Race still matters in the global age

Disasters force the United States and France to confront their failures.

The notoriously proud United States and France have always delighted in pointing out each other’s shortcomings as developed nations. Whether it is health care or culture, both countries laugh at the other’s expense. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and the race riots all over France, neither country sees its respective plight as a laughing matter, but rather a shocking and pitiful wake-up call.

The thousands of deceased and displaced racial minorities in New Orleans and the hundreds of French-Arab and French-African youths who are now rioting in the streets of France point to the larger problems of both countries: a failure to fully integrate minorities into the “mainstream.”

The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina disproportionately affected low-income blacks, and the riots in France, sparked by the accidental electrocution of two Muslim youths hiding from police, are responses to racially based economic and social exclusion. The common denominator in both of these cases is a racially oppressed underclass.

U.S. critics of France have pointed to the country’s centuries-old idea of integration and citizenship ” which ignores ethnic and religious communities’ existence and specific needs ” as the major cause of the race riots. But judging from the U.S.’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina, it doesn’t seem that the “American Creed” is working very well for U.S. “citizens” either. Let’s not forget that the United States had major race riots in 1992.

It is clear these tragedies call for a re-evaluation of French and U.S. priorities. Race still matters and cannot be ignored. Before either country looks outward to promote its example, it should look inward to confront its failures.

It’s been a little more than two weeks since the riots began in France and two and a half months since Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. When will leaders stop floundering over their political scorecards and start providing real results?