“Stop Calling the French Victory an Immigrant Win”. This was the bold headline of the Washington Post article that struck my attention this morning as I rode on my daily commute.
“All the players were French,” the subheading continues, “and that matters”.
Of course, this article is just one of numerous that have been published this week in response to France’s World Cup win. After Trevor Noah recently stirred controversy when he stated that Africa won the World Cup, there have been debates over whether or not his statement rebukes the French nationality and identity of the players.
The author of this particular article- Jean Beaman- stands in solidarity with those who expressed disagreement with Noah’s comments, which includes the French ambassador. For some people, acknowledging the immigrant history of these players and their families is isolating, racist, and denounces the French identity and citizenship of these players. Beamen herself discusses this idea, stating:
“The celebration of France’s win by an “African team” actually illustrates the racism that has been so rampant in French society. Les Bleus’ victory was not a win by immigrant players, it was a win by French players. Dismissing the citizenship status of these French players further makes them “citizen outsiders,” forever on the margins of mainstream society because of their ethnic background.”
She continues to elaborate on this notion, later saying:
“In fact, many in France denounce American identity politics, seeing such acknowledgment of racial and ethnic differences as “balkanizing” society rather than uniting it.”
The thing is, as long as ethnic minorities remain ostracized and oppressed in French society, we’re going to have to acknowledge the ethnic backgrounds of these players. We can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. This is the same argument that racists in the U.S. uphold when they say that they “can’t see color” or that race in itself “doesn’t exist”. If we’re going strictly off of biology, then no, race does not exist. However, racism certainly does, which is why we have to make it a point to acknowledge the immigrant history and ethnicity of these players and their families.
And it doesn’t seem like they’re mad about being called African, so why should we be? Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappé- these are just two of many players who have all been vocal about their heritage and have expressed pride regarding their culture.
Acknowledging the African descent of the French team draws attention to the hypocrisy of French politics and the numerous policies that exist to dehumanize and vilify immigrants, because let’s face it, France does not want immigrants in the country unless their children are scoring goals in the World Cup.
We are not denouncing the French citizenship and identity of these players. Identity in itself does not exclusively concern race- it is an umbrella term that can encompass nationality, citizenship, race, culture, etc. Yes, these players are French- they are French people of African descent. And that is ok to acknowledge as long as we live in a society where race matters.