The outsider card

In France, a limp economy contributes to an upswing in racism.

Is racism alive and kicking in the country that was built on equality and fraternity? Is it on the rise in France? Last month, these questions sent the French media into a tailspin and triggered a national debate. The evidence, unfortunately, points to the affirmative.

Hydra-like, racism keeps rearing its ugly head in French public life. Christiane Taubira, the justice minister, who is black, was recently compared to a monkey by a candidate of the far-right Front National. Though the candidate was forced to resign, the far-right magazine, Minute, carried a cover photo of a smiling Taubira with the caption "Crafty as a monkey, Taubira gets her banana back".

The magazine defended the title as a pun, albeit in bad taste. Idiomatically, "gets her banana back" also means "gets her form back". But the racism behind the slur was obvious to all. As the face of the new gay-marriage law, Taubira has been attracting the ire of the law's opponents, with children going so far as to wave bananas at her during a protest rally.

The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights stepped into the breach and condemned this racist abuse, which it said was indicative of "the rising racism, xenophobia and intolerance aimed at members of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as migrants, in many European countries." There is no question of tarring all French people with the same brush. But a poll conducted by the French national commission for human rights in 2012 found that almost 30 per cent of the French considered themselves to be racist, with almost two-thirds stating that "racist reactions were justified in the case of certain behaviour." Racist incidents rose by 23 per cent in 2012 and, over the last 20 years, have increased fivefold.

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