Passing Strange Among the French

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Marine Le Pen declines to endorse, and Sarkozy hopes to prevail on immigration:


Across town, Sarkozy is holding a campaign rally of his own Tuesday where he is expected to reach out to the far right. In a radio interview Tuesday morning, he was asked whether France has too many immigrants, and answered, "yes." 

"Our system of integration doesn't work. Why? Because before we were able to integrate those who were received on our territory, others arrived. Having taken in too many people, we paralyzed our system of integration," he said on RMC radio. 

"I will never argue for zero immigration, but the reality is that when you invite more people than you can handle, you no longer integrate them," he said.

Above is a video of Le Pen speaking on election night. I can make out all of about 30 or 40 words, but you can still feel the power in her oratory.

One of my hopes, when I finally visit France, is to spend some time among their North and West African immigrant communities. One of the things I've picked up from a lot of the French thrillers I've watched is an almost 1986-like view of crime and immigration. Maybe I've watched Point Blank and Tell No One too many times, I don't know. But you get the sense of people who really believe they are sitting on a powder keg. 

I know virtually nothing about this issue, and look forward to learning more. But what I'm sure of is this--there is no European utopia for those of sick of struggling with the issues of race and culture. It's worth checking out this episode of This American Life, where a black woman moves to France to escape racism. And escape she does--she is seen primarily as an American. Of course she also discovers that that what Americans consider African-Americans, is about what the French consider African immigrants. 

Sand-niggers, kikes, spics and spooks are older than the name. The question for me, remains, Can you construct a national identity without a pariah class? And what is relationship between national identity and a strong social safety net?

I'm out of my depth. Talk to me like I'm stupid.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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