Blatant racism in France

I can’t not write about this.

I went to the market yesterday morning. Marché Saint Antoine, down by the Saône river. Some young men were handing out pamplets. I took one automatically. It was propaganda against Islamic immigration. I threw it out. It took me a minute to process. Had I misunderstood? Was this seriously racist propaganda in the middle of the Sunday market?

I turned around and studied the group handing out the fliers. They were all white young men, not a terribly attractive bunch (not that it matters). I sat and watched them for awhile. Most people refused their pamplets, or trashed them when they realized what they were. An older woman wearing a hijab passed by. They didn’t offer her a pamplet, and she didn’t look at them.

I couldn’t believe that no one was saying anything to these bigots, telling them they should be ashamed, but on the other hand, it’s pretty common to distribute fliers about all sorts of things, and you had to actually take one and read it to get a whiff of what these dudes were all about. They weren’t chanting “White power” or anything. One man said to them, “I don’t agree with you, I support immigration,” as he refused their pamplets. Everyone else just ignored them. At least no one seemed to be on their side. People seemed disgusted, but didn’t call them out.

I snapped their picture from afar. Why shouldn’t I? They had a racism stand right in the middle of the market. One of them saw me and got very nervous. He went around to his cohorts, whispering and pointing at me. I ignored them and remained seated outside the market – I hadn’t done anything wrong.

After awhile, one of them walked toward me without making eye contact. He shoved his phone in my face, took my picture, and then walked away quickly. It happened so fast that I wasn’t even sure which of these pimply white dudes had taken my photo. Who does that?! (Immature racist losers, I guess?) I know I had taken a photo first, but from quite a distance – I didn’t shove my phone in anyone’s face! If they had a problem, the appropriate reaction would have been to say, “We’d prefer not to be photographed, would you mind deleting your photo?” not to sneak attack me with a close-up! Super creepy.

I walked over to their ringleader.

“Hello, are you the guy who just took my photo?” I asked him.

He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Was it you?” I asked the man-child with the camera around his neck standing a few feet away. He ignored me.

I probably should have stayed calm, but instead I said what I had been wanting to say to these jackasses.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” I asked the first man. “Aren’t you ashamed of being so racist?”

“No, I’m not ashamed,” he said, a little defensively. “Immigrants are ruining France and must be stopped.”

“I’m a foreigner,” I said. “Are you against me too, or am I okay because I’m white?”

“No, it’s the Muslims. You know that most of them are in prison, don’t you? They are criminals.”

“How can you say that an entire population of millions of people are all criminals? You should be ashamed.”

“Don’t you care about the women in Cologne? Hundreds of women were attacked by Arab immigrants. That’s what happens when you let in refugees. Multicultural society doesn’t work, you have to admit it. If we don’t do something, we’ll end up like Lebanon.”

I was in such a rage that I was shaking. I could yell at this man all I wanted, but it wouldn’t rattle his bigotry.

“Aren’t you listening to me? Listen to what I’m saying,” he insisted, condescendingly. His teeth were crooked and discolored. Maybe he had eschewed braces and taken up chain smoking in high school in an attempt to be cool, but grew up to be human scum with hideous teeth.

“You can’t- ah! gah!” I choked on my frustration. “You can’t blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few people! What about French-born Muslims? You know that they’re as much French as you are, don’t you?”

He continued to insist that multicultural society is dangerous. These xenophobic assholes were openly calling for a pure white France. What. The. Fuck.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “You are a disgrace and you should all be ashamed,” I said before walking off.

“Bonne journée!!” the slimeballs called after me. Infuriating.

It would have been better to stay calm, but I couldn’t. I’m still glad I told them what I thought, even though they were apparently unfazed. I wish I had kept one of their pamplets of bigotry so I could show you the awful things they were purporting. It really got to me – the whole scene circled round and round my mind, and I obsessed on everything I wished I had said for the rest of the day. I wanted to get the last word against these smug bastards, for them to suffer somehow, and it more than irked me to know that they would carry on, unpunished and self-satisfied.

But you know what made me feel a little better? A delicious falafal lunch at the Lebanese restaurant Les Delices du Liban.

Seriously, how good is falafel?




10 thoughts on “Blatant racism in France

  1. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been thinking and worrying about this problem a lot, as I’ve keep seeing such a massive rise in bigotry and racism in the past few years… It makes me wonder, have people always have these views and they’re just better able to express it now, thanks to the internet echo chamber? What about this time in history is causing such a world-wide lack of empathy?? It really hurts and scares me to think that bigots could outweigh the number of rational, kind people in the world… I hope it’s not true, even though it’s hard to tell based on media reports… And why aren’t there more people standing up and say, UMMM WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! Good for you for standing up to those assholes! And most importantly, thank goodness for falafel!!

    1. It’s terrifying, and I don’t understand – I don’t know anyone with these views, at least I don’t think I do, and I don’t understand how they persist when most people seem to agree that they are objectively wrong… I wonder what would happen if there was more intercultural communication and understanding… if these bigots interacted with normal Muslim people would they see that they are wrong and stop being horrible racists? Would it make a difference?

      Falafel really is the best!

  2. Apparently there was some nationalist group doing a similar thing at Porta Palazzo, the main outdoor market in Turin, not long after the Paris attacks last year. I didn’t see it, but a friend of mine who did said they were giving leaflets to everyone who looked Italian – but of course, lots of the people shopping at Porta Palazzo are (visibly) immigrants and I do suspect there was some intention to intimidate them by standing around being nationalist/racist among them while they were just trying to buy onions.

    It’s probably a good thing I didn’t see it, just hearing about it made me all “let’s go set their stall on fire!!!”

  3. I’m glad you told them what you thought too, I know it took some guts!
    If it makes you feel any better, I found some similar tracts in our mailbox the other day and immediately threw them in the garbage. They were full of lies and I couldn’t read more than a line of it without my blood boiling.
    I learned in the paper recently that the mayor of our village is suing the organization that distributed them for racist defamation.
    So, you never know, maybe your neigborhood will sue.

    1. Oh, I’m so happy to learn that the mayor took action against the organization! These dudes were set up right in the middle of a major public place in the middle of Lyon – I would have called the police if I had thought there was any legal recourse (but I also wasn’t sure if you’re allowed to call the police on Sunday in France… kidding, kidding!)

  4. I was disgusted by your Facebook post and Tweet; ugh! Good for you for standing up to them!

    I too have seen the rise of bigotry and racism (or so it seems!) and it’s so disheartening. I try to learn as much as I can but I need to strive to do more…

    1. I was so disgusted by them, my blood was boiling all day. I wish I had argued with them better. I know it didn’t make a difference. But I hope if enough people told them off it might. I was hoping to see them publicly shamed in the local newspaper everyone reads on the metro, but alas.

  5. Wow, how brazen of them to set up shop in the middle of a market. I think a lot of people feel the same way as these guys, that immigrants are ruining French culture but aren’t out there at the market spreading their views in public! I feel like it’s a really complicated topic, one that has a million different angles and view points. Mostly I think it’s sad that people can hate an entire group. That fear rules over rational thought and behavior. There’s no place for racism in society and it’s frightening that people like this (and so many more) exist in 2016. I don’t have a solution for the refugee crisis but I know bigotry isn’t the answer either. What losers those guys are

    1. That’s what I thought too! I mean, I know that racism exists in France, and it doesn’t surprise me that some people have a less-than-welcoming attitude to Islamic immigrants, but to seriously publicly proclaim that you believe ALL Muslims should be banned from France? Their leaflets said something like, “Our generation can take back France like it was before” aka “France would be better if everyone was white and there were no immigrants.” I agree that hating a whole group of people is terribly sad, and at the root of so many huge problems (and wars, and massacres…) They were some of the biggest losers I’ve ever encountered!

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