French magazine becomes vehicle for cross-cultural interaction: By Réjane Ereau

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Since the 1970s, France has been evolving into a culturally and ethnically diverse country, though this has gone largely unnoticed. Yet throughout this process, entire populations on the margins of the privileged circles have been left out of the country’s economic progress, and in the 1980s and 1990s, rampant unemployment increased marginalisation and tensions noticeably. In France, we grew up side by side, rather than together, not realising how deep the gap had become, gradually cleaving society in half.
Responding to this reality, Respect Magazine hit the news stands in December 2003.
With little money, no contacts and scant support, the quarterly nonetheless strove to change the way French society views its “second class citizens”, the young people born of migrant parents living in working-class neighbourhoods. It’s time attention is given to all parts of French society. It’s time that plurality and the mixing of cultures are seen as an enrichment of, not an encroachment on, national identity.
Then the malaise of our disenfranchised youth, through the only action that generates attention in the media -- violence -- hit us straight on, like a boomerang. In November 2005, the French suburbs caught fire.
Tensions fed alarmist views, nurturing extremist perspectives. Face-to-face confrontations were covered live on TV. Among the audience were a good number of young and not so young people from all quarters of life who silently witnessed this explosion through the media.
Respect Magazine is the sound box for a young and pluralistic society.
To promote a social dynamic based on “moving forward together”, the magazine brings together people from all ethnic, social, religious and professional backgrounds: journalists, artists, students, educators and business people. Respect Magazine finds its strength, unity and branding in this diversity of experience, network and outlook.
With over five years of providing commentary on youth and diversity issues, it has shifted from a media “unknown” to a media “benchmark”, with a national circulation of 35,000. Its coverage of certain issues - identity, the memory of immigration, employment discrimination, religion and male/female relations - has been groundbreaking.
Respect Magazine has involved young people in difficult debates.
Confronted with a situation of escalating tensions between young people and the police, for example, the magazine organised opportunities for discussion and set the mood for overcoming obstacles. And youth took up the challenge: “You give us unfettered opportunity to express ourselves and for exchange”, said one participant at a round-table discussion. “Here, we can speak our mind without fear of being judged or stereotyped”, said another.
As the dialogue continued, the participants gradually toned down their views and explored common goals. The April 2007 issue of Respect Magazine found its way to the Ministry of the Interior, and three days after it went on sale, the magazine’s editorial team was received by the counsellors of then Minister of Defence, Michèle Alliot-Marie, who gave full consideration to its recommendations.
In January 2008 UNESCO challenged Respect Magazine to create an international version of the publication under the title NoGhetto.
The aim was to create a web magazine bringing together young people from disadvantaged regions, or from cultures facing discrimination, on issues of diversity, dialogue and development.
Rather than a media outlet, NoGhetto is a mediator. It brings together people of all cultures as a result of its openness to all types of contributors as well as the various committees and meetings it convenes on societal issues.
From month to month, young people from Chad and Algeria, students from Mali and Israel, rappers from Morocco and Palestine, young staff from non-governmental organisation in Niger and Lebanon speak up, express their ideas, conduct interviews, stage round-tables and learn about each other in NoGhetto. On such issues as hip hop culture, the memory of slavery, Obama and their relationship to religion, young people establish connections and collaborate on new projects.
Asking the questions: “who am I” and “where do I come from” doesn’t affect only those who feel that they are different or come from a different place, but also who we are collectively. Refusing to condone ghettos and the social discontent that societies around the world have found themselves entrenched in, Respect Magazine and NoGhetto are meant for all those who want to move forward. Are you moving forward too?

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* Réjane Ereau is editor-in-chief of Respect Magazine and NoGhetto. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service

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