Monday

Floor Technicians

I've just dropped my kids off at school. It's a pleasant 15-minute walk, especially now that winter's finally behind us, and the early morning air is still relatively unpolluted. Sometimes we have animated conversations, sometimes we walk silently, each of us in their own thoughts. When my daughter was three we were walking thus in silence when she exclaimed, "Regarde, papa, la lune est cassée!" (Look, dad, the moon's broken!)

I looked up at it, a bluish crescent barely visible between two tall buildings. "What a brilliant observation," I thought to myself. And as we walked, a crude poem started happening in my head. The main image of my poem was to be my daughter's metaphor: a broken love, OK, but compared to what? A half-eaten cookie? The way it crumbles? An unconsumed love....

Anyway, today something else had possession of my mind. I saw at least three black people sweeping the streets, and one other sweeping the pavement in front of a supermarket. It just started me off...why black people? I've never seen a white person or an oriental person doing the same thing. Blam! The truth sank home: only black people sweep the streets here, at least in my neighbourhood. Why? Why? Why? Because they're black? Of course not, that's silly. They're sweeping the streets because they can't do much else. I think that anybody faced with two candidates, one qualified and one not qualified, would hire the qualified candidate.

Affirmative action has always left me undecided. Deep down it's a practice that I despise, but on a day to day basis I think it may be necessary, at least in the short term. Is it detrimental to the well-being of a whole society, for the benefit of the beneficiary? I don't know. It's a complicated issue that politicians must work out, and apply with reason. I was looking at some job offers in South-Africa, and yes, affirmative action is in force there. I'd be interested in having South-African and American points of view on this particular matter.

In France, street-sweepers are comfortably referred to as techniciens de surface, or floor technicians. But they remain what they are, as well as their salaries. What we have to ask ourselves is, if these folks are sweeping streets because they are unqualified for other work, why are they unqualified? Because they didn't go to school or they quit school. Why did they not go to school or why did they quit school? Because they didn't have enough money, or they had to work to support their family...we could go on. The bottom line is, "Because they're black." I don't care what you say or how you say it, it remains a fact that in Europe and in America and in South Africa colour determines how far you'll go in society. I'm willing to listen to you, though, and I'm open to being convinced otherwise.