Black and Blue

by Geoff Shandler | June 21, 2010

Last week I wrote about the self-destruction of the French team, though even I did not expect things to get as bad as they have. (Could anyone?) Yes, the French as a nation like to go on strike, but the current meltdown is unprecedented and humiliating. But I wonder if the full extent of this mutiny may have a more damaging impact than an intense blush.

A recent poll in France—and one poll is only indicative of one poll—revealed that, compared with earlier surveys, French racism is on the rise. Drawing upon a sample of 1,029 subjects aged 15 or older, the poll found that 30% of the French agree with the idea that Jews have more influence on finance and the media than other groups, while 28%, think that Arabs are more likely to commit crimes than members of other ethnic groups. This latter figure has more than doubled from that in a comparable poll last year. Now, I take all polls with a grain of salt and then some. And I think that it can be very risky to read too much into recent French racism scandals, such as the comments of Brice Hortefeux, a former immigration minister who told a crowd at a campaign stop, “When there’s one [Arab], that’s okay. It is when there are a lot of them that there are problems.” (Ditto the recent attempt by extremist groups to hold a “pork sausage and wine” street party in Paris in protest of “Islamization.”) But more than a quarter of those polled accorded with a classic racist view of blacks as savages, saying that they regarded them as more physically powerful than other groups. There were other disturbing findings, and if you compile the poll numbers, more than 10% of those French polled confessed that they are racist.

I have not studied comparable polling in countries like the United States, and I’m sure that a terrifyingly substantial percentage of Americans harbor disgusting racist opinions. But my question of the day is: Given the ethnic and racial constitution of the French team, will the backlash against this team stoke anti-black and anti-Muslim anger back home? Anelka may or may not have been unfairly dismissed, Evra may or may not have stood up for higher principle when confronting Duverne. Players and staff of all backgrounds have contributed. But why do I have a slightly sinking feeling about the prism through which numerous French will see the current disaster? 

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