anything at certain meetings.
Jordan Bardella, candidate for the far right RN party mocked her for representing what he called "the Left, mired in islamo-leftism and anti-white hatred, that aspires to preside over the biggest region in France."
Pulvar's attitude is at odds with the official position of the Socialists, outlined by party leader Olivier Faure, in Le Figaro newspaper last week. He was keen to advertise the party's universalist stance. “The concept of race is an aberration,” he said. “I know of only one species, the human species. And to think that only those who resemble you can share your suffering, is to renounce our common humanity”.
Faure is aware that the party badly misjudged the mood in the Paris region during the last regional elections in 2015. The Socialist candidate at the time, Claude Bartolone labelled his right wing rival Valérie Pécresse “the candidate who defends .. the white race.” She won and polls suggest she is set to win again.
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