oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Race, ethnicity, discrimination and violence in colour-blind France - research

Volume 25 Number 2
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



The Universalist ideals of the French Revolution, which proclaimed that all men are born equal, inspired a principle that crystallised during the nineteenth-century Republican period. This principle asserts that racial and ethnic differences have to be minimised. Race and ethnicity are, therefore, theoretically not recognised in France. The only recognised distinction in France is between a French citizen and a foreigner. As a result of this principle, a vestige of the late nineteenth century, any laws, government policies, data and research that are based on race or ethnicity, are prohibited in France. There is consequently a paucity of comparative research and data on racial and ethnic groups in France. Adherence to this principle has also stymied honest debates about racism and racial discrimination in France. Since the twentieth century, however, there has been a tendency to depart from this principle, as evidenced by several government policies and practices that tacitly recognise race and ethnicity. A departure from the principle is also evident in several laws that make explicit reference to race and ethnicity. Such laws include anti-discrimination laws, laws that prohibit incitement to racial violence and laws that are akin to hate- crime laws in the Anglo-Saxon world. This contribution examines some of these laws and government policies, as well as the historical circumstances that led to their enactment and implementation. It focuses on migration to France from the mid-twentieth century, and on the social and economic conditions of migrants. A departure from the Universa list principle, which espouses the non-recognition of race and ethnicity, was inevitable, since by the mid-twentieth century, France had become a racially and ethnically-diverse country, in which racial and ethnic discrimination and violence were widespread. In the conclusion, some consideration is given to the relevance of the principle that espouses the non-recognition of race and ethnicity, and which inspired the adoption of a “colour-blind” assimilationist model in present-day France.

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