Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, responded to criticism over a joke he made about France’s world cup victory, in a “Between the Scenes” segment (which are web-exclusive, shot during the broadcast commercial breaks and are more casual than the aired, scripted segments). On Monday, he joked that Africa had won the World Cup, due to the large number of players of African descent on the team. The comment hit a nerve with quite a few people, most notably, the French Ambassador to the U.S., Gérard Araud, who said Noah’s comments echoed that of France’s far-right. So, in response, he sent Noah a letter:
I heard your words about an African victory. Nothing could be less true.
Their parents may have come from another country, but the great majority of them, all but 2 out of the 23 were born in France. They were educated in France. They learned to play soccer in France. They are French citizens. They are proud of their country, France.
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.
By calling them African, it seems you are denying their Frenchness.
Noah acknowledged that the same argument is used by white nationalists in France, accusing African immigrants and their descendants of not being authentically French, but he makes it clear, that while the players may be of French nationality, they are still African. Being proud of that should not be at odds with them having pride in being French, and that’s what he meant to celebrate. “Why can’t they be both?” Noah said. “What they’re arguing here is: in order to be French they have to erase everything that is African.”
Noah cited the case of Mamoudou Gassama, an immigrant to France from Mali, who received praise for scaling a building to save a child that was dangling from a balcony, to show the lengths that immigrants have to go to be embraced as French. In recognition of his heroism, Gassama met with French President Emmanuel Macron, and was granted French citizenship. “When they are unemployed, when they may commit a crime or when they are considered unsavory it’s the ‘African immigrant,” Noah said. “When their children go on to provide a World Cup victory for France, we should only refer to them as ‘France.’”
So despite the criticism, Noah will still be celebrating the fact that “Africans” won the World Cup. “So, 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,” he said. “And if French people are saying they can’t be both, then I think that they have a problem and not me.”
Araud voiced his displeasure after seeing Noah’s response, and had the last word: