Ok, Zidane screwed up, Materazzi must have said something truly awful to him. But he has never promoted himself as a New Age pussycat. And on the sportsmanship scale, World Cup football had never been up there with polo or lawn bowling, so the shock value is approximately equal to the number of witnesses, ie, a couple of billion.
But the following words by John Vinocur in today’s International Herald Tribune ring truer to me then the shameful blatherings of Europe’s least shameless politician, Jacques Chirac, on the same subject.
“Deservedly thrown out of the last game of his career Sunday night for a dumb head butt, it’s a guess to say a soccer career provided a safety valve for the inarticulated rage inhabiting a saint from the La Castellane housing projects.”
Rage? What rage?
My claim to authority here is meager, but I have eyes and ears. For all its talk about equality, about being a “terre d’accueil” France is a place for white people, and more precisely, white men. France likes to think of itself as different and in many ways, it is. French racism, for instance, is very French, and unfortunately, very pervasive.
The unspoken pact that France has had with its immigrÃ©s for decades has been “You come here, we’ll greet you warmly, we’ll give you free housing in beautiful suburban developments built just for you, you’ll get some spending money every month, free health care, a monthly allowance for every child you bear. You, in turn, will sweep our floors and dig our trenches. BUT DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GETTING A REAL JOB!”
Just sigh on the dotted line. L’immigration qui vient du coeur.
Palpable signs of this franco-french version of gilded racism are everywhere, have seamlessly blended into the fabric of French society to a point where they have taken on a cloak of respectable invisibility.
It is an unfortunate fact that Zidane would not be allowed into our local discotheque on a saturday night here in SW France if the guy at the door thought he was simply a random North African and not The French national football hero. The 6 other non-white starters on the French team would meet the same rejection.
He would be blamed by 30% of the adult population for everything that seems to be wrong in this country, unless whatever it was could be blamed on the omnipresence of the wicked European Union bureaucrats.
And like so much that has gone wrong with France, examining the subject truthfully is a big taboo. Long ago, France legislated its race problems into invisibility.
The suburban race riots last winter showed the folly of this approach. Will Zidane’s shame and subsequent contrition help open the breach a little wider? Will France finally get it about race, about racism?