Anger is steadily rising in France. There is an overwhelming sense that people are fed up with the current atmosphere. Prejudices are not mentioned aloud but they do exist regardless of your origin or social background. We talked to a prime example of french middle class woman who is tired of the discrimination and abuse from her government. Here she explains why she is tempted to vote for the extreme-right wing.
I was born just after the war to a poor family from Bourgogne. I lived with my parents until I was 17. At the time, De Gaulle was still seen as the savior of France and the man who said “no” to the Americans. A really powerful figure that made one mistake: he said no to the liberation of Algeria. It lead to a generation of migrants who were confused about their identity; not Algerians anymore but not French yet. As soon as our country had been rebuilt, the government forgot them and left them alone and unemployed.
I was living in Paris as a successful woman who was the head of a retirement home. I was financially secure and my independence allowed me to do whatever I wanted. My life was quite comfortable–I probably should have been a rich, left wing liberal but a part of me staved off those believes. I always thought that our country would implode sooner or later because the state wasn’t taking the immigrant question seriously enough.
A friend warned me in 1981 when Mitterrand became President. I still hear him saying, “Leave the country, trust me leave the country! It’s gonna blow up!” Like an idiot, I didn’t take this advice too seriously and continued my exciting life. It wasn’t until 1998 when I went bankrupt that I realized the truth in his words. I was at this time running an export-import company but a crook meddled and ended my business. I was ruined and alone.
Compulsory liquidation is a harsh process: the government takes everything. You don’t even have access to your bank account anymore. I couldn’t afford living in my big house in the center of Paris so one day, without warning, the court bailiffs came to throw me and the furniture out. I took my daughter, the cat and the dog and we went to our City Hall, like the bailiff had told me to do. The social worker was on vacation but she would come back in fifteen days. Great, she was resting and we were sleeping out on the street.
Here begins the real trouble. With no housing and no money to even rent an apartment, we slept in a cellar, then a drug addict invited us into his house until eventually we got money from the social worker to sleep a few days in a hotel. It took them three months to send me my first minimum income for integration–we lived on that and what I was able to shoplift. Just imagine a woman wearing Chanel suits and hiding meats underneath. Of course, I went to the food bank where we were given rotten meat. The funniest part of the story was that my eight years old daughter was going to the most expensive school in Paris. We were living on the street and she was dealing everyday with the children of the aristocracy.
The first thing I noticed was that Social Services was full of blacks. I was the only French and I can tell you that discrimination still exists in social services. The applications of immigrants are treated in priority because the government thinks that they don’t have anything in this country. It thinks it will help them to integrate. We, French people, may have a family to help us. I had no family.
I managed to enter the convent of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. Immaculate Conception was a suitable word for this place as 40 black women without documents were waiting to give birth or were raising children under 6 months. They were all here to wait for papers that they were sure to receive thanks to associations like this one. Two white girls–including me–were used as maids because those ladies were too tired due to pregnancy. I was obliged to serve those ladies otherwise the Sisters would kick me out of this “fabulous” place. In the meantime, I was having trouble finding a new source of income. It was not in my character to sit and wait for the next benefit. This is not the model I wanted to be for my child; I wanted her to know if you fight, you will win in the end.
I finally left this place two months later for a chambre de bonne – an attic– without water but with toilets on the landing. Those 7 m² meant a rebirth. The state was paying my rent even though it was cheap (120 €) and I saved money in order to create a new business. I would repurchase cars with broken engines and resell them repaired with an added value. It took me six years to start a normal life again. Once you hit bottom, your only solution is to lift yourself up! I never trusted the state to do this effort for me. Because, you know, I have the wrong profile: French, single-parent and a woman. I was told this truth from the lips of a social worker.
By testing drugs and earning extra money we finally managed to move in a real apartment. We stayed there two years before being evicted again because I had lost my money in a bad deal. I slept for the first time in my life in the street while my daughter was kindly adopted by her godmother’s family. During this rough journey, I met another homeless person. He was French too, he had a part time job and he wasn’t drinking. He just couldn’t afford an apartment anymore. Another problem in France is that the system is made for the really rich or the really poor. The middle class is left alone. It leads to a huge part of the population that feels forgotten. Just imagine living in Paris at a time when the French minimum wage means that you can’t pay for an attic space and eat at the same time anymore .
After ten years, I’m finally getting back on my feet but I still have to face the growing inequalities. Most of the immigrants in France are here to receive benefits. Of course, you’ll reply it is a horrible shortcut and maybe you are right. But when I’m talking to people, because I love to talk, they have the same opinion as me. Immigrants that aren’t working are often insolent and ill bred. Their children don’t have any hopes for their lives and in reaction attack people. They should respect the country that is having them as a guest. I’m horrified to see that I’m the only white person when I’m on the Boulevard Sébastopole.
If I’m tempted to vote Le Pen – and I haven’t done it yet–it is because the rate of immigration is uncontrolled! As soon as you give birth on French territory, you automatically receive family allowances. Please explain to me on what grounds. What have you done for the community to receive those privileges? There is still a lot of discrimination against us. I had been working for more than 30 years before falling down which means I’ve been paying taxes and so on in order to pay for people who were in trouble. When it sadly turned out to be my turn to need help from the state, nothing came. For 12 years, I have been waiting for public housing. Without my determination, I would have lost my child, my dignity and my future.