US-based South African comedian Trevor Noah had a lot to say in response to a French diplomat who took offense to Noah saying “Africa won the World Cup”.
The Daily Show host made the comments on his show following France’s win over Croatia in the World Cup final.
Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States said the comedian was denying their “Frenchness” of the football team by calling it African.
More than half of the French squad can trace their heritage back to Africa.
“This, even in jest, legitimises the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French,” Araud said in a stern letter to Noah.
“They were educated in France, they learned to play soccer in France, and they are French citizens. They are proud of their country, France.”
The Daily Show posted a video of Noah reading out the letter on Wednesday – and then responding by arguing that the players’ African identity should be celebrated.
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But he said his statement should be put in context: “When I am saying, ‘They are African’, I am not saying it as a way to exclude them from their Frenchness, but using it as a way to include them in my Africanness.”
To deny that duality was something he “vehemently” disagreed with.
In his letter, Mr. Araud stressed that the players “rich and varied backgrounds is a reflection of France’s diversity”, to which Mr Noah replied: “Now I am not trying to be an asshole but I think it is more of a reflection of France’s colonialism.”
France’s founding principles and universal values means it does not collect data or statistics on its racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds.
The ambassador pointed to this, saying: “Unlike the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion or origin.”
Mr. Noah said the colour-blind approach has not stopped discrimination against African migrants.
“When they are unemployed, when they may commit a crime or when they are considered unsavoury – it is the African immigrants,” Mr. Noah said. “But when their children go on to provide a World Cup victory to France, we should only refer to them as French?”
Former US President Barack Obama has also waded into the debate about the identity of the French football squad.
During his Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg earlier this week, he pointed to the positive side of immigration: “Just look at the French football team. Not all of those folks looked like Gauls to me, but they are French – they are French.”