The United States and Europe are both facing "common challenges, arrays of inequalities," and "tensions" within their societies when it comes to racism, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with "Face the Nation" that aired Sunday. And while this is something both have in common, it's important to note that their "histories are very different," he said.
"The way we behaved in the past, the way we built our own trauma, are very different," Macron said.
"[The U.S.] had segregation and managed to precisely react and reorganize your society in the 60s with positive and affirmative action and nuclear policies in order to deal with this phenomenon. Our history is very different because we were colonial states and we're still countries of immigration with a lot of people coming from former colonies," mainly from Africa.
In order to fight against discrimination and address the issue of race, Macron says it is crucial "to go to the very roots of this phenomenon" and to "open dialogue to understand how it happened and, in a certain way, to deconstruct our own history."
Unlike the United States, France has intentionally avoided implementing "race-conscious" policies. For many in France, the term race is taboo. In fact, official racial categories are absent from much of Europe, where the idea of keeping racial statistics have long been associated with Nazi Germany. France collects no census or other data on the race or ethnicity of its citizens. To counter problems of ethnic disadvantage, it uses nationality or economic criteria to address issues of social inequalities instead.
"One of the big risks today is ... to push to the fragmentation in all societies by encouraging a sort of construction where a nation would be the addition of different races or minorities," Macron said. "We have to rebuild the unity of our societies."
In other words, while Americans are attached to the idea of associating with specific communities and racial and ethnic subgroups, Macron says the French model of integration looks to ensure cohesion through a "common project" of assimilation, in which all communities should merge and consolidate into one, and in which nationality should take precedence over race and ethnicity — a perception and a value shared by many Europeans.
"I think a nation is based on unity with differences, on unity of projects and we should never accept the fragmentation of this project through all these differences and specificities. So what we need on both sides of the Atlantic is a policy of recognition, build our unity by being more efficient against inequalities, against discrimination and recognizing all the differences," he said.
As events in recent months, such as the beating of a Black music producer by Paris police inside his music studio, have once again made race part of public debate in France, Macron says it is "critical" to launch "new, concrete and determined policies to get rid of racism in our society," and to address the topic with "transparency and fair assessment."
"This is a huge challenge, but this is one of the critical challenge of our generation."