A friend of mine forwarded the following article by professor Immanuel Wallerstein. He also added his own comment: ( It amazes me that people are surprised when underclasses rebel. The surprising thing is that they do not do it more often. The combination of the oppressiveness of poverty and racism and the lack of short-term, or even medium-term hope is surely a recipe for rebellion....
The inequalities that blazed in France will soon scorch the world
The tensions between a dispossessed underclass and the comfortable majority have only been repressed, not solved
Saturday December 3, 2005
Last month France had a rebellion of its underclass that lasted for about two weeks. Groups of young people, mostly of north African or sub-Saharan descent, set fire to cars and hurled rocks at police. In some ways, this was the kind of uprising that has been occurring throughout the world in recent decades. But it also had particular French explanations. It emerged violently, like a phoenix. It has been suppressed by the force of the state. It is far from over.
The immediate story is very simple. Three young men saw police stopping other youths and asking for identity cards. This happens routinely in France to young people of colour who live in the de facto segregated high-rise, dilapidated housing of the banlieues (where France's ghettoes are located). These housing complexes are home to largely unemployed, undereducated youths who have few prospects for jobs, for upward mobility, or even for non-work activity (sport, or cultural centres). These young people run away from identity checks primarily because they are often pointlessly taken into custody in police stations, where they are often harassed, and where they remain for hours until their parents come to take them home.
In this particular case, the youths jumped a wall and landed in an electricity substation, where two of them were electrocuted. This was the spark to the rebellion. It was a rebellion against poverty, joblessness, racist behaviour by the French police and, above all, lack of acceptance as the citizens they mostly are and as the cultural minority they feel they have the right to remain. The French government seemed primarily concerned with repressing the rebellion, and eventually succeeded in this. The fact that the prime minister and the minister of the interior are fierce rivals for the future candidacy for the presidency ensured that neither was going to seem soft on rebellion and thereby give an advantage to the other.
It amazes me that people are surprised when underclasses rebel. The surprising thing is that they do not do it more often. The combination of the oppressiveness of poverty and racism and the lack of short-term, or even medium-term hope is surely a recipe for rebellion. What keeps rebellion down is fear of repression, which is why repression is usually swift. But the repression never makes the anger go away. Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, says that this uprising was not as bad as those of Los Angeles in 1992, when 54 people died and 2,000 were hurt. Perhaps not, but that's hardly a basis for boasting.
Throughout the world today, metropolitan areas are filled with people who match the profile of the rebels in France: poor, jobless, socially marginalised and defined as "different" - and therefore angry. If they are teenagers they have the energy to rebel, and lack even the minimal family responsibilities that might restrain them. Furthermore, the anger is reciprocated. Those in the more comfortable majority fear these young people precisely for the characteristics they have. The better-off feel that the poor youths tend to be lawless and, well, "different". So, many of the better-off (but perhaps not all) tend to endorse strong measures to contain these rebellions, including total exclusion from the society, even from the country.
France is in some ways an exaggerated version of what we find everywhere, not only in North America and the rest of Europe, but throughout the south in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, India and South Africa. Indeed, it is hard to think of a country where this issue does not exist. The problem with France is that too many of its citizens have long denied to themselves that this is a French problem as well.
France defines itself as the country of universal values, where discrimination cannot exist because everyone can become a French person if they're ready to integrate fully. The reality is that France has always (yes, I said always) been a country of immigration. In the days of the ancien regime, and even in the first half of the 19th century, the non-French speakers (50% up to the French revolution) migrated to Paris and other northern cities. Later it was the Italians, the Belgians and the Corsicans. Then came the Poles, and then the Portuguese and Spaniards. And in the past 40 years or so, massively, north and sub-Saharan Africans and immigrants from what was French Indochina.
read the rest of Immanuel Wallerstein