France’s Other State of Emergency

This guest post is published as part of a series related to the American Sociological Association conference from August 12 – 15 in Montreal, Quebec. #ASA17

By Jean Beaman, author of Citizen Outsider: Children of North African Immigrants in France

France has been under a state of emergency since the November 2015 terrorist attacks in several sites in the Parisian metropolitan region, including the Stade de France stadium and the Bataclan theater. Originally put into place by then-President Francois Hollande, it has since been extended about six times. Current president Emmanuel Macron has proposed extending the state of emergency until November of this year—two years after the November terrorist attacks.

Why does this matter? Under the state of emergency, police officers are allowed to conduct searches without warrants, among other measures. And such measures have disproportionately affected black and North African-origin individuals. According to a recent Amnesty International Report, French authorities are increasing using emergency powers to restrict protests and demonstrations. This is the longest state of emergency in France since the Algerian War of Independence.

But France has another state of emergency – how it treats its racial and ethnic minorities. In my forthcoming book, Citizen Outsider: Children of North African Immigrants in France, I show how the North African second-generation is constantly treated as if they were not French even though they are, as revealed by the marginalization and racism they experience. The individuals I discuss were born and raised in France, are educated, and have achieved a middle-class status and upward mobility relative to their immigrant parents. Yet, they are still treated like second-class citizens, or denied cultural citizenship, because of they are non-white. France therefore has a growing of citizens who despite adhering to Republican ideology and doing everything “right” cannot be seen as fully French or be fully included in mainstream society. Much like second-generation Latinos in the U.S., they are continually asked, “Where are from?” and the answer, France, is never satisfactory.

Despite the defeat of Marine le Pen in the recent presidential election, racism and xenophobia have not gone away. President Macron was under controversy this past June for a joke he made about the boats that transport Comorian migrants to Mayotte, a French department off the coast of Eastern Africa. And police violence against black and North African-origin individuals is a growing problem, including the summer 2016 death of Adama Traoré in the banlieue of Beaumont-sur-Oise and the February 2017 beating and rape of Theo L in the banlieue of Aulnay-sous-Bois. Despite France’s emphasis on a cohesive national community, it remains uncomfortable and unsettled with the multicultural nature of its population.


Jean Beaman Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University.

At publication date, a free ebook version of this title will be available through Luminos, the UC Press open access publishing program. Visit www.luminosoa.org to learn more.