Race riots: coming soon to your neighborhood?

First, an update on the rioting in France. Since Wednesday, forty municipalities have imposed curfews on minors. In Paris, according to the Globe and Mail,

police banned public gatherings that could “provoke or encourage disorder” from 10 a.m., local time, Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. It was the first such ban in the French capital in at least a decade, said police spokesman Hugo Mahboubi.

Rioting has weakened in intensity since the curfews were introduced. Nonetheless, police counted 315 cars torched across France yesterday night.

Europeans are nervously monitoring events in France, wondering if they soon will be facing a similar crisis. The Washington Post reports:

The burning cars and social fury exploding across France have transfixed the rest of Europe, where countries with sizable and growing immigrant populations are confronted by some of the same underlying tensions but are cautiously hopeful that the violence won’t spread. …

While politicians and police chiefs in other European nations with substantial immigrant populations — notably Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands — say they have seen no visible signs of unrest, they acknowledge that the French riots have grabbed their attention and reminded them of what could happen if they don’t do more to address problems at home.

One phenomenon cries out for an explanation. The discontent in France and elsewhere is traced not to recent immigrants, but to the children of immigrants. In other words, visible minorities who were born in Western cities. The issue first came into focus when it was discovered that some of the perpetrators of the London bombings had been born in England.

An article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail offers an interesting perspective. Recent research

shows an emerging population of Canadian-raised daughters and sons of visible-minority immigrants à la France whose accents and cultural reference points are as Canadian as maple syrup, but who in many respects feel less welcome in the country than their parents.

“Their parents came to improve their lives,” says University of Toronto sociologist Jeffrey Reitz, one of Canada’s foremost academic experts on immigration and multiculturalism.

“They can make comparisons to where they were. They can [move] on. But for their children born in Canada, they don’t have the option of going anywhere else. And they expect equality. Therefore their expectations are much higher.”

I don’t know that this is the full explanation, but it’s the first analysis that makes any sense to me.

(an idyllic photo from Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

Visible minorities born in Western cities have higher expectations than their parents. Westerners boast about equal opportunity for all, and they take those comments at face value. When they discover that a lot of doors are closed to them it comes as a rude shock.

Are the doors closed because they are visible minorities? Or do they face the same kinds of obstacles as those who are not visible minorities?

We all start out with some characteristics that work to our advantage and others that hold us back. For example, some studies have shown that income is related to height, with each inch adding about $789 to one’s yearly income. If this is true, the fact that I’m vertically challenged (5’6½”) holds me back economically.

On the other hand, if you’re Paris Hilton, you can become rich and (in)famous despite having neither talent, brains, nor anything else that should qualify you for success in a meritocracy. Equal opportunity for all doesn’t work out quite as advertised.

Still, you can’t argue with people’s experience:

Listen to the voice of 22-year-old Rahel Appiagyei, a third-year student in international relations attending Toronto’s elite bilingual Glendon College at York University.

“No, I don’t feel accepted,” she says. “The one thing I don’t understand — me, personally, and for blacks in general — is why we’re still seen as immigrants.”

In the Canada of her experience, she says, “the word ‘immigrant’ is used to mean coloured and the word ‘Canadian’ is a code word for Caucasian.” Her parents emigrated from Ghana in 1988, when she was 5. Immigrants from Ghana — along with those from Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan — have the highest rates of poverty in Canada, between 50 and 80 per cent. She, her parents and five siblings live crowded into a three-bedroom apartment.

Ms. Appiagyei, whose idiom and accent with trademark raised ou diphthong are flawlessly Canadian, says with pride that her family has never needed a penny of welfare, that her father has steadily worked since he arrived, and that she is the first in the family to be accomplishing what her mother and father brought their children to Canada to do.

She cites the Toronto school board’s policy of zero tolerance for violence and points out its targets are overwhelmingly black students. Something can’t be right with a policy that winds up being aimed at a single racial group, she says. “It gives me a lot of messages.”

Ms. Appiagyei tells the story of living one summer in Quebec with a family to learn French. The father made clear that he associated blacks with poverty and one day commented that he had never thought blacks attractive until he met her. “It was a compliment and insult at the same time.”

The Ethnic Diversity Study found 37 per cent of Canada’s visible minorities report discrimination, and for blacks alone the figure is 50 per cent.

Ms. Appiagyei says the more engaged and involved in Canadian life she becomes, the more she encounters gaps between her expectations of what Canadian society should be and the reality she encounters.

She tells of being often asked: “‘You’re from Africa, how come you know English so well?’ I feel I’m always being assessed with lions and tigers, with remoteness. Why is it we’re not allowed to feel we belong here?”

I accept that visible minorities face an additional obstacle to success. And maybe it’s a big obstacle — there’s no way for caucasians like me to evaluate it.

Nonetheless, as I explained in my previous post on the riots in Paris, I think the social problem is particularly acute in France. Citizens of other European nations evidently feel the same (returning here to the Washington Post article):

European lawmakers and analysts also pointed to evidence that the French riots were being fueled by conditions that were not mirrored elsewhere. While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of integration and assimilation throughout Europe, they said, segregation, unemployment and social alienation seem much more pronounced in the suburbs around Paris and other French cities. …

Friedrich Heckmann, a professor of immigration studies at the University of Bamberg in Germany, said studies show that it is more difficult for second-generation French to move out of the slums or segregated neighborhoods and find jobs than for people of the same age and background in Britain and Germany.

That’s my impression, too — that conditions here in Canada are not what they are in France.

But maybe I’m unduly complacent. What is your opinion? Are similar riots likely to break out in Canada? Are they likely to break out in the UK or the USA?

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. CyberKitten
    Nov 13, 2005 @ 16:20:00

    Q said: Are they likely to break out in the UK

    Been there, had them….

    There is SOME intergration and assimilation in the UK… but nowhere near enough. Could we have race riots here in the future?

    Sure. I don’t see any reason why not. There are far too many ghettoes not only in this country but around the world. Ghettoes breed distrust, hatred and violence. It’s always been that way, but seems to be a lesson that needs to be learnt time and again.

    Reply

  2. Jack's Shack
    Nov 13, 2005 @ 21:46:00

    I get tired of some of the excuses that are used by people to account for violence.

    The world is not a fair place. It never has been and it never will be. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to improve it and to make it better,but it does mean that we need to do a better job of encouraging people to get over the excuses.

    The world is filled with tons of examples of people who have overcome adversity to be successful.

    Part of the problem is a sense of entitlement. In my opinion you should be entitled to affordable healthcare, housing and an education.

    That doesn’t mean that you get to live in a mansion, but that you have a real roof over your head and hopefully the skillset/tools from your education to try and find a good job and make something of yourself.

    Too much romanticizing in the media has too many people thinking that they are all entitled to live like Donald Trump.

    Work hard and see what happens, you have to earn it.

    All of this is a long winded way of saying that I think that we need to make sure that opportunity exists but that we are not obligated to compensate people for not taking advantage of said opportunity.

    Reply

  3. 49erDweet
    Nov 13, 2005 @ 22:49:00

    JS is speaking of CA, I know, but I can’t help point out many of the French rioters say they have no opportunity for jobs/career precisely because they are the children of immigrants.

    Is a ‘person of colour’ welcome in your own home? Would you work for one if they were to become your supervisor?

    During the last 18 months I’ve been surprised to discover just how badly biased much of the commonwealth remains.

    It’s an interesting inegma that a people claiming to be so politically lberal (and advanced thinkers) can be so “politely” biased against darker skin.

    Reply

  4. Mrs.Aginoth
    Nov 14, 2005 @ 05:09:00

    I agree with CK that we’ve “been there, done tha” – there were some awful race riots in the 70’s over similar issues as the recent french ones (remember we invited the carribean community to the UK in the 50’s to fill unskilled jobs)

    However, I don’t think we were watching the french riots very nervously – it is a different situation here now.

    Not that it’s a perfect one at all. TRhere are still “ghetto’s” (although not imposed by policy), there is a problem with discrimination still, and expectations are much higher.

    However, there is also plenty of assimilation * high profile people from minority backgrounds. There are many people/places that do not discriminate. There is a history of assimilation within the UK – what the muslims are going through now, the indians went through when I was a child, the Carribeans did the same during my parents youth, the Jews during my grand-parents etc.

    Could race riots happen here? Of course, given the right social pressure. Are we close to it? Nowhere near, in my opinion.

    I also partly agree with JS – some of the disacrimination is self-perceived or even self-imposed. Some of the discontent is from unrealistic expectations.

    some. Not all. Not even most.

    Reply

  5. Q
    Nov 14, 2005 @ 20:30:00

    • Cyberkitten:
    Sociologically speaking, if the ruling class of any society clings too tightly to its privileges, the underclass rises up against them. I think that’s the phenomenon you’re describing.

    Wise rulers give the underclass just enough freedom and power to keep the discontent within manageable levels, without actually relinquishing their privileges. Not that this is a very moral way to govern — it’s more of a Machiavellian approach. But it’s better than allowing things to build to a point of crisis and danger for the citizenry of the country.

    • Jack:
    You express yourself more forcefully than I would, but I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying.

    It seems self-evident that immigrants and their children do face obstacles that caucasians don’t have to deal with. But no one succeeds without a struggle (unless they’re born to wealth and privilege, like Paris Hilton).

    It takes a lot of hard work, some dumb luck, and the wisdom to make good choices at opportune moments. The formula is the same no matter the colour of your skin, it seems to me.

    • 49er:
    I’d be interested in knowing more about your recent experience. I work among Asians, blacks, and Aboriginals, and I can’t see that race is an obstacle to advancement. But I know I can’t assume that conditions are the same everywhere. In fact I know that what you speak of — “polite” racism — is a reality in many places.

    • Mrs. Aginoth:
    The closest thing to race riots in my lifetime, here in Canada, was the Oka (Mohawk Indian) crisis that dragged on for six months in 1990. I think it is very difficult for Canadians to imagine the scenes you’ve experienced in Britain and in the USA (thinking here of the Rodney King riots).

    Hmmmm … We also had the October Crisis when I was a kid. It was precipitated by Quebec separatists who used terrorism as a political tactic, and ultimately murdered a British diplomat. Prime Minister Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act and suspended civil liberies.

    History has judged Trudeau harshly for that decision, concluding that he overreacted. Nonetheless, I guess we have at least one precedent of political violence here in Canada.
    Q

    Reply

  6. Jack's Shack
    Nov 14, 2005 @ 23:04:00

    49er,

    I am a peace corps baby. My parents met in Ecuador. I grew up with people from all backgrounds and never spent much time thinking one way or another about race.

    When I was younger I used to be much more sympathetic to the complaints that people have and I think that there is truth to them.

    But when I look at my own country I see that the current and previous Sec of State are people of color, the AG is a Latino as is the Mayor of my city.

    I can only speak for myself, but I don’t judge people based upon their color.

    I am a proud Jew, but readily admit that there are some Jews who are embarrassments just as there are in every group because we are all human.

    And in my experience those that did the best were those people who didn’t allow challenges to prevent them from succeeding.

    Now I recognize that this will not always translate well, but I firmly believe that if you encourage/force people to reach for the higher standard they will just as if you let them grab the lower rung some will do that too.

    Reply

  7. 49erDweet
    Nov 15, 2005 @ 09:51:00

    JS, I salute you. My reply was not meant to address you, personally.

    After growing up as a WASP in the ‘City of the Angels’ I finally experienced abject, systematic racism during the Korean conflict while stationed on the gulf coast. At first I could not believe it! Alas, it was true.

    But even then some southerners spoke out against it, so I saw some hope.

    Q: My recent trip to England discovered some of the same attitudes among Brits found a half century earlier in the US. Some freely accepted socialization with people of colour, but “most” would not. They seemed to be politely biased.

    It certainly made me wonder exactly how “civilized” they truly were.

    Reply

  8. CyberKitten
    Nov 15, 2005 @ 11:12:00

    49erDweet said: It certainly made me wonder exactly how “civilized” they truly were.

    That really depends on who you meet/talk to…. Difficult to judge an entire nation from a small sample…

    Reply

  9. The Misanthrope
    Nov 15, 2005 @ 11:13:00

    What came to mind for me was the French Revolution and how that scared the daylights out of the leaders of other countries. The current situation in France is having the same effect — those with power and privilege are getting a bit worried because the gap between rich and poor is widening rapidly, so is discontent.

    Greed and selfishness are such wonderful human traits.

    Reply

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