With french presidential elections upon us (and with other european elections scheduled for this year), we share a short, but timely, piece by Jacques Rancière, on the less than surreptitious ways in which racism is played upon and promoted in contemporary “liberal democracies” (very recently re-published with Acta.Zone, 15/12/2021)
In this column published in Le Monde in 1997, Jacques Rancière ironically described how the media and politicians from various backgrounds contribute to the dissemination of racist ideas and offered them “seven rules” in order to continue to reinforce the theses of the extreme right.
His text, published more than 20 years ago, seems particularly relevant to us a few months before a presidential election which already promises to be saturated with racist ideas, by incessant polemics and obsessions with an extreme right assured of benevolent or pseudo-indignant media coverage.
Rancière’s text reminds us how much the far right owes to the French bourgeoisie and its political and media relays, objective allies that have always been there, which year after year allow it to extend its hegemony by validating its themes, its lexicon, its obsessions. It points to the hypocrisy of those who, every five years, present themselves as the last rampart against the coming fascism, while creating the conditions that allow it to prosper, and reinforces the idea that only popular, anti-racist and anti-capitalist self-organisation will make it possible to stop the current process of fascistisation.
The following text is part of the volume, Les Trente Inglorieuses to be published by La Fabrique in January 2022.
The dissemination of racist ideas in France seems to be a national priority today. The racists are doing it, which is the least they can do. But the effort of the propagandists of an idea has limits, in a time when ideas are mistrusted, and to overcome them, it often needs the help of its opponents. This is the remarkable aspect of the French situation: politicians, journalists and experts of all kinds have been able to find in recent years quite effective ways of making their anti-racism serve a more intense propagation of racist ideas. All the rules set out here are already in use. But they are often applied in an empirical and anarchic way, without a clear awareness of their scope. It therefore seemed desirable, in order to ensure their maximum effectiveness, to present them to their potential users in an explicit and systematic form.
Rule 1 – Record racist remarks daily and give them maximum publicity. Comment on them abundantly, ask the important people of this world and man of the street about them incessantly. Suppose for example that a racist leader, addressing his troops, blurts out that there are a lot of singers in our country who are dark-skinned and a lot of foreign-sounding names in the French football team. You could consider that this information is really not a scoop and that it is commonplace, moreover, that a racist, speaking to racists, makes racist remarks to them. This attitude would have a double unfortunate consequence: first, you would thus fail to demonstrate your vigilance at all times in the face of the dissemination of racist ideas; second, these ideas themselves would spread less. But the important thing is that we always talk about them, that they set the permanent framework of what we see and what we hear. An ideology is not primarily theses, but sensible evidence. It is not necessary that we approve of the ideas of the racists.
It is enough that we constantly see what they make us see, that we constantly talk about what they talk to us about, that by refusing their “ideas” we accept the given that they impose on us.
Rule 2 – Never fail to accompany each of these disclosures with your deepest indignation. This rule is very important to understand. This is to ensure a triple effect: first, racist ideas must be trivialized by their incessant dissemination; second, they must be constantly denounced to maintain at the same time their power of scandal and attraction; thirdly, this denunciation must itself appear as a demonisation, which reproaches the racists for saying what is nevertheless evidently banal. Let’s go back to our example: you could consider as trivial the need for Mr. Le Pen to point out what everyone can see with the naked eye, that the goalkeeper of France’s football team has very dark skin. You would thus miss the essential effect: to prove that it is a crime for racists to say something that everyone can see with the naked eye.
Rule 3 – Repeat in all circumstances: there is an immigrant problem that must be solved if racism is to be eliminated. Racists do not ask do not ask for anything more: to recognise that their problem is indeed a problem and “the” problem. Problems with people who share in common coloured skin and who come from former French colonies, there are indeed many. But all this does not constitute an immigrant problem, for the simple reason that “immigrant” is a vague notion that covers heterogeneous categories, including many French people, born in France to French parents. To ask that the “immigrant problem” be resolved by legal and political measures is something perfectly impossible. But, by doing so, firstly, consistency is given to the indefinable figure of the undesirable, and secondly, it demonstrates that one is incapable of doing anything against this undesirable element and that only racists offer solutions.
Rule 4 – Insist on the idea that racism itself has an objective basis, that it is the effect of the crisis and of unemployment and that it can only be eliminated by eliminating them. You thus give it scientific legitimacy. And since unemployment is now a structural requirement for the smooth running of our economies, the conclusion naturally follows: if we cannot remove the “deep” cause of racism, the only thing to do is to remove its occasional cause by sending immigrants home through serene and objective racist laws. If a superficial soul objects to you that various countries with similar unemployment rates do not have racist outbursts like ours, invite them to look for what can differentiate these countries from ours. The answer goes without saying: it is that they do not have too many immigrants like us.
Rule 5. – Add that racism is the consequence of social strata weakened by economic modernisation, those left behind by progress, of modest “white folks”, etc. This rule completes the previous one. It has the additional advantage of showing that the anti-racists have, in order to stigmatise the “backwardness” of racists, the same reflexes as the latter have with regard to “inferior races” and thus to reinforce these “backward idiots” in their double contempt for the lower races and for the anti-racists of the upmarket neighborhoods who pretend to teach them a lesson.
Rule 6. – Call for the consensus of all responsible politicians against racist remarks. Relentlessly invite men in power to absolutely distance themselves from it. It is indeed important that these politicians receive the certificate of anti-racism which will enable them to firmly apply and to improve, if necessary, the racist laws obviously intended to eradicate racism. It is also important that the racist extreme right appear as the only consistent force that dares to say aloud what others think quietly or frankly propose what they do shamefully. Finally, it is important that it appears to be, for this reason alone, the victim of the conspiracy of all the people in power.
Rule 7. – Demand new anti-racist laws that allow the sanctioning of the very intention to incite racism, a voting system that prevents the extreme right from having seats in parliament and all measures of the same order. First, repressive laws can still be used. Then you will prove that your republican legality complies with all the conveniences of circumstances. Finally, you will consecrate the racists in their role of martyrs of the truth, repressed for offenses of opinion by people who make the laws at their convenience.
It is, in short, of helping to spread racism in three ways: by disclosing its vision of the world as much as possible, by giving it the distinction of martyrdom, by showing that only correct racism can preserve us from dirty racism. We are already working, with appreciable success, on this triple task. But, with method, we can always do better.
Le Monde, Friday, March 21, 1997