Will Proposed Legislation Be a Stumbling Block to France’s Worldcon Bid?

Two commenters on Twitter have raised the spectre that the French bid to hold the Worldcon in 2026 might be harmed by the political backlash in France which followed revelations last month that a left-wing student union, called UNEF, organizes meetings that are “off-limits to white members”.

The UNEF leader’s description of the purpose for these meetings was quoted in Al Arabiya’s report “French student union under fire for organizing ‘non-white’ meetings”:

…The admission by UNEF president Melanie Luce that the union organized meetings that were not open to white people comes at a time of fraught debate about racism and how to combat discrimination in France.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio on Wednesday, Luce said the meetings were held “to enable people affected by racism to talk about what they have experienced”, comparing them to women-only discussions to discuss sexual discrimination.

That such restricted meetings might not sound exceptional to many Americans is a fact in itself that adds fuel to the French political controversy. Politico’s analyst noted in “French left tears itself apart over ‘non-white’ meetings”:

…The clash over non-white discussion groups has reignited a debate in France about the growing influence of U.S.-style identity politics, and how it challenges the country’s existing political traditions.

…For many on the left, the universal values of égalité, fraternité, liberté should transcend religious or ethnic alliances, and more integration and assimilation, not less, is needed in the fight for social justice.

Criticism of restricted discussion meetings was to be expected from France’s right-wing parties but the division on the left indicates how common the reaction is throughout the country.

And this week France’s Senate amended proposed legislation aimed at curbing “Islamism” by adding a ban on restricted meetings and the UNEF reports the New York Times:

…On Thursday, the Senate endorsed banning the group and others that organize restricted meetings, attaching a “Unef amendment” to President Emmanuel Macron’s law against Islamism, a political ideology the government blames for inspiring recent terrorist attacks. The National Assembly, controlled by Mr. Macron’s party, still needs to ratify the bill, expected to be one of the defining pieces of legislation of his presidency….

The person who tweets in French as Murakami was the first to see implications for the French Worldcon bid: [Translation follows.]

Uh… Excuse me, I woke up in 2022 and [Marine Le Pin] is in power? Or are we in 1940? BUT ARE THEY AWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE DOING? My full support to all racialized people who will see this message.

FYI, normally I help out with international science fiction conventions (in other countries). All of them, without exception, have exclusively-BIPOC or exclusively-LGBTQIA+ sessions. This is a perfectly normal thing. 

I guess we won’t have to worry about holding Worldcon in France!

[First tweet via Google Translate. Second tweet translated by JJ.]

The French fan from Nice who tweets as The Middle Shelf agreed:

How common such meetings have been at Worldcons over the years is not easy to research, however, the last in-person Worldcon, Dublin 2019, listed the POC of African Descent meetup in the official schedule. (For Chris Barkley’s account of the 2019 event see “Special Irish Worldcon Edition, Day Three”.)

15 thoughts on “Will Proposed Legislation Be a Stumbling Block to France’s Worldcon Bid?

  1. Not sure what the law will say. In Sweden, you may organizer a meeting for PoC, but it would be illegal to not let a white person in if the person would demand entry, as we do not allow discrimination based on race.

    This was tested during Pride weekend a few years ago when a guy demanded entry and I think they decided to cancel the meetups as an answer.

    Usually, it isn’t a problem and many such meetings are held, but they are all dependent on no bad faith actors being present.

  2. HowardB: Why is the French Navy mentioned?

    I suspect that it’s a reference to martial law. 1940 was the Battle of France, after which the strongly white-nationalist Vichy government was created as part of the French surrender to Germany.

  3. The law is addressed at an official university student union that is government funded. So it’s a very heavy-handed move against the students.

    My understanding of current French politics is the right-wing is a dangerous threat, the Socialists are divided and confused, and the center under Macron is splitting the difference. From the NY Times article:

    “We scare people because we represent the future,” said Mélanie Luce, 24, president of UNEF and daughter of a black woman from Guadeloupe and a Jewish man from the south of France.

    I would like the future, please.

  4. As far as “navy” is concerned, I think we need to blame machine translation. The original French tweet has “la Marine”. This does literally mean “navy”. I think, however it refers Marine Le Pin, leader of the right-wing National Rally party (formerly National Front).

  5. France is also considering legislation to forbid hijab for girls under 18 (note that the age of sexual consent is only 15, but apparently consenting to religious headdress requires greater maturity than that). It would also disallow any parents in hijab going on school outings. There are numerous other measures either on the books or under consideration. These are ostensibly to support unity, but it sounds more like racism, or at least religious bias, to me.

  6. I wouldn’t call Macron “center”. He is clearly rightwing and of the nationalist kind. Lately, he and his ministers have tried to compete with the National Front on who can be most racist.

  7. It depends on what stances Worldcon wants to take. I certainly oppose the lack of religious freedom in France. Various religious symbols including attire such as the hijab are banned for school children. As for meetings that exclude races, I recently attended a white’s only workshop called “Me and White Supremacy” and when I inquired about that, since the organization giving the workshop is very inclusive, it is because the BIPOC people end up being the center of attention. The author of the workshop, a person of color herself, designed it this way. I have ran into few other instances of denying people entry to something due to race and never at a Worldcon. (I never wanted to join golf clubs and certain other organizations that forbid or used to forbid Blacks and Jews)
    I don’t think the French government would bother us at a Worldcon in Nice but they are going overboard on banning things that are Muslim.

  8. Michael Burianyk: Thanks for your insight — I’ve changed it to your reading.

  9. Well, I mean, really: France. The country that legislates how to spell, that is in an uproar because a school is discouraging the use of meat in its lunches. I mean, there are many USers who despair at the “conservatives” in our country (certainly I do), but there are Europeans who make the US seem positively progressive.

    This is sad, and sadly not surprising. I sometimes despair for our species. To echo Tom Becker: future, please!

  10. Racism is Racism. Sexisim is Sexism. We will never get to the other side as long as we keep thinking of reasons to make exceptions.

  11. @John:
    But there are certain issues that people of colour in France face that are unique to them and which don’t happen to white French people because of institutional racism, opening spaces for discussion and dialogue about these problems and the best solution is for them is vital, but it is also important that the voices of white French people who don’t face the same experiences or issues don’t drown out the voices of the people of colour.
    or to put it another way, would you object to a group of women organising a women’s only meeting on sexual abuse?

  12. @Jon Plenty of people are still “thinking of reasons to make exceptions” to should-be-obvious things like hiring people based on ability rather than whether the decider can imagine having a beer with them.

    We’re still in a world where I would have a good chance of predicting a senator’s race and gender based only on “this person is in the US senate,” and where far too many white people will make excuses for murder based on the victim’s race and gender.

    I don’t know what the French law should be–but let’s not pretend that there isn’t an important issue here, a more important issue than whether you or I could count on being able to attend every gathering or program item at a science fiction convention.

    “Racism is racism” sounds good, but it can unpack, as here, to “organizing against race discrimination is the same as organizing to preserve it” or to “organizing against racist murder with the people who risk being murdered for driving while black is as bad as murdering unarmed people because their skin color makes you nervous.”

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