France And Identity Politics vs The Rest of the World

Photograph courtesy of Shaun Botterill/ Getty Images

July 15th 2018 was a big day for France. They’ve just won the World Cup for the second time, winning over Croatia with a stunning 4–2 victory. Immediately after this event, memes and various comedic jokes were circulating online of it being an African win due to the fact that 19 of its 23 players (15 of African descent), were the children of migrants or whose family generation have emigrated to France. Most of it was harmless satirical jokes but it began to raise questions of identity and nationality.

Kimpembe has been the resident DJ, often posting snaps of his teammates dancing to songs on the coach

We’ve all heard and seen of the immigration crisis happening in the United States. Thousands of families being separated from each other or detained in the many camps across America. Elsewhere across the world, Europe is facing similar problems with refugees and immigration.

Even though the crises across Europe and America have a similar undertone from the exterior, the interior situation tells a different story. These comparisons might be identical in regards to their stance on immigration, but a lot of the time, ethnicity, race and identity politics also have a hand in it.

South African comedian and political commentator Trevor Noah, got into hot waters from his comments regarding the identity of some of the French players. His comments touched nerves as it is a subject many people have strong opinions about. Noah received criticism and was sent a stern letter from the French ambassador of the United States who stated: “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.”

The full letter written by the French ambassador of the United States

In response, Noah posted a segment of his show on twitter defending his statements saying, “I will continue to praise them for being African because I believe they are of Africa — their parents are from Africa — and they can be French, because I believe they can be both at the same time.”

Trevor Noah’s comments resonated with many French citizens who have stated that everyone has a view on the matter as if they were French themselves and that such discussions further highlight the disparities they are trying to overcome. A factor which according to them, will instigate more problems than solutions.

France isn’t the only country that has racism or with a past in colonialism. They are just at the forefront of current conversations mainly due to the World Cup victory as the rest of the world once again focuses their attention on France’s issues regarding racism and xenophobia. Noah has repeatedly highlighted that he isn’t denying or taking away the ‘French-ness’ of the players. However, you cannot be an immigrant for a majority of the time until you benefit France, then you become French.

The problem that many people have about the use of immigrants is of the hypocrisy of it all. Often, when the country does something well, everyone rallies behind those who made them victorious, yet those same people get vilified if they do things such as loosing. No one is denying that they aren’t French citizens but they should receive the same support as they would if they win and not be quick to be labelled as ‘immigrants’ or to ‘go back’ to their country. Karim Benzema, who plays for the French national team but has been blacklisted since 2015 said “If I score, I’m French. If I don’t, I’m Arab.” While these discussions might seem like an attack on France, it shouldn’t be seen as such as the reality highlights these issues.

For years, there have been negative representations of African countries. Scenes of suffering, tragedy, various atrocities and corruption would be shown by the media in news channels, documentaries and other media platforms. The West however, would be shown as this area of beauty and plentiful to non-western nations. Hardly any imagery of homelessness or suffering is shown. So when those they deem as immigrants do something to benefit them and the conversation turns back to focus on their country of origin, the less Westerners are talked about. It’s important for them to be seen as winning and being on top all the time or their core foundation will feel like an attack on their conceived notions of supremacy.

France winning the 2018 World Cup has got people thinking again about whether immigrants will ever truly be welcomed without having to erase their heritage. Political analysts have found that many ethnic minorities have been under pressures to abandon their traditional identities and assimilate into French societal structures.

Even though it’s nice to see that the country is embracing their multicultural society (really?), yet France has perpetuated hostile attitudes. From controversies such as the segregation of minorities and immigrants in many of the public housing apartments, building cheap housing to house the residents. Back in 2017, political analyst Thomas Guénolé spoke to the BBC, blaming that the cheap houses ‘were built in the same place for the deep divides in society. The banning of Muslim women wearing the niqab in public to many other issues all contribute to the major flaws that France has with its racial and ethnic relations.

The country’s view on race and identity differs to those from the US or the UK. France takes on the approach to race by not seeing colour. However, this reasoning defeats the purpose by ignoring the issues at hand which counteracts for a solution and change from happening.

Many French nationals are proud of their diversity and believe that most people don’t associate the French nationality mainly with origin. According to them, being French is not being born in France or having a French descent as that would be a far right overview. Rather, it’s associated with French values and the French educational and social systems.

If France didn’t win the World Cup, would there be a different narrative?

Writer and visual artist // I write about culture and societal issues with a focus on the effects of colonialism, globalisation and capitalism.

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