On a recent episode of The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah joked that the French soccer team's win at the World Cup was an "African victory," referring to the fact that 80% of the French team is of African descent. Though Noah's joke was intended draw positive attention to the team's heritage, his words were inadvertently similar to a sentiment among white supremacists in France: that the French team isn't really French because many of them are black.
With the current issues of his home country in his mind, the French Ambassador wrote The Daily Show a strongly worded letter:
Noah saw where the French Ambassador was coming from but took issue with his views of citizenship and representation.
The issue is a complex one, with potential disagreements compounded by cultural differences regarding how people approach race in France and in the U.S.
So, obviously, everyone on Twitter had a definite answer for who was right and who was wrong.
No, @Trevornoah was saying that a story where they are only identified as French is an incomplete one.— Aditi Juneja (@AditiJuneja3) July 19, 2018
In the US, we have tried being “colorblind” and saying we’re all just American. It creates bigotry by ignoring people’s experiences.
You have to acknowledge the whole person. https://t.co/evJ7gcEKzy
For their part, France seems like they're ready to let the argument be over.
I've asked @FranceintheUS whether they have a response to @TrevorNoah's Daily Show video about France and the World Cup, after Ambassador @GerardAraud wrote to the show.— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) July 19, 2018
A spokesperson: “We are not going to respond to the response of our letter. The letter is pretty clear.”
Then again, they did kind of start it.
I really don’t understand how this reality could upset the French ambassador so much to compel him to write a formal letter to an American satire tv show— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) July 19, 2018
Noah's argument is important here in the U.S., but perhaps the French Ambassador was acting for the benefit of his countrymen overseas.
So Trevor Noah, an African, can’t celebrate the “Africanness” of the French team? Why so prickly and defensive? No one is saying they are not French. But outsiders can embrace this wonderful team however they like— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) July 19, 2018
Yes, a lot of people are saying they are not French by using the same argument, the color of the skin. Only the person, nobody else, can refer to his root if he wants. An individual choice.— Gérard Araud (@GerardAraud) July 19, 2018
Context is everything.
What people don't seem to grasp & respect is that different countries have different ways to talk about these issues. In America, calling someone an Afro-American doesn't make him less American. In a French context, calling someone "African" is to call his Frenchness in question.— Benjamin Wolf (@benbawan) July 19, 2018
It's what the far right has been doing and decent people have rightfully resisted that. And it's American identity politics now superimposed on a European context where it simply doesn't work, at least not with the same vocabulary.— Benjamin Wolf (@benbawan) July 19, 2018
But who WON the argument?!
@GerardAraud The ambassador is going back to the original comment. @Trevornoah moved the conversation forward, adding nuance and insight. The ambassador should respond to THAT.— Beau Dure 🗯️⚽👨👦 (@duresport) July 19, 2018
There's common ground here, but the ambassador is trying to "win" the argument with rhetoric.
The final tally shows...nothing! The issue is too complex to easily find a "right" and "wrong."
I think @Trevornoah is right. This started (to me) as a lighthearted acknowledgement of a tie to these players, from pride, but has turned into a virulent debate about racism because of France's own hangups. I can't imagine any African is denying they are actually French.— Fran Blandy (@franblandy) July 19, 2018
There are serious problems with how France pretends to be colour-blind. But that doesn't make @Trevornoah right. He equates skin colour to citizenship. Says players 'have to say they're French'. This is exactly what pere Le Pen used to say and what many racists still believe.— Adam Plowright (@ADAMPLOW) July 19, 2018
Of course, that doesn't make for a good Twitter post.
What they're doing by repeating they're French above all else is to teach by example - especially the racist and troglodyte segment of the French population.— manu saadia 🖖 (@trekonomics) July 19, 2018
So I really like @Trevornoah and I dig what he did here.— manu saadia 🖖 (@trekonomics) July 19, 2018
My only, very slight criticism (as a hyphenated French person myself): listen to the players themselves instead of the ridiculous ambassador, they have good reasons to emphasize their French-ness! https://t.co/WR8LCQ5YU1
Perhaps we should be less focused on winning arguments and making statements, and more eager to listen and understand. Noah's point is certainly valid, but with full context of what's happening in France, the Ambassador's message is also understandable.
Nuance has never been more important!