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“Because I don’t want to be feeding whatever ridiculous racial prejudice people might have”

There’s an article on Vice which chronicles a social experiment by the Figaro journalist, Judith Duportail. The essence of the experiment is that the writer “Tried to Say ‘Yes’ to Every Creepy Guy That Approached Me On the Street”.

Half way through the article, the writer notes:

The next guy I met was called Yacine. Actually, the vast majority of guys that approached me over the course of those two week, were Arabic. I contemplated whether or not I should mention this, because I don’t want to be feeding whatever ridiculous racial prejudice people might have, but it’s the truth.

Ultimately, of course, the writer mentions the ethnicity of those who proposition her in the street. It is possible that she was propositioned because she, herself, was the  subject of a “ridiculous racial prejudice”.

The piece continues:

Abdelkarim was 23 and lived in Saint-Denis. We may never know more than that because as soon as I told him what I did for a living, he closed up.

“Oh really? You’re a journalist? So you’re a Freemason? Stop lying, you’re a Freemason. Or your dad is?”

Wow. I tried to navigate his hatred for journalists and explain that I wasn’t a Freemason but it ended with me feeling as if I was banging my head against a wall. We left it there.

She left it there.

Except that, according to the French version of the Vice article, there was a bit more to the exchange than that. Here’s the full version of that encounter, from the French original:

Abdelkarim a 23 ans, vit à Saint-Denis et a repris selon ses dires « une formation ». On n’en saura pas plus car dès que je réponds à sa question sur « ce que je fais de beau dans la vie », il se braque. « Ah bon ? T’es journaliste ? T’es franc-maçon alors ? Arrête de mytho, t’es franc-maçon. Ou ton père ? » Il enchaîne. Théorie du complot et critique des médias se mélangent. Les attentats de Charlie Hebdo ont été selon lui commandités par Hollande pour booster sa popularité. « Tu crois que Kouachi il serait allé tuer tout le monde avec sa carte d’identité sur lui ? Et pourquoi les médias n’ont rien dit quand Israël tuait des enfants à Gaza ? Des enfants ! Pourquoi vous montrez pas les images des enfants trucidés ? Il faut pas croire les journalistes », il claque, l’air dur, bien loin du badinage d’il y a à peine quelques minutes.

Ce discours de méfiance exacerbée je le connais, je l’ai rencontré plusieurs fois sur le terrain et je le comprends autant qu’il m’attriste. Au milieu de ses critiques j’essaie d’identifier lesquelles me semblent constructives, je cherche à ne pas le bullshitter sur ce que je connais de la réalité des médias. Je lui dis qu’on parle bien entendu des offensives israéliennes, mais qu’on ne peut pas montrer des images d’enfants éventrés, nulle part, c’est trop violent. Je lui parle aussi de la loi du mort au kilomètre. C’est une règle non écrite à l’œuvre dans toutes les rédactions selon laquelle les morts prennent de la valeur journalistique en fonction de la distance à laquelle ils se trouvent. « Tu peux trouver ça affreusement cynique – ça l’est – mais c’est la réalité pure et simple. » Abdelkarim ne veut rien entendre, rien savoir.

Je cherche une zone de consensus mais je me sens comme une mouche qui se cogne obstinément contre une vitre en tentant de sortir. Il enchaîne avec les médias « mécréants » qui donnent « exprès » une mauvaise image des religions, de l’Islam en particulier. Ça fait longtemps qu’il prépare ce discours, ça se sent que ça mijote depuis des plombes dans son cerveau façon pot-au-feu. Je lui tiens le crachoir une bonne demi-heure, et le quitte avec un sentiment d’amertume. Fallait-il dire à ces inconnus que je suis journaliste ? Cela déplace la conversation sur moi alors que je cherchais à parler d’eux.

Here’s an amateur translation:

Abdelkarim is 23, lives in Saint-Denis and, in his own words, is “in training”. I didn’t get to find out any more, because as soon as I answered his question about “what I am doing with my life”, out it all comes. ”Really? Are you a journalist? You’re a Freemason then? Don’t bullshit me, you’re a Freemason! Or your Dad is?”

Conspiracy theory and criticism of the media are all mixed together. According to him, Hollande ordered the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in order to boost his popularity. ”Do you really think Kouachi would have gone and killed all those people, with his ID card on him? And why did the media say nothing when Israel was killing children in Gaza? Children! Why don’t you show the images of the slaughtered children? You can’t believe the journalists” he snaps, staring hard, a far cry from the banter he was engaged in just a few minutes ago.

This kind of exaggerated suspicion I know well, as I have come across it many times in the street, and I understand it as much as it saddens me. Listening to his criticisms, I try to identify those that seem constructive, and I try not to bullshit him about the reality of the media, and what I know about it. I told him I understood what he was saying about the Israeli offensive, but we cannot show images of children ripped apart – not at all – as it is too violent. I also told him about the “death-distance” law. It is an unwritten rule at work, whereby editors weigh up the journalistic value of a death, according to how far away the victim was when he died. ”You may find it horribly cynical – it is – but it’s the stark reality.” Abdelkarim listened to nothing, and knew nothing.

I sought some common ground, but I felt like a fly stubbornly banging its head against a window while trying to escape. He carried on attacking the “infidel” media that deliberately portray religion in a negative light; Islam in particular. Clearly he had been preparing this speech for a long time; it felt as if it had been brewing for ages in his brain, like a simmmering pot-au-feu. I chewed the fat with him for half an hour, and left with a feeling of bitterness. Should I have told these strangers that I was a journalist? That would refocuses the conversation back onto me, when I was trying to talk about them.

Now, if Vice and Duportail are so concerned about widespread “ridiculous racial prejudice”- not to mention loopy conspiracism – what a shame that they dodged the opportunity to unmask it to their Anglophone audience.

Still, that’s the way it goes.

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