The victory of a multicultural French team against Croatia in Sunday’s final in Moscow has reverberated across the globe, being celebrated in France and other places as a triumph for diversity, while it has fanned racist abuse in some corners.
Fifteen of the 23-man French World Cup squad have family origins in Africa ranging from Cameroon to Congo and Mali, although only two of them were born in Africa and moved to France when they were still toddlers.
By calling them an African team, it seems you are denying their Frenchness. This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French.
The host of a popular U.S. TV show, sparred with the French ambassador on Twitter over the identity of immigrants in France vs the United States of America.
While in America, immigrants identify themselves by their roots, i.e. African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, the French take pride in their integration process where immigrants are fully assimilated to simply become French citizens.
‘‘Unlike the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion or origin. To us there is no hyphenated identity,’‘ read part of the letter the ambassador sent to the Daily Show.
Trevor Noah’s argument
“Africa won the World Cup,” Noah, host of The Daily Show, said in a segment on the late-night television programme this week.
“I get it, they have to say it’s the French team. But look at those guys. You don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France, my friends.”
Africans: We supporting France cause they’re just another African Team
World: Haha no they’re notLoading...
French National Team: pic.twitter.com/HVmgT1y1Ds
— Mmambo (@mbowzay) July 6, 2018
The French response
Noah’s comment provoked angry comments in France – where far-right politicians have long criticised the national soccer team for having too many black players – and a rebuke from the French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.
“By calling them an African team, it seems you are denying their Frenchness. This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French,” Araud wrote in a letter posted on the French embassy’s Twitter account.
On Wednesday night, Noah fired back at the diplomat.
“When I’m saying ‘African’ I’m not saying it to exclude them from their Frenchness, I’m saying it to include them in my African-ness,” he said, after reading the letter on the show.
When I say they're African, I’m not saying it as a way to exclude them from their Frenchness. I’m saying it to include them in my Africanness. https://t.co/8RW4Rvt7m6
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) July 19, 2018
Former U.S. President Barack Obama had a different take on the French World Cup victory, saying during a tribute to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela that embracing diversity delivered “practical benefits”.
“And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. Because not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French, they’re French,” he added.