Members of the Emploi-Jeunes tend to be of North African origin. "Obviously, if we can hire Maghrebians [North Africans], we hire as many as we can," says Canu. The result is resentment from some of Roubaix's non-Arab residents. "Certain people," Canu says, "obviously racists, say we only hire French people of foreign origin. 'You hire too many North Africans, when there are plenty of French unemployed.' But private enterprises refuse categorically to hire them.... So you get perfectly competent French people of North African origin, with degrees, who after a long course of study get passed over. It's scandalous." Canu estimates the proportion of Roubaix's Emploi-Jeunes hires of North African ancestry at 30 to 40 percent. But to judge from a random sampling of young yellow-jacketed security adjuncts I met in the new McArthur Glen shopping mall, it looks more like 100 percent.
These are plum jobs, and these mediators, facilitators, and security adjuncts are the cream of Roubaix's youth. Many hold other jobs (menial ones, like cleaning shops or manning cash registers), and a majority pass their baccalaureates. Shop-owners in Roubaix are delighted with their presence, which has done a great deal to reduce crime. As regards their situation as young beurs, as the children of Arab immigrants are called in most of France (the word is not used in Roubaix, where they're called arabes), all of the ones I spoke with pointed to problems, but none could be said to have a chip on his shoulder. Omar is the most apt to point to discrimination in hiring, but the most satisfied with the state of French society. He says he speaks only "a little bit" of Arabic, but wants his children to speak it, because it's "good for France." Rashid, asked if the generation of immigrants' children is more drawn to religion than its parents were, smiles and pulls out an Arab prayerbook. As perhaps the most devout of the Muslims in the group, he's the least inclined to attack employers for racism; his own boss (being a security adjunct is a second job) gives him and his fellow Muslim employees regular prayer breaks throughout the workday. Then again, his easy-going attitude could be attributed to the fact that Rashid is the son of harkis, Algerians who fled their country after fighting alongside the French in the colonial war the French lost in 1962. "There is no nationality question for me," he says. "My parents converted to the French flag by fighting for France. They earned their nationality."
In the middle of our conversation, another yellow-jacketed security adjunct walks up. His name is Nasser, he's in his early twenties, and he plays for the French national indoor-soccer team. When he complains about discrimination in discothèques, I think to ask him if he shares the view of David Dufresne, a cultural critic for the national daily newspaper Libération, that rap music today plays as important a role in uniting poorer neighborhoods as sport did thirty years ago. He replies, "Maybe in certain neighborhoods. Not in mine." But would he agree with Dufresne that rap has become a rallying point of sorts? "Yeah. A rallying point for delinquents."
These kids are the beneficiaries of an American-style affirmative-action program. If it fails, it will be by fostering a sense of unequal treatment among Roubaix's native-born whites. It's certainly playing with fire. On the other hand, if it succeeds, it will have won Roubaix's beurs a place in society without their ever having had to pass through an American-style stage of formalized grievance.