French Government's spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye speaks during a session of questions to the Government at the French National Assembly in Paris on May 26, 2020.
  • Collecting data on race in France has been a taboo for decades due to a 1978 French law that made it illegal.
  • But with race protests sweeping across the world, including 15,000 people protesting in Paris on Saturday, France's problems with race have become more pressing.
  • On Saturday, Sibeth Ndiaye, the French government's spokeswoman, wrote an op-ed in a French daily newspaper, calling for the debate on ethnic statistics to be reopened.
  • Ndiaye wrote that the absence of statistics meant people could claim racism was everywhere, or nowhere, and no one could disprove the claims.
  • A spokesperson for French President Emmanuel Macron, who was caught off guard by Ndiaye's call, said it wasn't something he wanted to debate at this time, but Ndiaye continued with her campaign the following day.
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The French government has been divided by a call from one of its top ministers to make collecting race data legal so that France can properly assess its own race problems.

On Saturday, Sibeth Ndiaye, the government's spokeswoman, which is one of the top roles in the government, wrote an op-ed in Le Monde, a French daily newspaper, calling for the debate on ethnic statistics to be reopened.

Collecting race data in France has been a taboo for decades due to a 1978 French law that made collecting it illegal, according to The Jakarta Post. The law means there are no statistics on France's racial makeup, although it has a diverse population of people from West and North Africa.

With protests over George Floyd's death sweeping across the US, and French people protesting in solidarity -15,000 people protested France's ties to its former African colonies in Paris on June 13 alone - France's problems with racism have become pressing, according to The New York Times.

In her op-ed, she wrote that no statistics meant people could either claim racism was everywhere, or it was nowhere, and no one could disprove the claims. She also wrote that she'd experienced racism in France after she moved there from Senegal when she was 16.

"Because we can't measure and look at the reality as it is, we're letting speculation go wild. Why not start the debate about ethnic statistics, in a peaceful and constructive way?" Ndiaye wrote.

According to The Times, Ndiaye's proposal, which surprised some including her boss, President Emmanuel Macron, carried "weight" because she was one of a handful of "ethnic minority figures at the top of French politics."

France's economy minister Bruno Le Maire dismissed her call, saying it didn't align with French universalism, according to The Times.

"A French person is a French person and I do not take account of their race, origin, or religion and I do not want to take account of it," he said.

An official for Macron also released a statement that said: "This is not a debate that the president wishes to open at this stage."

Macron wanted to focus on strengthening the economy and to keep race problems from becoming all consuming, according to The New York Times.

On Sunday, he addressed racism in France in a televised address where he condemned how a person's "address, name, [and] colour of skin" could dictate their success in France.

He promised he would be "uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination," Business Insider's Ellen Cranley previously reported.

He said fighting racism should not lead to a "hateful" rewriting of French history.

Despite the dismissal by her colleagues, on Monday Ndiaye pushed on. She told French public radio channel France Inter that the data could help fight "subtle racism."

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