Thursday, 16 May 2013


And a tiny example of local resistance
President Hollande [of France] is backing down from his pledge to expunge the word 'race' from the constitution... [he] has shied away from a divisive issue that could have led to a further damaging confrontation with his centre-right opponents.

They argue that the commitment to 'the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion' remains essential. The phrase was inserted in the postwar constitution as France tried to shake off its uncomfortable legacy of wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany. But Mr Hollande sees the notion of race as offensive. 

'We know only one race, one family, the human family,' he said last year. He had wanted to remove the term as part of a wide-ranging constitutional revision this summer, but the issue will not even be discussed.

'The Government has decided to concentrate on other priorities,' a statement from the Prime Ministers office declared. 'The intention is good, but translating it into writing is more difficult, said Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the Socialist head of the Law Commission.

Nicolas Sarkozy, M. Hollande's predecessor, said that the original phrase should stay to keep alive memories of the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews from France during the Second World War.
I feel rather let down by the apparent triumph of M. Sarkosy's position here, and by M. Urvoas's expressed inability to deal with this matter verbally, as I have cherished an illusion of the French political class's being cerebral and logical – whatever its manifest flaws.

It seems odd, indeed 'illogical' as Mr Spock might say, to keep alive the memory of those who were murdered by state-endorsed racial theory by perpetuating and legitimating the very concept in the governing document of a modern state.

I am wholly with M. Holland in his position as stated above. On the one hand this is because of the simple biological fact, the one because of the obvious social-historical nature of the modern construct of race amongst humans – and also because of all the sheer wickedness that this notion has unleashed since it came into being.

Only one race

I recall that some ten to fifteen or so years ago I was obliged by Ofsted (Ofsted is England's all-powerful bureaucracy for imposing uniformity upon education and other services for children) to write a 'equal opportunities policy' for the Foundation for Conductive Education and the work of its National Institute. I suppose that this was intended to present a fairly routine, formulaic task and I was quite prepared to treat it as such – except for where I was meant to pronounce upon 'racism'.

There were examples aplenty to copy, except that I could not bring myself to copy any of them, as all the examples that I could find predicated explicitly and unquestioningly upon an underpinning notion that humanity comprises a variety of hypothesised races. As the Director I was being required to prepare and sign a statement of pseudo-scientific racism (or should that be racist pseudo-science). Gum tree!

It proved a simple but tedious task to write the required policy from scratch, with no mention of race whatsoever and with 'racism' always bearing inverted commas to show its otherness and questionability in the context of what I am sure was intended as a humane and positive document. Duly done the policy was submitted to Ofsted, and accepted without demur.

The intention was for the policy to stand against deplorable behaviour based upon ignorance and ideology, without itself promulgating the very premise of those who act that way. A futile individual gesture perhaps.

I cannot claim that my own micro-political problem over this could be compared with the macro-political problems facing François Hollande. I offer my humble experience here, though, to reassure others facing this problem in similarly modest circumstances that there is a way round. Maybe if more people stood upon this vial distinction...

At least there was a way round. I do not know what higher absurdities the English bureaucratised state has risen to since I retired in 2004. I wonder what happened to my little act of resistance to contemporary, right-on biologism...


Chazan, D. (2013) Hollande backs away from pledge on race, The Times, 11 May, p. 39

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