Nicolas Sarkozy, the newly elected French President, wanted to mark the difference in governing style between himself and outgoing President Jacques Chirac — although both belonged to the same political party and shared basic political orientations.
However Jacques Chirac had spent his second presidential term under the motto – no waves. In foreign policy, Jacques Chirac had taken the lead in opposing the US intervention in Iraq and had created a temporary Germany-Russia-France alliance against the war. In domestic affairs, Chirac had not used his 82 per cent of the vote victory to push for reforms or new social policies. He had advocated a yes vote on the proposed constitution for the European Union (EU), but ran a confusing and indifferent campaign for its ratification. The constitution was rejected by French voters, followed by that of the Netherlands. Since major decisions in the EU must be taken unanimously, the EU’s institutions must function with rules for its 27 states that already had difficulty at 15. The European Union just celebrated the 50th year of its founding with six states. The EU has grown in number but its institutional practices have not been modified in keeping with its size. The constitution proposed being able to reach decisions by majority vote rather than unanimity.
Chirac had participated fully in European affairs as well as in French-African meetings. He seemed happier to deal with foreign questions — a policy area largely reserved to the French President since the first President of the 5th Republic, Charles de Gaulle. Chiric seemed strangely absent from the domestic scene, addressing the nation only on New Year’s eve and the 14 of July, the national holiday.
Thus Sarkozy ran on a program of a "break with the stagnant past" as though he had not been a member of the outgoing government. In fact, during the five years of Chirac’s second term, Sarkozy had served in two key posts — Ministry of the Economy and Ministry of the Interior. If Chirac spent the last five years largely hidden from public view, Sarkozy, with close and friendly relations with journalists, had developed to a fine art the 30-second sound bite. There was hardly a day that he did not appear on the television news, shaking hands with people or for longer interviews on political talk shows. Not everyone liked Sarkozy, but everyone knew that he was there, giving an impression of being everywhere at once — a man of hyper- activity.
Sarkozy has been running for president for the last five years and made no secret of his ambition. In fact ambition is his most obvious trait. Although ideologically on the Right, he does not belong to any of the traditional currents of Right thinking. Political commentators compare him to Napoleon, but this is more his character, there being no longer a Napoleonic ideology. Sarkozy is like Napoleon in being short, giving an impression of boundless energy, and being an outsider. Napoleon was born when Corsica was not yet French and yet he came to symbolize French power. Sarkozy’s father was a minor noble from Hungary who left Hungary when the Communists took over in 1948. He came to France and married a young law student of Greek-Jewish background. Sarkozy’s father abandoned the family after the third child was born and gave no financial support. Nicolas Sarkozy’s mother finished law school and went to work for the city administration of Neuilly, a Paris suburb with many rich and powerful people. Sarkozy grew up there as an the outsider among the rich.
Sarkozy has the characteristics attributed to the self-made man: If I can do it with hard work, then everybody should be able to do it with hard work. His admiration for the USA is based on the American myth of a place where anyone can get ahead if he tries hard enough and also as the land that gave an opportunity to Hungarian refugees after the 1956 revolt. John F. Kennedy is his model, even if Kennedy was hardly an outsider or a self-made man. Like Kennedy, Sarkozy is happy to show off his beautiful wife and five good looking children and to be seen doing energetic sports, in Sarkozy’s case, jogging. Sarkozy’s admiration for the USA is unlikely to carry over to admiration for all US policies, especially in foreign relations.
In keeping with the image of youth and activity, Sarkozy has named a government of persons considered activists and with a personal image of being willing to take risks to get things done. The most telling image is that of the new Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had earlier served in the Socialist-led government of Francois Mitterand as minister of humanitarian affairs and the minister of health. Kouchner was also the UN administrator for Kosovo and left a good reputation in UN circles for his work there. In France Kouchner is best known as a leading founder of Medecins Sans Frontiers which won the Nobel Prize for Peace. As a young doctor Kouchner had gone for the Red Cross to Biafra during the Nigeria-Biafra war. There he was frustrated by the Red Cross prohibitions on reporting what he saw. Thus he created an NGO that could both heal and speak out. They became well known for their efforts to pick up boat people leaving Vietnam by sea and later working behind Soviet lines in Afghanistan
Kouchner also has never been shy in front of a TV camera, no doubt advised by his wife who is a leading news commentator on French TV. Sarkozy has also named to the government Martin Hirsch, a civil servant who was president of Emmaus, the organization founded by l’Abbe Pierre to help the homeless. In France, the president of an NGO is an unpaid position and is not a full-time administrator. Hirsch had been the chief civil servant when Kouchner was minister of health. Hirsch will be in charge of a newly created post in the government: High Commissioner for National Solidarity, to deal with the homeless and long-term unemployed.
As ecology and sustainable development was a strong theme during the campaign — although all the candidates were in agreement that something needs to be done — Sarkozy has named Alain Juppe — a former Prime Minister who saw himself as a potential president but who does not have the political skills of Sarkozy — as the number two of the government in a new post to deal with ecology and sustainable development as well as transport.
Sarkozy has named a government of people to mark the change of generation from Jacques Chirac and to create a new style of government seen to be acting and in close contact with the people. We will have to wait to see if this will remain public relations image-building or will translate itself into policy and action.
To the coming-of- age-generation known as the Millennials, the world has never seemed more diverse.
Popular television shows such as The Real World and Grey's Anatomy show diverse casts mixing and mingling on-screen. Teens are exposed to the hottest R&B and hip-hop artists on VH1 and MTV. And in this Internet age, access to other cultures, trends and styles is only a few clicks away.
Pop culture serves up a "multiracial, multicultural nirvana," says Charles Gallagher, a Georgia State sociology professor, contributing to an impression of the younger generation as the first "post-race" generation – one where race doesn't matter.
"I don't know very many people who flat out have a problem with other races," says Andrew Moua, 17, a senior at Duncanville High School and a member of The Dallas Morning News Teen Advisory Board. "Everyone I know listens to some kind of hip-hop."
Generation Y's perception of diverse cultures and racial issues has been shaped by pop culture and mass media. But what they see on TV isn't necessarily reality, and that disconnect can lead to everything from personal misunderstandings to cultural collisions in classrooms or dorms. This is particularly true of whites, whose opportunities to mix with other races are more limited than others.
The average white person lives in a community that is 83 percent white and only 7 percent black, according to a 2002 analysis of Census Bureau figures by the Lewis Mumford Center at the State University of New York at Albany.
"Diversity is experienced very differently in the daily lives of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians," the Mumford report stated.
Many young people believe racism was eliminated by their parents' and grandparents' generations, when laws that upheld segregation were abolished.
"The discussion of the racial history in this country is severely limited. And when racism is discussed, it's always in the past tense," says Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, associate professor of sociology at Duke University.
As the nation prepares to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Monday, should race still matter to Millennials?
Experts say yes. Those who can understand the perspective of other races and cultures, they say, will be more prepared to live and work in an increasingly multicultural world.
Shades of gray
The question stumps many of the students in assistant professor Pamela Perry's classes at the University of California at Santa Cruz:
"What does it mean to be white?"
Her white students admit they don't think about their identity in terms of race. They take their race for granted, she says.
Since the 1980s, many high schools and colleges have required students to take courses on multiculturalism, which focus on the perspective of minority races and cultures. But such courses may also contribute to the notion that race means something other than white.
"If they have no experience of why race matters, then they're going to believe that race doesn't really matter," says Ms. Perry, author of Shades of White: White Kids and Racial Identities in High School (Duke University Press, $74.95).
Some college students have attended ghetto parties where they impersonate rappers, complete with baggy pants, jewelry and sometimes even in blackface.
Last fall, at Highland Park High School, some students wore Afro wigs, fake gold teeth and baggy jeans as part of Thug Day, an unofficial event for seniors. Eighteen students were sent to the office for inappropriate attire, according to school district officials. Separately on Fiesta Day, which was to honor Hispanic heritage, one Highland Park student brought to school a leaf blower.
Students interviewed at the time outside the school said they were surprised that Thug Day could be considered offensive to minorities and didn't see the actions – or themselves – as racist.
Dr. Gallagher, who studies white attitudes toward race says teens believe they can cross color lines through consumerism.
"You'll hear white kids say, 'What do you mean, racism? I have a 50 Cent CD. I have an Allen Iverson jersey," he says.
Cultural tourism has long existed in this country, says Ashley "Woody" Doane, sociology professor at the University of Hartford and an expert on race relations.
"In the '50s, white college students would go to Harlem to experience the jazz scene. Today, white college students are big consumers of hip-hop music. It's a tourist stage."
For some, ghetto parties go too far. They bear similarities to minstrel shows, a racist tradition dating back to before the Civil War, says Dr. Bonilla-Silva, who taught at Texas A&M and is the author of Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Rowman & Littlefield, $68).
Minstrel shows, which were for white audiences, featured white performers pretending to be black by darkening their faces with charcoal and acting in cartoonish, exaggerated ways.
Ghetto parties help sustain and circulate stereotypes that reinforce both racial and economic boundaries in America, Dr. Bonilla-Silva says. "It is the modern minstrel show," he says. "The fact that these kids don't get a sense of how problematic this is says a lot about what we're teaching in this country.
"We have collectively erased race from our teaching."
The presence of black doctors on TV shows and black artists on MTV doesn't by itself signal progress in race relations.
"You have to remember that over a century ago, African-Americans were seen as OK to entertain us but not to participate in other institutions, political and economic. It indicates an acceptance on a certain level, in the sphere of entertainment, but not necessarily beyond that," says Dr. Eileen O'Brien, a sociologist at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
When Dr. Doane talks to his students, he finds that they have little understanding of institutional racism – how social, economic and political institutions in the United States were set up historically to benefit whites and discriminate against nonwhites and of the persistent effect of those policies.
"I tell them the bottom line is not whether someone is racist. It's what can we do about racism?" he says.
Students say that change starts with personal relationships.
"Going to a school with a large number of minorities totally opens you up," says Evan Faram, 18, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School.
Located in the Lakewood section of Dallas, Woodrow Wilson's student body is approximately 65 percent Hispanic, 21 percent white and 11 percent black.
"It makes you see that there is no difference between people," says Evan, who is white. "My cousins live out in the suburbs, in Keller, and meeting some of my friends, they would be like, this is your Mexican friend, while for me it's just my friend. It's totally a different world."
Race remains an issue, he says, "because people are still acknowledging the difference. Even when you fill out test forms at school, there is a box that asks about race. I think that as long as you acknowledge the difference, we're not going to get rid of the racial profiling."
Humor can bridge the gap between races, but there are boundaries, says Chavon Charee Noel, 17, a senior at Carter High School in Dallas. Events such as Thug Day go too far.
"It seems like they are trying to mock our culture, to make it seem like what it is not," says Chavon, who is African- American and whose high school is predominantly black.
A member of The News' Teen Advisory Board, Chavon also noted how racially divided schools and neighborhoods can hinder personal development. She says she has not had a white friend recently, and she only occasionally talks with whites. "Once we go out into the real world, we may not be prepared."
Staff writer Gosia Wozniacka contributed to this report.
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