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“A fundamental problem which deserves serious discussions rather than insults”, pleads the sociologist Michel Wieviorka

The Unef, the second student union, justifies the holding of “racialized single-sex meetings” from which non-white people are excluded, for “to allow people affected by racism to be able to express what they are undergoing”. Since then, the union has been stuck in the controversy: Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of Education, warns against a slope “fascist”, Christophe Castaner, president of the group En Marche at the Assembly, denounces “a totally scandalous exacerbated indigenist clientelism”. Even outcry on the right and the far right, who accuse the Unef of racism and separatism and several elected officials have called for its dissolution.

On the left, a statement by Audrey Pulvar has rekindled the already fueled controversy: the head of the socialist list for the regional in Ile-de-France estimated Sunday March 28 that if a white person shows up at one of these “single-sex” meetings “, “we can ask him to be silent”. A judged statement “unhappy” by the PS, and “clumsy” by EELV. The two parties distance themselves from the UNEF while denouncing “instrumentalisation” controversy by the government. “The bottom line is not what Audrey Pulvar said, it’s racism”, considers Alexis Corbière (La France insoumise).

For the UNEF, these discussion groups reserved for racialized people organized about twice a year are “known to all” and started in the 2010s “in response to the needs of activists claiming to be victims of gender-based and sexual violence”. Sociologist Michel Wieviorka, director of studies at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and author of a column published in Release on these support groups, invites for its part to a more serene debate, Tuesday, March 30 on franceinfo. It invites to shift the debate and to wonder about the fact that “people somehow feel defined by race”

franceinfo: Are these “single-sex” support groups for the voice of minorities, born half a century ago in the United States, useful?

Michel Wieviorka : They can be useful, they can even be very useful. The Women’s Liberation Movement (MLF) in the 1970s not only organized such groups, but even organized demonstrations where there were only women. These are times when we reflect between people who have the same difficulties, so who may just as well feel more free to develop, as we sometimes say, self-awareness. There are many groups that do this: Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers who want to lose weight … Let us ask ourselves the question: in everyday life, in how many situations are we between ourselves? Here, it poses the problem of race and it is a problem that crosses all of society.

I find it unfortunate that we focus on these groups, which are not much and do not necessarily lead to action. This is an internal problem within a union: it is within this framework for union members to say if they do not want it. And that’s not your problem if you’re not at Unef. However, this reflects a problem: is not our society in the process of racializing itself, of living as made up of races? I hear the criticism against UNEF, which is obviously very clumsy, but today everyone is talking about white people, white skin color. So you have, on the right, people who denounce “anti-white racism”, or people like Lilian Thuram who is writing a book, very interesting by the way, on “white thought”.

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You say that race is the creation of racists and that taking this word and making it a criterion amounts to playing the game of these people …

This can indeed create misunderstanding: when we talk about race, we normally first think of this pseudo-scientific invention according to which there are human groups, and especially that we can prioritize them. And that some are superior to others, justifying exploitation, destruction and many other horrors. The word race is historically charged … Unef uses it by saying that race is a social construction, that is to say that society creates the idea of ​​race. The union reappropriates this notion, to come and say: we are a race, we are therefore racialized, racialized, and we return the stigma, as we say in psychology, that is to say that we return the disqualification and we say that the others are also a race.

You write in a column published in “Liberation”: “No democrat can accept the lasting separation of the non-racialized and the racialized.” Why use the word “sustainable”?

This does not pose any problem to me if it is a moment of awareness, reflection, discussion and then joining, if it is a trade union, mobilizations which have a general, universal value, in which very different people will meet. But if tomorrow, at the end of these self-awareness groups, the Unef tells us that they are at war with the whites and are not participating in anything at all that could go the other way, in this case, I would say it’s a disaster.

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Audrey Pulvar, the PS candidate for regional in Ile-de-France, declared that there was no question for her to prohibit these meetings to whites, that they can come but that they can be asked to ” to shut up”. Do you agree ?

I think she said something stupid. Can you imagine being invited to participate in a meeting but in the second category, silent? No. You are either invited or you are not invited. We have to move on.

Regarding these meetings, the Minister of Education denounces practices “which resemble fascism”, while the left has been slouching for days on the issue. Why is this subject so sensitive on the left?

The left is divided on this issue, but this subject is sensitive everywhere. Let’s not exaggerate the importance of this matter: it is about a few self-awareness groups in a union, which is not even the first, in a university where unions are weak. However, there is a basic problem, which has become a social problem. Our society is multicultural and diverse: people somehow feel defined by race. From there, it would be better if there were serious discussions rather than insults. The Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, is going a little hard, I am sorry to have to see it. Where is the fascism in these few self-conscious groups? Instead of getting into a serious debate about what we do with skin color, whether it comes into the debate, whether we like it or not, and how to think about it, the same way we asked ourselves the question of women’s mobilizations. It’s a bit the same kind of problem: instead of discussing it quietly, seriously, serenely, on the substance, we fabricate invective to which, obviously, other invectives respond.

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