The current health crisis and resulting lockdown have highlighted social inequality and exacerbated the discrimination suffered, in particular, by people of foreign origin or perceived as such. Stigmatising words and behaviours have increased, especially against groups perceived as vectors for the coronavirus.
Anti-Asian racism, denounced worldwide, has gained momentum, ranging from insults and assaults in the public sphere to bullying of children in school. Moreover, social networks and certain media platforms have contributed to the deepening prejudices against the residents of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, who are presented as more “undisciplined” when it comes to healthcare compliance. Recent studies have also highlighted the overexposure of individuals of immigrant origin to health risks and disease, owing to severe inequalities in employment, housing and health.
This crisis has only amplified a reality that is too often ignored or downplayed. Indeed, all the studies and data available to the Defender of Rights indicate that origin-based discrimination remains widespread in France and affects the daily lives and pathways of millions of people, challenging their life trajectories and most fundamental rights. This discrimination affects a significant fraction of French society and is not limited to the issue of nationality or migration path.
It affects both foreign nationals and French nationals of foreign origin (almost 21% of the French population), as well as all generations born of French parents assigned to a different origin. Origin as a ground, provided for in Article 225-1 of the French Criminal Code, refers to the projection of stereotypes and exclusion based on various characteristics resulting from essentialisation, including skin colour or surname. This symbolic distinction between “us” and “them” translates into concrete and substantive effects: discrimination, segregation, social inequality and even forms of harassment and violence.
In mainland France, actual or presumed origin is the second most significant ground for discrimination after gender: 11% of individuals report that they have experienced discrimination based on their origin or skin colour over the last five years.
The new report by the French Defender of Rights shows that the prevalence of discrimination based on origin which affects the lives of millions of individuals calls into question their most fundamental rights, as well as social cohesion.