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Racial Prejudice In French And British Immigration Policy

2551 words - 11 pages

Racial Prejudice in French and British Immigration Policy

FRANCE AND BRITAIN TODAY ARE SHADOWS OF THE GREAT COLONIAL EMPIRES they once dominated, yet the consequences of their imperial acquisitions continue to linger as both countries seek to moderate the immigration of persons from countries once part of vast imperial collections.  In general, there is little public concern when an immigrant hails from Canada or Australia or another ‘white’ dominion.  It’s a different reaction, however, when it’s a low-skilled black immigrant from Algeria or the Caribbean.  This ‘reaction’ by both the general public and policy-makers results in immigration legislation that unduly discriminates on the ...view middle of the document...

  Still, in both instances immigration policy is much more discriminatory at the close of the millennium than it was just forty years earlier.

IN THE EARLY POST-WAR ERA, most of the immigration to Britain was from other European countries, including many Irish and Polish, according to John Solomos, author of Race & Racism in Britain (Solomos 53-54).  Yet a significant change in British immigration policy would come in 1948 with the institution of the British Nationality Act, distinguishing between citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and citizens of independent Commonwealth states, yet conferring citizens of both with the right to enter, work, and settle in Britain without restriction.  It did not much alter the practical status of citizens of independent Commonwealth states, who had been considered full citizens of Great Britain with ‘free movement’ and ‘the protection of the crown’ since passage of the 1914 Imperial Act, but it would represent one of the first chips off an Imperial Act that would gradually be whittled down to shavings by racist immigration policymaking in London.

In post-war France, writes Alec G. Hargreaves in his book Immigration, ‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Contemporary France, the national government welcomed--even recruited!-- immigrants to help rebuild the country following years of war and depression (Hargreaves 10).  Like Britain, the majority of immigrants to France were European, hailing from Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal, with limited numbers of Armenian, Russian, and Jewish migrants (9-10).  Quickly, however, the economies of other European states began to improve, and the share of European immigrants to France declined while the portion of Maghreb (Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian) immigrants--visible racial minorities--began to climb (12).

It should be noted that the French perspective of minorities is decidedly differently than the Anglo-American perspective.  According to Hargreaves, the French social relations vocabulary is relatively limited, with the word ‘immigration’ pertaining to a number social concepts related to race and ethnicity (1-2) and the word ‘immigrant’ itself generally describing a low-skilled migrant from the Third-World (18).  The author also states that the French do not recognise individual ethnic groups, but speak of ‘integration’--an implicit ‘presupposition’ that newcomers to French society are to become integrated into the culture (1-2).

The denial of ethnic minorities by French society is mirrored (if not encouraged) by the French government.  According to Hargreaves, immigration statistics are kept only of first-generation immigrants.  States the author, ‘In the official mind of the state, the formal integration of immigrants and their descendants goes hand-in-hand with their obliteration as a distinct component of French society’ (4).

Residents of French overseas departments and territories (known by the French acronym DOM-TOM), including Martinique,...

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