The Social Exclusion of Immigrants in Modern Paris

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This research paper will address issues regarding the government of France’s role in building inequality into their capital’s suburban neighborhoods. These cities are Paris’s banlieues, home to the city’s large immigrant communities plagued by lack of opportunity, surging unemployment, rampant poverty, and police discrimination. By law, the integration of an immigrant into French society is equated with obtaining citizenship. France’s model is heavily based on the principle of absolute equality where the state only interacts with individuals, not communities or groups to ensure equal treatment (Gilbert & Keane, 2018). Their policies reject any references to minorities. Consequently, the collection of data on race or ethnicity is prohibited in the country’s census. This practice is seen as the best way to ensure integration of all citizens in theory, yet it has rendered minorities invisible and introduced systemic forms of discrimination in practice. French immigrants still find themselves faced with discrimination and racism which excludes them from the full benefits of citizenship that their native counterparts receive (Gonick, 2011).

However, there is heavy resistance against the idea that race marginality exists in Paris among French scholars. This defiance is consistent with France’s immigration history which tends to emphasize class status and regional culture over racial differences (Stovall, 2001). Historically, the banlieues were working-class industrial towns. Before they were symbols of immigration and racial conflict in France, they were symbols of social class marginality. Near the beginning of the twentieth century, Paris had developed a strong presence in the industrial sector that led to the construction of factories in industries such as chemicals and metalworking. These industries were primarily established in the urban periphery of Paris because of the city’s dense urban fabric, and the harmful side effects produced by the factories (Stovall, 2001). This created a higher supply of jobs and low-income housing in these areas than the capital; thus, attracting rural immigrants from the province to settle in the banlieues. Unskilled labourers and their families were also forced to move into the banlieues due to shortages in low-income housing in Paris (Stovall, 2001). In the late 1970s, the government created new policies to encourage home ownership among the lower middle class. This led to people moving out of the banlieues and leaving behind empty units that would eventually be occupied by more disadvantaged people, often new immigrants (Gonick, 2011).

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Immigrants who came into Paris were predominantly of European descent; however, in the 1970s, France began to experience large waves of immigration from places outside of Europe, particularly North and sub-Saharan Africa (Barou, 2012). These families would settle into the empty lots in working-class banlieues that were previously inhabited by the French middle class. This change in the character of immigrants coming into Paris coincided with the de-industrialization of the city’s previous vital industrial towns (Stovall, 2001). Combined, these developments combined produced a new generation of immigrants faced with chronic unemployment and viewed by the French as inassimilable. As indicated by growing rates of unemployment and ethnic diversity, the banlieues began transitioning away from class to racial marginality.


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