Trevor Noah is African; he is also a soccer fan. On an episode of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah this week, the comedian celebrated a World Cup victory for Africa, because many of France’s players are of African descent. But the Trevor Noah France comments did not go over too well with everyone, including French ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud.
“I said Africa won the World Cup,” Noah said. “I was shocked at how angry a lot of French people got.”
So last night, Noah used a “Between The Scenes” segment posted to YouTube to hit back at the French ambassador. Usually these “Between The Scenes” clips are short — a couple minutes, maybe three at the most. But this time the Trevor Noah France commentary demanded more than eight minutes as he took to task anyone who would deny the French players their Africanness.
Noah is by no means the first person to point out the African nature of many of the French players. Former U.S. President Barack Obama celebrated the diversity of the French team while speaking at a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birthday.
“Not all of those folks look like Gauls to me,” Obama said. “But they’re French.”
And regardless of what ill-informed trolls commenting on our Facebook feed would say, Obama is right — diversity should be celebrated and utilized.
But after the Trevor Noah France comment celebrated a World Cup victory for Africa, Araud sent a letter to the South African, criticizing Noah for reducing the athletes to the color of their skin.
“’The rich and various backgrounds of these players is a reflection of France’s diversity,’” Noah read from the letter, continuing with the aside, “I’m not trying to be an asshole, but I think it’s more a reflection of France’s colonialism.”
The main heart of the letter from Araud — who Noah didn’t call by name — was the following:
“Unlike in the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion or origin,” Noah read from Araud’s letter. “To us, there is no hyphenated identity. Roots are an individual reality. 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.”
And this is where Noah really took exception. While he was willing to accept that many ignorant people use the color of one’s skin to criticize the French players, as an immigrant from Africa to America himself, he understands the need and desire to still celebrate Africanness. He noted black people around the world celebrated the Africanness of the French players — not in a negative way to take away from their Frenchness, but in a positive way.
“The people go, they’re not African, they’re French,” Noah said. “Then I’m like, why can’t they be both?”
While the French ambassador wants to claim these players as wholly French, Noah wants to celebrate the fact that they can be French and African at the same time.
Noah hammered this point home by talking about Mali migrant Mamoudou Gassama, the man who raced up the side of a building to save a precariously dangling child from certain death in May in Paris. The French government gave this West African immigrant full citizenship.
“When they are unemployed or they may commit a crime or they’re considered unsavory, they’re considered African immigrants,” Noah said. “When their children go on to provide a world Cup victory for France, we should only refer to them as French.”
In a world short on nuance, context and perspective, Noah wants to be able to praise the French national team for being French, but also recognize many of the players are of African descent (again, mostly due to French colonialism).
“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 Africanness; I see you my brother of African decent,” Noah said. “You can use the same line in different ways. Just like somebody saying, ‘If you play with your naked child it’s OK but if I do it I’m a pedophile?’”
Yes, let’s use some common sense. Let’s not be pedophiles. Or racists. Or bigots. We can celebrate diversity in multiple ways. Araud wants to celebrate a World Cup victory for France. Noah wants to celebrate a World Cup victory for Africa. Why not both?
“I will continue to praise them for being African because I believe that they are of Africa, their parents are from Africa and they can be French at the same time,” Noah said. “And if French people are saying they can’t be both, then I think they have a problem, not me.