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The Choice of Ignorance

The Debate on Ethnic and Racial Statistics in France

Patrick Simon

For more than a century, statistics describing immigration and assimilation in France have been based on citizenship and place of birth. The recent concern for racial discrimination has given rise to a heated controversy over whether to introduce so-called "ethnic categories" into official statistics. In this article, I make an assessment of the kind of statistics that are available today and the rationale behind their design. I then discuss the main arguments put forward in the controversy and argue that antidiscrimination policies have created a new need for statistics that outweigh the arguments against the use of "ethnic statistics." In fact, beyond the technical dimension of this controversy lies a more general political debate about the multicultural dimensions of French society.