France is officially colorblind. Reality is not.

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But these ideals collide with the complexities of lived reality. France is one of the most multi-ethnic societies in the West, and it is not because it does not officially recognize race that race or racism does not exist. The upheavals over the murder of George Floyd resounded in the country, generating public demonstrations against police brutality and debates on institutional racism and the privilege of whites, on the history of slavery and colonialism in France, on the question of whether the statues of French historical figures accomplices of slavery should be removed. In France, Black Lives Matter has expanded to a conversation on social and economic mobility and access to housing, education and employment. Less than 1% of the CEOs of companies listed on the French Stock Exchange are “of non-European origin” The world recently reported.

This inevitably leads to France large schools, prestigious public universities such as Sciences Po which are at the heart of the tensions between the country’s universalist meritocratic ideals and the creation by schools of a predominantly white elite which is perpetuated and excludes many students from the provinces or from France suburbs, suburbs with a high concentration of immigrant communities.

France large schools are much more powerful than the Ivy League, or even the British from Oxford and Cambridge. They were founded as free postgraduate and publicly funded schools designed to train the officials who would run France, and for years they had a solid monopoly on all French power systems, educating them presidents, legislators and heads of major institutions and Crown corporations. . (There are hundreds of large schools, with different specialties and selectivity levels. The École Polytechnique, for example, which trains engineers, is run by the Ministry of Defense.)

In theory, access to large schools is based on an entrance exam that anyone can apply for. In practice, the test is so difficult that most aspiring students spend several years studying in special preparatory schools, many of which are private and expensive by French standards. As a result, the majority of students entering this country come from a handful of the best high schools and preparatory programs in the country. Even the guards have guards.

The entrance exams themselves are not just written cases or multiple choice tests, but involve oral exams in which a faculty jury instructs prospective students to speak with ease on a range of subjects – more like the bar exam as the SAT. The staging, or staging, is designed “to produce deference, respect, social distance between the student and the institution”, and thus produces inequalities, Annabelle Allouch, professor of sociology at the University of Picardie Jules Verne at Amiens and Sciences Po, and the author of a book on exams, told me so. ” The large schools are invested in this kind of magic thinking that they are superior. “Students from ethnic minorities in France” internalized the fact that the discourse on social class is legitimate and the discourse on race is illegitimate, “she added.

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