Earlier this week Trevor Noah, a prominent comedy host in the United States, praised “Africa” for its World Cup victory, considering the immigrant heritage of many of the French squad's players and their families.
The joke triggered controversy in France, with some social media users accusing the comedian Noah — a South African born to a black mother and white father during apartheid — of racism.
French ambassador to the US Gerard Araud on Wednesday sent Noah a stern letter criticizing the joke, saying “nothing could be less true.”
“The rich and various backgrounds of these players is a reflection of France's diversity,” Araud said. “Unlike in the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion or origin.”
“To us, there is no hyphenated identity, roots are an individual reality,” the ambassador continued. “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.”
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'Why can't they be both?'
Shortly after the letter was posted on Twitter, Noah volleyed back: “When I say they're African, I'm not saying it as a way to exclude them from their
“I'm saying it to include them in my African-ness.
“I'm saying, 'I see you, my French brother of African descent.'”
Noah acknowledged that far-right groups in both France and the United States use the principle of heritage as a “line of attack” against immigrants to justify exclusion.
But he explained that he found it “weird” to suggest the players couldn't simultaneously be African and French.
“Why can't they be both?” he said to applause.
“So what they're arguing here is, in order to be French, you have to erase everything that is African?”
Saying that he “vehemently” disagreed with that notion, Noah appeared to double down on his original message.
“I watch what politicians say about African migrants when they are unemployed, when they may commit a crime, or when they're considered unsavory,
they are 'African immigrants.' When their children go on to provide a World Cup victory for France, we should only refer to it as France,” Noah added.
“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 at
the same time,” he said.
“And if French people are saying they cannot be both, then I think they have a problem and not me.”
“America's not a perfect country,” Noah added. “But what I love about this place is that people can still celebrate their identity in their American-ness.”