After France triumphed Sunday in the FIFA World Cup, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah was ready to celebrate. “I’m so excited,” he said on his show Monday, grinning and breaking into a little ditty. “Africa won the World Cup! Africa won the World Cup!” he sang, before joking that “you don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France.”
Noah was recognizing the multiethnic background of France’s team, which — as noted by The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor — topped a list of World Cup teams with the most diversity. It was a joke you might expect from Noah, a South African native and the son of a white father and black mother.
But as Noah informed an audience recently in between scenes while filming his Comedy Central show, Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, did not find the joke funny. “I heard your words about ‘an African victory,’ ” Araud wrote in a letter the host read to his guests. “Nothing could be less true.”
“Now, first of all . . . I could have said they were Scandinavian,” Noah joked. “That would have been less true.”
Noah read more of the letter, which was posted to the French Embassy’s official Facebook page, in a faux French accent. Araud noted that “all but two out of 23″ of the players “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,” Araud continued. “The rich and various backgrounds of these players is a reflection of France’s diversity.”
“Now that line there was interesting,” Noah said. “I think it’s more a reflection of France’s colonialism,” he added, drawing applause from the audience.
Noah read another paragraph of Araud’s letter in which the ambassador noted “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. By calling them an African team, it seems you are only denying their Frenchness.”
“This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French,” Araud wrote.
“I understand what he’s saying because I read up on this afterwards,” Noah told his audience, explaining that “a lot of Nazis” in France attack the African descent of the team’s players and urge them to “go back to where you came from.”
Noah said Araud’s letter ignored something he saw as an African native, watching the World Cup in the United States.
“Black people all over the world were celebrating the African-ness of the French players,” Noah explained. “Not in a negative way, but rather in a positive way, going, ‘Look at these Africans who can become French.’ You know what I mean? It’s a celebration of that achievement.”
Noah said he found it weird that people would argue that the players are French and not African. “Why can’t they be both?” he asked. “Why is that duality only afforded to a select group of people?”
Noah’s full response, featured in an eight-minute clip posted to “The Daily Show’s” Twitter page, did not seem to change the ambassador’s mind.
“End of the argument with @TrevorNoah,” Araud tweeted Thursday morning. A representative for the French Embassy declined to comment further.