South African comedian Trevor Noah has responded to criticism from a French diplomat over comments he made on his US comedy news show about the country’s World Cup win.
After France lifted the trophy with a 4-2 victory over Croatia on Sunday afternoon, the Daily Show host congratulated Africa on winning the tournament.
“Yes. Yes. Africa won the World Cup! Africa won the World Cup!” Noah joked on the July 17 episode of the show.
“I get it. I get it. They have to say it’s the French team, but look at those guys you don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France,” Noah said.
Many of the players in the French national team including stars Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé, who both scored in the final are of African heritage.
France’s ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, rebuked the comedian in a stern letter that Noah read to the studio audience during a commercial break on Wednesday.
Araud was quoted as saying he watched the episode with “great attention” and said of Noah’s comments that “nothing could be less true.” The letter emphasized that “the rich and various backgrounds of these players is a reflection of France’s diversity.”
“France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion or origin. To us, there is no hyphenated identity,” Noah quoted the French diplomat in the letter, adding that the comedian’s comments about the players seem to “deny their Frenchness.”
“This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French,” Araud wrote.
‘I see you, my French brother of African descent’
However, Noah countered, “black people around the world were supporting the Africanness” of the French side at the World Cup.
“When I’m saying they’re African, I’m not saying it to exclude them from their Frenchness, but I’m rather using it to include them in my Africanness,” he said.
“I’m saying I see you, my French brother of African descent,” Noah added, arguing against the notion that “in order to be French, you have to do away with what makes you African.”
The French diplomat responded on Thursday that Noah spoke only of the players’ African identity on the show. “End of the argument with Trevor Noah. He didn’t refer to a double identity. He said they are African. They couldn’t get this suntan in the south of France. That is they can’t be French because they are black. The argument of the white supremacist,” Araud said in a tweet.
After Africa’s five representatives at the World Cup crashed out of the tournament, many Africans took to supporting the French national team which has many players of African heritage. Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, called France “the only African team in the finals” in a tweet before their match against Croatia.
And after Les Bleus lifted the World Cup trophy, American law professor Khaled Beydoun asked France to acknowledge its immigrant and Muslim populations.
“80% of your team is African, cut out the racism and xenophobia. 50% of your team are Muslims, cut out the Islamophobia. Africans and Muslims delivered you a second World Cup, now deliver them justice,” Beydoun wrote on Twitter. The tweet has gone viral and has drawn both condemnation and praise.
While defending his joke, Noah also linked the players’ African heritage to France’s colonial past and made a case for the duality of their heritage.
“This is what I find weird in these arguments, is that people go: ‘They’re not African, they’re French’ … Why can’t they be both?” Noah asked.