Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Paris Burns

For those puzzled about the French youth burning cars in Paris, I suggest people read Walter Mosely’s wonderful novel “Little Scarlet” about the Watts Rebellion in 1965. Watts in 1965 was very similar to the suburbs of Paris–very high unemployment for black youth, constant police harassment, lack of youth opportunities, poor schools, etc.

Mosely particularly shows how the hero Easy Rawlins, a 40 something employed black famly man with family who owns apartments, is constantly stopped by the police just as he walks down the street. I taught the book recently, and the students at LACC, mostly Asian and Latino immigrants, couldn’t understand two things at first: they couldn’t understand how bad the segregation was in Los Angeles and they couldn’t understand why the black male hero didn’t burn down anything but merely watches from his office. Easy Rawlins sympathizes with the grievances of youth in the street but doesn’t think burning helps really. Actually, Rawlins sympthizes with the pain of two white small storeowners whose shops have been destroyed by the riots. Yet Rawlins is positively affected, as when the cops need him to solve a murder, he demands to be treated with respect. Constantly through the novel he again and again demands to be treated decently by the cops.

I think the French youth in the streets (not immigrants as these youth are 2nd and 3rd generation French) also need to be treated with respect–respect is at the core of what they’re asking. The Minister of Interior Skorzy is so hated because he shows no respect–rather the opposite as he is insulting calling them "scum."

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