French officials have long disparaged the concept of race. Now, it’s no longer in the French constitution.
French MPs on both the left and the right on Wednesday voted to remove the word “race” from the constitution. They argued that since race is a made-up social construct, it doesn’t exist and the word should therefore be taken out.
The MPs replaced “race” with the word “sex.” The new draft of the constitution now states that citizens are equal before the law “regardless of sex, origin or religion.”
The word “race” was first added to France’s post-war constitution in 1946 as a powerful rebuke of the racist ideology propagated by the Nazis and the collaborationist French regime. It was kept in 1958, when the constitution was updated, but politicians have long been campaigning to remove it. During his 2012 election campaign, former president Francois Hollande said “there are no different races,” adding that the word “has no place in the Republic.”
Racial categories that are commonplace in the US and UK—such as white, black, and Asian—don’t officially exist in France. (In fact, those categories are absent from much of Europe, where racial statistics have long been associated with Nazi Germany.) This means that the French government doesn’t keep track of the racial mix of schools, universities, and workplaces. The logic is simple: to avoid racism, avoid categorizing people by race and instead treat everyone equally.
When the issue of collecting racial statistics came up in France in 2007, many academics signed a letter of protest stating:
Ethnic statistics would have the effect of bringing in the notion of ‘race’—whose non-scientific character and danger are well-known by all—and to foster inter-community conflicts.
However, critics suggest these lofty principles keep the government ignorant of the extent of racial discrimination in the country.