French National Assembly. Photo: Flickr.com/ellbrown

French National Assembly.
Photo: Flickr.com/ellbrown

A bill proposed by the Front de gauche (FDG) eliminating the word “race” from French legislation was adopted by the National Assembly last Thursday. The term is to be deleted from the Code Pénal, the Code de procedure pénale, and from the law on the freedom of press.

André Chassaigne, Communist deputy and President of the FDG in the National Assembly, claims that the removal of the word contributes to the fight against prejudices and racist ideologies. Alfred Marie-Jeanne, who introduced the proposal, asserted that the “aberrant concept… does not have a place in our legislative order.”

The majority of the Parti socialiste (PS) supported the measure. Hollande, while campaigning for the presidency in 2012, had proposed eliminating the word from the Constitution. The first article of the Constitution guarantees equality of all citizens, without distinction of origin, race, or religion.

To avoid the risk of incrimination for racism, the socialist deputies adopted an amendment explicitly affirming that “the Republic is fighting racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia… it does not recognize the existence of any so-called race.”

While there is support for the measure, others consider it ineffective, since the word remains in the Constitution. Jean-Frédéric Poisson, deputy of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), reckons that the discrepancy will pose legal problems. He also argues that semantics, or replacing the word “race” with “origin” or “ethnicity,” may not be sufficient in meeting the law’s original intentions.

The likelihood of effecting real ideological change has also been called into question. While he did vote in favor of the law, Philippe Gomes, member of the Union des democrats et indépendants (UDI), questioned whether eliminating one word would dispel the “brown pest of ordinary hate.”

The law comes at a time when acts and threats “of racist character” increased by 23% in 2012. According to a study published in the Washington Post earlier this month, France is one of the least racially tolerant nations in all of Europe, with 22.7% saying they wouldn’t want a neighbor of another race.