Giorgis: Blessedly, I watched the final match in my favorite place, my apartment, flanked by my usual crew of fellow immigrant kids who feel Diaspora Things(™) very deeply. I’d only been watching the series in spurts thus far, with my interest dwindling in direct correlation with the number of African teams remaining, but I was interested in seeing if France would emerge victorious. Like you, Tanvi, I am loathe to root for any colonial power, but the calculus here wasn’t so simple.
Knowing that my parents’ native Ethiopia had never qualified (and likely never will, barring some miraculous update to ankle-exercising technology), and that all the other African nations had been eliminated before the knockout stage, I turned my sights to France because I tend to root for (almost) everybody black. I respected Croatia’s astonishing game-play, but the French team had my heart.
Still, my newfound attachment to France came with its fair share of asterisks. How do those of us rooting for Les Bleus—who may also be people of color, children of immigrants, or immigrants ourselves—square our support of this team, and of the young immigrant men whose efforts propelled it to such heights, with the larger political context in which it exists? It’s difficult for me to overlook the fact that it is these men’s exceptional gift—and what they have produced for the country—that renders them worthy of praise as Frenchmen in the eyes of the nativist portions of France’s populace.
Misra: I’ve definitely bristled in the aftermath of the final at takes that said, “See? Immigrants can help you win the World Cup!” I understand the need for that idea at a time when so many countries are putting up walls, creating migrant “ghettos,” and punishing asylum seekers. The belief that immigrants are threats—to safety, economic well-being, and the dominant culture—seems to have reached a crescendo, so I sympathize with the urge to try and disprove that.
But the thing is: Immigrants are people—some are exceptional and some are ordinary. All of us are flawed. The popular narratives surrounding immigration—pro and against—tend not to account for that human complexity. They are based on ideas of “good” and “bad” that are steeped in assumptions about race and class. So while Mbappé is being celebrated now, I wonder what might happen if he’s pushed off this pedestal and no longer fits that super-idealized mold. Does he somehow become less French to those who see themselves as gatekeepers of French identity?
Giorgis: It was fascinating to see political figures like the French ambassador to the U.S. even go so far as to chide black people, most notably the South African comedian and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, for emphasizing the African heritage of Les Bleus players. “Unlike the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion, or origin,” Ambassador Gérard Araud wrote in response to Noah’s suggestion that the World Cup title was “an African victory.”
Araud’s insistence on claiming Les Bleus players of African descent as French and French alone is at once hollow and revelatory. The ambassador’s color-blind rhetoric doesn’t accurately reflect the policies and attitudes of a country that treats its migrant population with derision, with policies that ban coverings associated with Islam and accelerate deportation processes. Araud and others like him may cling to the ideals espoused by those words, but that doesn’t mean all people living in France have equal access to that national identity.