Having thought about it a bit recently after a conversation with a friend, it's slightly more clear to me why La Haine seems so tepid in comparison to Ma 6-t va Crack-er, and equally why La Haine is by far the more popular of the two (the fact that Richet's film is banned and therefore unavailable obviously also plays a role), and the more easily sanctioned one (has any self-respecting french middle-class liberal person not seen La Haine by the age of 25?).
It's not enough to say that La Haine is just a sociological speadsheet that simply announces trouble ("Jusqu'ici tout va bien": for how much longer?) while Ma 6-t va Crack-er actively calls for revolution. The more fundamental difference lies in how the two films approach their audiences in relation to what they ask of them. Kassovitz strives to make the banlieues into a subject of discussion, to make us sympathize with the "racaille", to show that they live in conditions which no-one should have to accept, in a phrase (with all the solemnity implied by the italics): to make us understand these people. Its point-of-view is exterior, that of a sociological tourist, designed to enable bourgeois viewers to approach these "problems" disguised as characters. Its impulse is to translate the "racaille" for a non-banlieue audience. As such, there is nothing antagonistic about its position: it seeks acknowledgement and approval from what it theoretically criticizes. If we, as a middle-class left-wing audience, have grown to like these characters, then his mission will have been done (the good old "why can't we all just get along?" solution to all social woes). The film critic who called its aesthetic that of advertising (in Panic, which I've talked about on this blog before) is doubly right: beyond advertising itself as a film (black-and-white as a cachet of "art", the socially significant theme...), it is also, fundamentally, an ad for its subject. It sells the banlieue as a subject of conversation, and its inhabitants as a phenomenon that needs the (non-banlieue) audience's sympathy.
Ma 6-t..., on the other hand, refuses to seek approval. Its defiance (sometimes heavy-handed, as in the slow travelling shot onto the police badge) is one that doesn't look for acknowledgement but demands it. Its characters talk of politics in terms of their own powerlessness rather than in terms of metaphors. Richet is aware that the middle-class viewers so impressed by La Haine are part of the sociological order he is fighting, and as such, he sees no need to humor them. Ma 6-t va Crack-er does not seduce: it fights, and on its own terms.