PARIS: A black French politician came under fire on Sunday for saying that whites should "keep quiet" if allowed into a meeting of people of colour discussing racism, reigniting a debate over how to address discrimination.
Audrey Pulvar, a former television anchor who is part of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo's administration, was speaking about revelations that a leading student union held meetings about discrimination that were closed to white people.
Pulvar, a 49-year-old Socialist who is leading the party's campaign in upcoming regional elections, told BFMTV channel that she was "not shocked" to hear that "people who suffer discrimination for the same reasons and in the same way feel the need to meet among themselves to discuss it."
White people who want to attend should be allowed to do so, she said, adding: "They can however be asked to keep quiet and be silent spectators."
Her remarks rekindled a national debate about the rise in France of identity politics, which some on the right particularly view as an unwelcome American import that risks undermining universalist French values.
The inroads made by US-style "cancel culture" -- calls to deny a public platform to people or products seen as objectionable -- and growing activism of a younger generation around race and gender are seen as symptoms of what critics deride as the arrival of "woke" culture.
Reacting to Pulvar's remarks ,the centre-right president of the greater Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, whom Pulvar is seeking to unseat, tweeted: "No-one in my region should be discriminated against because of their skin colour."
"There is no such thing as acceptable racism," Pecresse added.
The deputy leader of the far-right National Rally, Jordan Bardella, also weighed in, saying Pulvar's remarks were proof of a "hatred of whites" on the left.
But hard-left France Unbowed party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon supported Pulvar, saying she had "merely understood what a discussion group is" and that her critics had revealed their "sexist, discriminatory slant".
The row over non-white meetings was triggered in mid-March by the admission by the Unef student union that it held meetings about racism that were off-limits to whites. Unef president Melanie Luce said the meetings were held "to enable people affected by racism to talk about what they have experienced", comparing them to women-only discussions to discuss sexual discrimination.
President Emmanuel Macron's party at the time joined right-wing politicians in slamming the exclusion of white people and calling for the union to be investigated over the practise.
Macron has previously spoken out about the danger of "social science theories imported from the United States", warning that they harm national unity.
Activists have dismissed those concerns as an attempt to minimise issues that dent France's self-image as the home of "liberty, equality and fraternity".