It’s no secret that the majority of the French national soccer team that competed at the 2018 World Cup is of African descent.
Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, and Adil Rami are just a few names of players who are children of African immigrants.
So it was fitting when Trevor Noah celebrated their ancestry with a light-hearted joke: “Africa won the World Cup!” But the witty remark didn’t bode well for French Ambassador Gérard Araud.
Seemingly insulted by Noah’s joke, the French ambassador wrote a long letter lambasting him for denying the team’s “Frenchness.”
Araud’s letter included arguments like “I heard your words about an African victory; nothing could be less true” and “unlike in the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion, or origin.”
But Noah had the most beautiful (and perfect) clap back to the ambassador’s letter.
On Wednesday, July 18, in his “Between the Scenes” clip available only online, Noah read Araud’s letter out loud and refuted his accusation.
“When I’m saying they’re African, I’m not saying it as a way to exclude them from their Frenchness, but I’m rather using it to include them in my African-ness,” Noah said. “I’m saying, ‘I see you, my French brother of African descent.'”
Noah specifically took issue with Araud’s underlying point that celebrating the players’ African ancestry meant denying their French identity.
“Why can’t they be both?” Noah rhetorically asked. “Why is that duality only afforded to a select group of people? What they’re arguing here is in order to be French, you have to erase everything that is African?”
The ambassador went on to write “roots are an individual identity” and that celebrating the winning team as “African” legitimizes the belief that whiteness is the “only definition of being French.”
Noah pointed out, however, that French politicians only seem to consider African immigrants as “French” when they score a goal or save a baby from a balcony. But when discussing French residents in a negative light, these politicians refer to it as an African immigrant problem.
“I love how African they are and how French they are,” he said. “I don’t take their Frenchness away, but I also don’t think we need to take their African-ness away.”
Noah went on to say that one of the great things about America is that people here can celebrate being both Irish and American during St. Patrick’s Day, black and American during Juneteenth, Chinese and American during the Chinese New Year, and/or Puerto Rican and American during the Puerto Rican parade.
A tolerant and diverse society isn’t just about celebrating what we all have in common. It’s also about celebrating what makes us different.
There’s strength and inclusion in acknowledging our differences, and Noah’s remarks remind us of that.
“Black people all over the world were celebrating the African-ness of the French players … in a positive way, going, ‘Look at these Africans who can become French,’” he said.
Regardless of whether or not the French ambassador is offended by the celebration of the World Cup winning team’s African background, Noah will still praise their African identity.
“If French people are saying they cannot be both, then I think they have a problem—not me,” he stated.
He is certainly right.
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