Race d'Abel, dors, bois et mange;
Dieu te sourit complaisamment.
Race de Caïn, dans la fange
Rampe et meurs misérablement.
Race of Abel, sleep, eat and drink;
God smiles on you complacently.
Race of Cain, crawl on your belly,
Die in the mire wretchedly.
Convinced of the necessity of comparison and dialogue “as instruments for understanding the world we live in,” Etienne Balibar in his essay, “Uprisings in the Banlieues,” organizes his reflections in the “form of a series of ‘files’ attached to seven symptomatic words or expressions: names, violence, postcolony, religion, race and class, citizenship/the Republic, and politics/antipolitics.” To these words, which we all use “at home” and that thus require a theoretical “distantiation,” he adds two terms that operate within and between these seven words or expressions and whose importance is derived from their indispensable role in making intelligible or at least interpreting the protests that occurred throughout France in November 2005: “uprisings” (soulèvements) and “Banlieues.” The former makes visible the differences attached to the ways that the protests were characterized (riot, rebellion, violences and even guérilla), while the latter, very French term, “banlieues,” evokes social and racial exclusion and signifies a kind of “frontier, a border-area and a frontline” separating an impoverished and marginalized world from an adjacent world that is both wealthy and powerful. For Balibar, the combination of proximity and inequality in the case of the banlieue invites
a political analogy (and not just a continuity of methods on the side of the administration and the forces of repression) with the way that, in the colonial territories, two populations with radically unequal rights found themselves brought together and set apart. But the institutional mechanisms and political effects are not the same.
To the unity of proximity and inequality that characterizes the relation of these two worlds, I would add a third term that further complicates this already contradictory relation: inaccessibility, the way in which the banlieue reproduces the geographical division, typical of colonialism, between the European and indigenous zones is captured most powerfully in the inaccessibility of the first to the neighborhood of the second.