the first word, the last word, and all the words in between

I’m following the riots in France that began ten days ago when two youths of African descent were electrocuted while hiding from police. I always find it odd and frustrating the way newspapers document violence before context. Let’s see the people of colour be out of control first, and talk about why later… Grrr. People are responding to a history of exclusion from the job market, housing and other necessities of daily living. Interior minister Sargozy calling them “scum” does not help the situation. There have been car burnings in several of the cities I was meant to visit– Rouen, Strasbourg, Avignon. I suppose I’m glad to be safe from the violence, but I’m still sorry not to be there talking to people and trying to make sense of all this. France is, after all, the country that refused the war against Iraq.

Chirac says, “The law must have the last word.” What words will address the low-grade systemic violence of racism and exclusion? This isn’t just a French problem, of course, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. It’s a problem of contemporary democracy with its histories of colonialism and classism. We face the same problems here. I’m not suggesting throwing the law out the window either. But until systemic inequity in and outside nation states is addressed in a serious way, it seems terribly disingenuous for any of us to be surprised by outbreaks such as these.

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