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In the Doubs, intellectuals try to give meaning to universalism

From one symposium to another… Last January, Jean-Michel Blanquer took part in a meeting at the Sorbonne devoted to the fight against wokism. Six months later, it was his successor, Pap Ndiaye, who spoke on Monday, June 27, at the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans (Doubs), to question the notion of universalism more openly.

Two conferences, two lines of debate, two ministers with divergent visions. While Jean-Michel Blanquer has always displayed an uncompromising attachment to republican universalism, Pap Ndiaye refuses the alternative, in his eyes simplistic, between the rise of identities and universalist logic.

Better consideration of gender and disability issues

This specialist in black history is thus convinced that the assertion of identities “thin”based on the common experience of discrimination, even racism, “pushes to unite to claim, in the name of the universal”. An approach “legitimate but also necessary for democratic life”because it does “issues of gender, sexual identity, disability, historically poorly treated by French political grammar arise”supports the minister.

Pap Ndiaye is however aware of stepping on “a ridge line”. Because, as several speakers have underlined, today more than ever, identities are quick to close in on themselves, while universalism, hammered home by some in an abstract way, sometimes stems above all from a tension with regard to Islam.

The reappearance of the term “race” in the field of research

One thing is certain, this principle is being attacked from all sides. And not only by those who consider it a Western construction, or see in it a beautiful idea distorted by centuries of colonization and slavery, an ideal serving to mask a hegemony of whites. While in recent years, the biologically unfounded term “race” has been adopted by many researchers to designate a social fact, while anti-Semitism has spread among populations from Arab and/or or Muslims, certain movements claiming anti-racism, such as the Party of the Natives of the Republic, reject this heritage of the Revolution.

They prefer to focus on particular identities and even go so far as to organize meetings reserved for “racialized”. “Anti-racism then does not only fragment: it feeds by its fragmentation processes of disqualification where it seems to lose its soul and its universal dimensions”, considers the sociologist Michel Wieviorka, who co-directs the International Platform on Racism and Anti-Semitism, at the origin of these three days of colloquium.

French defiance

“Anti-universalism sometimes takes an anti-democratic turn, which has nothing to do with equality of rights.rights, observes Ariane Chebel d’Appollonia, a political scientist at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, in the United States. We see it in the white supremacist movement on the one hand, sometimes also, on the other, in the movement of post-colonial studies which developed across the Atlantic. For the most radical proponents of this approach, which is gradually extending its influence in France, everything is denunciation, everything is pointed out as racist. We end up witnessing an inflation of racism, black women refusing to fight alongside white women on the pretext that skin color prevents the latter from understanding their condition. she laments.

In France, distrust of universalism is part of a context where “the feeling of discrimination and contempt has become in ten years the grammar of our society, yet much more tolerant than half a century ago”, analyzes the sociologist François Dubet. A truly paradoxical phenomenon: “The more we have the feeling of being equal, the more inequalities are unbearable for us”, he points.

Identity logics

Illustration of the significance of identity logics even in schools, two researchers spoke of their field work in a professional high school class in which half of the students said they were victims of racism on the part of the teachers. Work that led to proposals, such as the promotion in the school environment of the languages ​​spoken at home to eliminate any conflict of loyalty between school and family.

“We must recognize that anti-racism as an action is orphaned by what makes the strength of social or cultural movements: the ability to articulate a principle of unity and a principle of identity”, believes Michel Wieviorka. And Ariane Chebel d’Appollonia to sketch two tracks: “Finding what there is in common beyond the different particularisms”, but also “emphasizing what is common in our ways of perceiving our own difference”.


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