Although racial discrimination is an established fact in most contemporary societies, it remains frequently an object of denial both from authorities and individuals. This lecture will address this paradox through two case studies. The first one examines the way in which, in recent years, the French state finally recognized the existence of racial discrimination only to surreptitiously elude it again. The interpretation of this shift will be based on Freud's distinction between disavowal and negation. The second one explores the debate, among criminologists and sociologists, about the reality of racial discrimination in law enforcement. The analysis of the scientific claim that differential treatment of the public by the police is not what one thinks it is will suggest the necessity to reframe the problem on new grounds. These cases therefore have a wider significance for both an anthropology of denial and a sociology of discrimination.
Didier Fassin is the James D. Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.