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The myth of “egalitarian France”

Ndiaye: subjected to a “verbal stoning”. Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty

When Emmanuel Macron appointed esteemed historian Pap Ndiaye as the first black man to be France’s minister for education, says Philippe Bernard in Le Monde, it “unleashed a barrage of criticism and insults”. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen called it a “terrifying choice”; others involved in the “violent verbal stoning” denounced the bookish 57-year-old as an agent of the “deconstruction of our country”, a “racialist”, an “indigenist” and an “Islamo-leftist”. The fact that so many found it “offensive” for a Frenchman of mixed race (Ndiaye has a Senegalese father) to rise so high in the government shows just how bogus France’s claims to egalité really are.

Contrast this with Britain appointing its first prime minister of Indian origin. When Rishi Sunak took the reins of a country that ruled India for two centuries, the UK congratulated itself on its ability to “open up to the world”. If anything, it was a “welcome self-celebration” at a turbulent time. The Times hailed the “extraordinary change” in Britain’s attitude toward race; Sajid Javid boasted that the UK was nothing less than “the most successful multicultural democracy in the world”. It puts the lie to the idea of “egalitarian France” vs parochial England. In France, “having dark skin leads to being suspected of republican disloyalty”; in England, diversity is such a success it has become “banal”. Formidable.