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Why France Needs to Collect Data on Racial Identity - In a French Way

18 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2008 Last revised: 1 Sep 2008

David B. Oppenheimer

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law


French Constitutional law, which embraces equality as a founding principle, prohibits the state from collecting data about racial, ethnic or religious data, and French culture is deeply averse to the legitimacy of racial identity. France is thus, in American parlance, officially "color-blind." But in France as in the United States, the principle of color-blindness masks a deeply color-conscious society, in which race and ethnicity are closely linked to discrimination and disadvantage. French law, and French-incorporated European law, requires the state to prohibit discrimination, including indirect discrimination. But in the absence of racial identity data, it is difficult for the state to uncover such discrimination. This paper examines how discrimination is measured in the United States, and suggests that some of the methods used in the United States are available in France despite the limitations imposed by French law. In some cases, these methods are already in use. I conclude that France must broaden its use of existing methods for measuring discrimination, and must adopt new methods, in order to comply with its obligation to address the problem of racial and ethnic inequality.

Keywords: racism, equality, discrimination, racial identity, comparative law, France, anti-discrimination law

Suggested Citation

Oppenheimer, David B., Why France Needs to Collect Data on Racial Identity - In a French Way. Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2008; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1236362. Available at SSRN:

David B. Oppenheimer (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

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Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
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